9 Must-Try Meatballs in Philadelphia

By Danya Henninger  |  November 5, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

It’s an understatement to say there are a lot of meatballs in Philadelphia. Combine a strong Italian-American community with the global appeal of easy-eating ground meat, and you’ve got a dish that’s a surefire crowd pleaser. From old-time favorites to fresh takes on the classics and even something entirely new, we’ve found nine balls that we’re sure will make your mouth happy. Click through and then get rolling to find them.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Marabella Meatball Co.

    Gabe and Judy Marabella once ran a full-service Italian restaurant at the Shore, but these days they’re focusing on the staple of that cuisine with their counter-service shop on Walnut in Wash West. Several varieties are on offer, but you can’t go wrong with the classic beef-veal-pork meatball. For a quick and easy dinner, bring a bottle of wine along and try them all over pasta ($9; 215-238-1833).

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    High Street on Market

    Duck meatballs come as part of the whole-duck feast at sister restaurant Fork next door, but during breakfast and lunch at this high-end cafe, chef Eli Kulp offers them on their own. After simmering in red sauce, they’re gently stuffed into a seeded roll. Cheese is torch-melted over the top, and a sprinkling of red onions adds a bright crunch to each very rich bite ($14; 215-625-0988).

  • Credit: Jason Varney

    Little Nonna’s

    If you’ve had the caciocavallo-stuffed meatballs Marcie Turney offers at Barbuzzo, you’re probably already lining up a date to sample the ones at this new Italian down the street. Make it sooner rather than later, because the traditional combo of beef-veal-pork gets new life. Melting fontina oozes from the center, dripping into the smoky meat marinara over a very not-boring plate of spaghetti ($16; 215-546-2100).

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    Jerry’s Bar

    At this Northern Liberties hidden gem, Marshall Green’s meatballs pull South Philly soul food into a new neighborhood. A classic recipe of tender pork-veal-beef rounds finished in a bubbling housemade marinara is entirely worth sopping up with the garlic pecorino toasts that arrive on the side ($8.50; 267-273-1632).

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    “These are never coming off the menu, and the recipe’s never going to change,” says sous chef Ned Maddock. The recipe for the best-selling dish at the Brad Spence-helmed trattoria has a special source: Sal Vetri, Marc Vetri’s father. The trio of balls is so popular that the “potato tomato” sauce they’re served in is cooked in gargantuan pots that take over nearly the whole stove, multiple times a week ($8; 215-732-2647).

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    London Grill

    Each Monday, Michael McNally and Terry Berch McNally’s Fairmount tavern offers mix-and-match trios of meatballs for $6. You can choose from seven different varieties, from duck to pork, lamb and foie gras, and each is served in a signature sauce. If you make it over, you might be tempted to try them all, an ordering method we strongly endorse (215-978-4545).

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    Villa de Roma

    It’s entirely likely that the plate of famous meatballs you’re served at this Italian Market red-sauce standby will be larger than your waitress’ head. “Our balls are the best!” an octogenarian server told us, holding her hand up to her mouth in mock shame. The huge, all-beef rounds are made with a 50-year-old recipe and served smothered in gravy to the tune of 400 or more each week ($9 for three; 215-592-1295).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger


    The all-pork polpette at Peter McAndrews’ BYO in the Italian Market may not be what most people think of as a traditional Italian meatball, but it is - only from a different party of Italy. In Sicilian style, the garlicky, char-grilled meat is covered with dried fruits - in this case wild cherries - and nuts, here pine nuts ground into a coarse pesto. A shaving of lemon zest and a swirl of pungent olive oil leave you with what should be hailed as a new classic ($13; 215-440-0495).

  • Mama’s Meatballs

    Like many Philadelphians, Michael Antinore grew up eating meatballs at his grandma’s house, and he considers them a quintessential Philly food, so he took a leap of faith and launched a food truck based around the Italian staple. When you find him around town, ask if he’s running the “bacon blue ball” special: bacon is chopped into the meat, and it’s then stuffed with blue cheese before baking ($3.50 for a slider).