A Perfect Day of Eating: 24 Hours in Philadelphia

We hope you brought a big appetite
November 3, 2017
by Wendy Ramunno

The depth and breadth of Philadelphia's food scene today can make it tough for visitors to choose where to eat. From tacos and roast pork sandwiches to red-sauce joints and haute vegan cuisine, you can easily fill a week with stellar meals in neighborhoods across the city. To narrow it down, we put together an exceedingly ambitious daylong itinerary with a sampling of the best eats Philly has to offer. 

Breakfast: Reading Terminal Market

An essential stop on a food tour, or really any tour of Philadelphia, this vibrant indoor market opened in 1892 and continues to welcome throngs of customers shopping for everything from produce to Amish pretzels to French linens. Breakfast is an ideal time to visit for a leisurely stroll through the aisles, as the crowds can be overwhelming later in the day. Grab a seat at the Dutch Eating Place counter for apple dumplings and other homestyle Pennsylvania Dutch favorites. Donuts from Beiler's Bakery and Jewish classics from Hershel's East Side Deli are top-notch too, but there are plenty of excellent food finds throughout. 

51 N. 12th St.; 215-922-2317

Mid-morning snack: John's Roast Pork

This beloved no-frills shack next to the railroad tracks in South Philly is the place to go when you want to try Philadelphia's two most famous sandwiches in one sitting. Both the roast pork (with juicy, thinly sliced pork, sharp provolone and spinach) and the cheesesteak at John’s have discerning locals’ seal of approval. Note that this spot is cash only and closes in the afternoon, so a late-night visit is not an option.

14 E. Snyder Ave.; 215-463-1951

Late-morning snack: Pho 75

A favorite late breakfast spot for Philly chefs, this cafeteria-style, pho-only spot in a strip mall on Washington Avenue is one of many restaurants worth seeking out in South Philadelphia’s busy Vietnamese enclave. Expect super-quick service, piping hot, clear broth and tender brisket.

743 S. 4th St.; 215-278-2736

First lunch: El Compadre

Chef-owner Cristina Martinez and her husband, Ben Miller, garnered national attention for their exceptional slow-cooked lamb tacos as well as their immigration activism at South Philly Barbacoa. Last summer they closed the shop and merged the business with Martinez’ late son’s sandwich shop in the Italian Market, now serving the sought-after barbacoa as well as tortas and guisados (stews) on bustling 9th Street.  

1149 S. 9th St.; 215-360-5282

Second lunch: Villa di Roma

Old-school red-sauce joints are a critical part of Philly’s dining DNA, and this Italian Market go-to is a quintessential example. It opened back in 1963, and current owner Pip De Luca started working the morning bar shift there at age 19. The family’s famous meatballs and gravy is a must-order on your first visit.

936 S. 9th St.; 215-592-1295

Coffee break: La Colombe

Their sprawling flagship shop on Frankford Avenue shows how far founders Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti have come from humble beginnings to a Philly-based national coffee empire. A full food menu, a bakery and a micro-distillery for the brand’s Different Drum rum are some of the highlights, and it’s the perfect place for people-watching before a walking tour around trendy Fishtown.

1335 Frankford Ave.; 267-479-1600

Happy hour: Vedge

Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s haute vegan temple is a must-visit for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. If you’re not doing a full meal here, the bar at the front of the restored Frank Furness townhouse is the next best option, with creative cocktails, a thoughtful wine list and the option to order from the full food menu. Wallet-friendly happy-hour specials are an added bonus.

1221 Locust St.; 215-320-7500

Pre-dinner snack: Zahav

Unless you plan ahead it’s still tough to score a table at James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Solomonov’s Israeli spot in Society Hill. But thankfully for us last-minute types, the lively bar accepts walk-ins. Order the vibrant salatim (a selection of six traditional vegetable salads) and the silky hummus that put the place on the map. The cocktail program and desserts here are excellent too – if you're not saving room for later. 

237 St James Pl.; 215-625-8800

Dinner: Laurel

There's no better place to wind down your Philly food tour than East Passyunk Avenue, now known as one of the best food streets in the country. There, Top Chef–winner Nick Elmi continues to bring in the crowds at Laurel, his creative French-American (formerly BYOB only; wine pairings are now available for $65). He's still having fun with his critically acclaimed seven-course tasting menu, as evidenced by the recent addition of alcohol-infused gummy bears.

1617 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-271-8299

After-dinner drinks: Palizzi Social Club

It's sadly true that chef Joey Baldino's private Italian social club/restaurant stopped accepting new members (at least temporarily), but it's also true that it's worth the effort to find a friendly local who has a membership to get you in to try the exceptional cocktails and perfectly executed Italian American classics. If that doesn't pan out, there are plenty of other stellar options nearby, including Nick Elmi's ITV (next door to Laurel) and Townsend, a late-night industry favorite.  

1408 S. 12th St.; no phone

top chef
michael solomonov
east passyunk
reading terminal market
south philly
roast pork