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City Guide - Philadelphia

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Where I stayed:

I personally have always stayed in the Rittenhouse area because that is where I had family I could bunk with. Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy that area because its proximity to the park I love sitting in, several museums, and lots of great restaurants. The only downside is that it isn’t exactly centrally located, so when you venture to the other side of the city be prepared to walk or grab an Uber. We walked 95% of the time, but in the cold that may not be something everyone enjoys.

On this particular stay, we enjoyed staying at Roost Rittenhouse which is like a mix between an Airbnb with with hotel security and amenities. You cannot access the building after hours without your key card, you get a full apartment including a small kitchen and your own washer and dryer, and it’s quiet for a good nights rest after a long day. The pictures below are of my room, but they are not my pictures, as mine were littered with luggage and clothes and didn’t do the space justice.

Recommendations by neighborhood


RITTENHOUSE SQUARE AREA

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Bluestone Lane

There are several places to enjoy a nice full breakfast in the area, but Bluestone Lane was a comfortable and quaint coffee shop that was a great escape from the cold for an affordable breakfast. You can take a cup to-go or sit down and enjoy a small menu of breakfast and lunch items. I thought they did an exceptional job executing simple menu items that got us in and out, paired with coffee so good I got two drinks in one sitting which I almost never do.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

This bar/restaurant was one of the best recommendations I received through a friend of a friend. We visited on a weekend, arriving right when they opened to an empty bar, which is bliss for me. We got the full attention of the excellent bartender as she crafted our drinks and gave us her personal favorite Philly spots. Always ask the bartender where they go in their hometown.

We loved the atmosphere so much we ending up staying long enough to enjoy their dinner menu that started at 5 o’clock. We started first by enjoying oysters served with frozen meyer lemon mignonette and the beef tartare served with crispy shallots, smoked beef heart and creme fraîche. This elevated food experience that could be enjoyed at a small bar was the reason we stayed to enjoy more on the menu. If you don’t wish to sit at the bar, more dining seating is upstairs.

Lil Pop Shop

One of the best things about walking around the Rittenhouse neighborhood is how picturesque the buildings and storefronts are, especially when they are framed with the beauty of colorful fall foliage. As you walk, you will undoubtedly find small shops that will lure you in. That’s how I found the Lil Pop Shop. Here you can stop for a coffee, a slice of pie, or one of their award-winning popsicles. They were so good I had two over the course of my trip. The coconut hibiscus and then a seasonal treat, pumpkin s’mores.

El Merkury

What started as a pop-up is now a fast casual restaurant serving Central American street food off of Chestnut Street. You order on touch pads when you walk in and your food quickly follows. We tried a bounty of delicious items like horchata, elote, and tostadas during our visit. For dessert I loved the churro, but didn’t love the soft serve ice cream it came with. It’s still worth a stop during your visit if you are on that side of town, just skip dessert.

Veda

Veda is a modern Indian restaurant also located on Chestnut street that came highly recommended. I wish I had more photos to share, but I put the camera away since I was with family. I did however get a quick shot of my mango lassi at the bar before they arrived, which they duplicate for kids with no alcohol. What is great about this place is that they have a buffet for $15, so if you can stow away a heaping helping of good Indian food it is worth the price.

Other great spots near Rittenhouse/Center City:

  • Monks for beer lovers (try the mussels)

  • La Colombe (yes, it’s a northern chain, but it’s delicious)

  • Capogiro Gelato

  • Fuji Mountain Sushi

  • Double Knot

CHINATOWN

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Chinatown Square

Years ago, while exploring Chinatown, we found a huge two-story shop filled with a wide selection of goods. Housewares, toys, swords - you name any random item that had Hello Kitty’s face on it and this space had it. We never knew the name so we were desperate to find it, asking locals if they knew what we were talking about. We came to find out it had been turned into a new food hall.

Interestingly enough, it was home to one of the foodie spots I had on my list.

Hi Kori offers Japanese street food and we tried their “Japadog” or Japanese hot dogs. They weren’t bad, but they didn’t blow me away either. It was worth a try, and we had a great bartender, but I probably wouldn’t say it’s a must try. There were other vendors to scope out if you visit this spot. Calling it a food hall is generous if you ask me.

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Miucha

There were several new boba tea spots in Chinatown (some chains that even Orlando has now) but Micuha caught my eye on Instagram. It’s a photo ready shop with yellow accents, selfie mirrors, and cute drinks. Thankfully it wasn’t all a millenial pink and photo ops; the drinks, especially the cheese tea were quite good.

Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market isn’t technically in Chinatown, but it sits right on the cusp so I threw it in this neighborhood. It’s obviously a place that attracts lots of tourists, and delicious chaos ensues as soon as you enter. Your best bet is to get a map and look at what each row has to offer and chart your course, otherwise you may get so overwhelmed you won’t know where to begin.

My suggestions of what to eat includes DiNic’s, Little Thai Market, and Bassetts Ice Cream, but follow your nose and your heart and bring cash.

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Mural at Race Street and Juniper Street

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More Chinatown suggestions:

  • Terakawa Ramen

  • Vietnam Restaurant

FISHTOWN

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Weckerly’s Ice Cream

I don’t care how cold it is outside, I will always make an ice cream stop. We got to Weckerly’s right when they opened in the afternoon and there was already a line that formed inside their very intimate space. Half were locals picking up Thanksgiving orders and the other half were waiting for delicious scoops. After owner and pastry chef Jen began making small batches of ice cream where she worked, it slowly turned into a micro creamery known for their organic cream from grass-fed cows that is brought in locally from Seven Stars Farm in Chester County.

Once it was finally my turn to order I couldn’t resist trying a oat ice cream sandwich with homemade jam and oatmeal cookies. It was superb, creamy, not overly sweet, and worth the wait.

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Barcade

Just down the street from Weckerly’s you will find a large barcade complete with a full bar and a large game room with pinball machines, a huge multi-player Pac-Man board, and most of your favorite classic arcade games. It was a great place to recharge from the cold, grab a beer and thaw out while you play.

Cake Life

Between the flaky blessings from Born and Bread, Buttermilk Bakery and Zak the Baker here in Florida, I am pretty picky about baked goods when I travel. Cake Life has won awards and competed on Cupcake Wars (and won), two facts I did not know before going there. Their croissants were beautiful and delicious. We tried the everything croissant and the Cubano both full of goodies inside, so it felt like a hearty meal. I grabbed a pop tart on the way out that I didn’t eat until the next day, and it was still fresh and moist as if it had just been baked. I highly recommend a stop here. Go hungry!

Amalgam Comics

I know not everyone hits up comic book shops on their vacations, but we normally hit up one or two a day if they are plentiful in the city we are visiting. Amalgam was definitely the nicest and most hospitable shop we found. One of the workers buzzed around full of energy making sure everyone was finding what they needed. I watched him dance to the music they were playing as he organized shelves. I couldn’t help think, this is how we are all suppose to enjoy work, as I sipped on a butter beer latte at a Captain America themed table. The shop is not littered with Pop collectibles as many other shops are, so for die hard comic book lovers, you should be happy with the selection here.

Reanimator Coffee

I walked into Reanimator and immediately noticed their open space in the back with several coffee bros huddles around a table engaged in what looked like a cupping session. If you don’t know what that is, it’s where you observe the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. I figured that was a good sign they took their jobs seriously, so the coffee should be great.

I got a salted caramel latte and really enjoyed that they didn’t got overboard with the caramel. I like a sweet latte that isn’t that sweet, if that makes any sense. Either way, they hit my palette just right. Way to go coffee bros!

Frankford Hall

I really loved this concept, even though I’m not much of a beer drinker and I will tell you why. It doesn’t really feel like a beer hall. I’m not sure why, since most of the seating is long communal tables, but the space is quite large, filled with plenty of seating (both inside and outside) so they can really pack patrons inside. Food and beer are ordered from completely separate areas so you don’t have to fight drinkers just to order a pretzel. I probably wouldn't eat a full dinner here because there are so many options for food around, but for a quick break (even a hot apple cider) it’s a welcoming space.

Murals located on Front Street at the Honeygrow test kitchen.

Other great spots around Fishtown:

  • Philly Style Bagels (go early)

  • Love & Honey Fried Chicken

  • Honeygrow test kitchen window

  • Philadelphia Record Exchange

  • Suraya

SOUTH PHILLY (North to South Street)

South Philly Barbacoa

If you watch The Chef’s Table on Netflix you may have seen the episode featuring Chef Cristina Martinez whose story is compelling, upsetting, and inspiring. We made sure to take advantage of being in Philly on a Monday, which has been known to be the slower day, to visit her no-frills restaurant. Taking no chances we went in the morning before any crowds had a chance to form. The only menu you will most likely see is the board outside, so pay attention to it.

The tacos come as authentic tacos do; fresh tortillas and your choice of meat only, then you add your own toppings. I found the meat to be exceptionally tender and flavored. I may have died a little when Christina emerged and warmly said hello. I left floating on a happy high of barbacoa and seeing this amazing woman in the flesh.

This spot is cash only, but if you happen to forget, visit the laundry mat down the street and use their ATM inside in the back.

Geno’s and Pat’s King of Steaks

We took another trip South to see the Percy Street Project which unfortunately was not working, so instead of wasting an Uber ride, I drowned my sorrows in cheese steak. We tried, for the first time admittedly, both Geno’s and Pat’s. I will not pretend to be a Philly cheese steak connoisseur, but I will tell you I liked the meat at Pat’s better and the bread at Geno’s better. These two Philly icons are actually very close to South Philly Barbacoa, so if your stomach allows, make a food crawl in this area.

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Federal Doughnuts

There are several locations of this Philadelphia based shop; I visited the one on South Street. The concept comes from the James Beard award winning Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav, and offers more than just doughnuts. Yes, if you want fried chicken and doughnuts, you have found the right place. I did not go crazy on my visit, and decided to only try two flavors which were both quite good. The Cherry Pecan and Lemon Meringue were very sweet and moist, but if I’m being honest they didn’t quite live up to my favorite doughnuts - Doughnut Plant in NYC. Still worth a stop though, without a doubt.

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Rally Coffee

Coffee shops are plentiful as you walk around Philly, and we found Rally as we walked from South Philly Barbacoa back north to toward South Street. There isn’t much to tell you about it, other than they had a tasty drink called the “Golden Mocha”. It was a mocha with a nice balance of turmeric. Yes please!

Magic Gardens

As you walk South Street you will see bits of wall mosaics all over. This is thanks to artist Isaiah Zagar and 17 years of consistently placing handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors and other objects into this structure.

The space is made up of two indoor galleries and a bi-level outdoor sculpture garden. The cost to visit is $10 but I would recommend buying your ticketed time slot online to ensure they do not sell out. Pictures are allowed and encouraged, but you have to take care not to touch the walls as they are trying to preserve it.

SOCIETY HILL

Ants Pants

On my very first visit to Philly many years ago, my brother took me to a breakfast spot called Ants Pants and I loved it. I was so happy to see that not only was it still open, but a second location was now in Society Hill. It’s a charming Australian inspired cafe with a great latte and delicious breakfast. Nothing fancy here, just solid breakfast foods. Bring cash, they don’t accept plastic.

Zahav

Without a doubt Zahav offered the best overall meal experience on this trip. Because of the popularity of this Israeli restaurant, amplified by a feature from Anthony Bourdain, it requires a reservation two months in advance. By time I realized a reservation was the way to go, I was too close to the time of my trip to secure one, so I took to the internet looking for tips. Many offered the advice of going on a Monday and getting there early before a line formed to secure a seat at their full service bar. We did just that, and it worked. I would suggest getting there no later than 4:15 p.m. with a fully charged phone or good book as you pass the time.

The menu consists mainly of small plates and a few entrees you can select from and order as you go. Some items we enjoyed included:

  • Hummus served with Laffa bread (a MUST)

  • Fried Cauliflower (labneh, garlic, mint, aleppo)

  • Crispy Potatoes (smoked olive chermoula, tehina, fried garlic)

  • Hanger Steak

  • Chocolate Kanafi with smokey sweet potato ice cream

This meal will be a bit of a splurge, but I promise you from the service to the food, even the music that was played, you won’t regret going.

To any that love to go mural hunting on vacation Philly is ripe with street art and installations. The best way to find them is using the resource found at https://map.muralarts.org/. Don’t forget to take a stroll on and around the Benjamin Franklin bridge.

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Of course there is so much more to see and taste in Philly, so don’t just take my latest trip as your own reference of recommendations. Walking the city is by the far the best way to see everything and stumble upon great finds. We did enjoy visits to the Mutter Museum, the Constitution Museum and many others, so find what fits your fancy and enjoy!

Per usual, this was a personal trip, no businesses, lodging or travel cost was paid for by anyone other than myself.


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