Our visit to Philadelphia was in part hosted by Visit Philadelphia. We were not financially compensated. All opinions are our own and are based on our experience.
The Philly cheesesteak is iconic, but Philadelphia has a diverse culinary scene with a lot more to offer. While we enjoyed the city’s classic sandwich on our recent trip to Philadelphia, we discovered many other local eats worth visitors’ time.
If you’re looking to explore beyond cheesesteak, here are some delicious items to try when visiting the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphians seem to be just as crazy about donuts as we are -- we discovered not one, but two fantastic donut shops in the city.
First up is Beiler’s Doughnuts at Reading Terminal Market. This place is enough to make any donut lover’s head spin. There are lots of flavor options, from fruity fritters to fruity pebbles, all displayed beautifully in the front glass case, where you can admire them while waiting in line for donuts fresh out of the oven.
Federal Donuts is another winner, with fresh hot donuts and fried chicken, too. There's nothing better than fried chicken and donuts, right? Especially when they’re crafted by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and come in unique flavors like halva lemon pistachio, grapefruit brulee, and strawberry lavender.
2. Soft Pretzels
Donuts’ savory cousins, soft pretzels, are another tasty food Philadelphia loves.
The Philly Pretzel Factory makes its pretzels with a signature twist. Philly’s soft pretzels are shaped like figure eights and are tender in the center and crunchy on the ends. Dip these warm and fresh from the oven into a little spicy mustard, and you’ll be snacking like the locals.
Miller’s Twist soft pretzels come in a more traditional shape. Maybe that’s because they’re made by bakers in traditional Amish clothing. Twisting away in Reading Terminal Market, they produce buttery soft pretzels in a host of flavors, including cinnamon, garlic, and sour cream and onion. Splurge on one of their thick creamy milkshakes while you’re there.
3. Roasted Pork Sandwiches
Almost as beloved as the cheesesteak, the roasted pork sandwich is another food Philadelphia claims as its own. Masterful chefs of the city have managed to create unforgettable meals from this unsexy street meat.
Masterful, you ask? Yes, masterful, we respond. John’s Roast Pork is so masterful that there’s a James Beard Award medal hanging on the wall in the south Philly shack that many locals call the best in town.
Another master in the roasted pork sandwich hall of fame is DiNic’s Roast Pork at the Reading Terminal Market. Named the best sandwich in America by the Travel Channel, DiNic’s juicy, flavorful, and slow-roasted pork sandwich has hungry customers lining up long before lunch.
4. Middle Eastern Food
For some of the best Middle Eastern food you’ll have in Philadelphia (or anywhere!), head to Suraya in the Fishtown neighborhood. This culinary oasis serves traditional cuisine with a modern twist. Vegetarians will find satisfying fare like hummus, baba ganoush, muhammara, and fattoush. Carnivores can enjoy kebabs, seafood, and even a dry-aged rib eye steak for two. The beautiful garden setting includes a patio for warm-weather dining and a market where you can purchase items to take with you. Its weekend brunch is a real treat, but be sure to make a reservation in advance, since this place is popular and books up fast.
Speaking of booking up fast, James Beard Award-winner Michael Solomonov thrills foodies with exquisite small plates at Zahav. Vegetable salads, fried cauliflower, Moroccan carrots, cremini mushrooms, eggplant, and more are at the heart of this delicious dining experience. A melange of flavor influences, from the Mediterranean to North Africa, find their way into the tantalizing dishes served with Middle Eastern hospitality. Traditional laffa bread, creative cocktails, and a modern approach to Israeli dessert round out the offerings. Reserve your table well in advance if you’d like to experience Solomonov’s exceptional cuisine.
5. Chicken And Waffles
We love combining sweet and savory flavors in one delicious dish. Crispy fried chicken and waffles are one of the best such combinations. Philadelphians love it too, and our favorite version came from the unassuming Pearl’s Oyster Bar in Reading Terminal Market. This tasty treat is crisp and light, served with tangy ranch dressing, sweet maple syrup, and even a hot sauce splash for an extra morning kick.
While you might not recognize the name of this creamy pudding, the cozy Mediterranean restaurant Barbuzzo has made it the talk of Philadelphia. Complete with a dark chocolate crust, vanilla bean caramel, and sea salt sprinkle, this rich and decadent dessert is worth seeking out.
7. Pizzas At Pizza Brain
Many cities have tasty pizza, including Philadelphia. But the only pizza place in the country that also has a pizza museum is Pizza Brain. If you’re going to try a slice, why not do so at a place recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world? A crispy thin crust and fresh local ingredients make this brick-oven pizza and its pizza museum worth a visit.
Scrapple is one of those unique foods that Philadelphians love but others consider strange. It comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of mixing pork scraps and trimmings with cornmeal, flour, and spices. Authentic places to give it a try include the Dutch Eating Place in Reading Terminal Market, Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat, and Green Eggs Cafe.
9. Water Ice
A fruity slush of just three ingredients, Philly’s water ice is not just another Italian ice rendition. Fruit or fruit juice, water, and sugar complete the trilogy of tastes in this seasonal delight. John’s and Rose’s earn top nods as local water-ice heroes who make the dessert fresh throughout the day.
Another unusual food that Philadelphia loves, Crabfries are a piece of local history. The hallmark treat comes from Chickie’s & Pete’s, a seafood spot with locations now opening beyond Philadelphia. Crabfries -- yes, one trademarked word -- are crinkle-cut potatoes seasoned with a blend of spices from the leftover seasoning used for crabs. They're served with a side of creamy cheese dipping sauce. Be sure to wear your stretchy pants.
11. Parc’s Authentic French Cuisine
We love French bistros, and it’s rare that we find one on this side of the Atlantic that feels -- well, French. We were thrilled when we saw authentic pairs of chairs facing out toward the sidewalk around the perimeter of Parc in swanky Rittenhouse Square. Its French classics like the croque madame and moules frites are irresistible. Dinner includes heavy hitters like duck a l’orange and boeuf Bourguignon, and tempting desserts like profiteroles and apple tarte Tatin sweeten the night.
Philadelphia’s Italian roots are deep and remain strong. Any food-focused visit to Philadelphia should include a number of pasta stops. Gnocchi and other homemade pastas are served up at Spasso Italian Grill, Fiorino, and Giorgio on Pine. For real old-school favorites enjoyed by diners from Theodore Roosevelt to Taylor Swift, try the ravioli, fettuccine alfredo, or the daily special at Ralph’s Italian Restaurant, which has been dishing up Italian favorites since 1900.
13. Tastykake Creations
Okay, so this isn’t one of the foods that we’d normally discuss, but it’s just not right to talk about Philadelphia food without briefly mentioning the iconic Tastykake creations. These packaged snacks include cupcakes, donuts, honey buns, pies, bars, Krimpets, and more. If you pick them up at Wawa, the convenience store and culinary security blanket clung to by so many Philadelphians, you’ll be on your way to a truly local experience.
From comfort foods to elevated world cuisine, Philadelphia offers tastes that reach back in time, span the globe, and spark the imagination. Whether you’re there for a brief visit or a longer stay, these are just a few of the foods you should try -- if you’re tired of cheesesteak, that is.