Philadelphia may be best known for its greasy cheesesteaks and technicolored water ice, but there’s so much more to eat in the City of Brotherly Love. To get the full picture, read through Eater’s City Guide. But if one day in Philly is all that’s on the agenda, consider forgoing the city’s famous foodstuffs in favor of some newer classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Start north of Center City in the rapidly evolving Fishtown neighborhood, where the main drag is lined with several of Philadelphia’s hottest restaurants and bars. From there you’ll need to take a cab or car service or ride a bike to the historic district, known as Old City. The rest of the itinerary is relatively walkable, though you’ll definitely be covering a lot of ground. Get going early and wear elastic-waist pants.
8 a.m. Philly Style Bagels
It may seem odd to kick off a day sampling Philly’s signature specialities with a food so quintessentially New York City, but Philly Style Bagels in Fishtown shows off two things: the city’s scrappy innovation, and a damn good bagel. Traditional flavors like sesame and cinnamon raisin are made in small batches, “Philly style” — slow fermented, hand-rolled, boiled in water and IPA from local Yards Brewing Company, and then baked in a pizza oven, yielding a crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside bagel with a subtle malted sweetness. Layer on cream cheese and house-cured salmon, or go for the vegan “banh mi” (tofu, pickles, and herbs on a bagel) for something a little different.
9 a.m. Menagerie Coffee
After tasting Philly’s delicious contribution to the pantheon of breakfast foods, head south to historic Old City and stop into Menagerie Coffee for fuel in the form of a cold brew or a matcha iced latte with oat milk. With its welcoming vibe, knowledgeable baristas, and exhaustive menu, this cozy shop manages to be adored by both locals and tourists alike. It can be tough to find a seat here during peak hours, so take your cup to go and stroll around Independence Mall, home of the Liberty Bell, just a few blocks away.
12 p.m. Goldie
At lunchtime, walk west to the heart of Center City to sample one of Philly’s new sandwich icons. Opened by the same team behind celebrated modern Israeli restaurant Zahav and delightful fried chicken and doughnut chain Federal Donuts, Goldie is a fast-casual spot serving three things: insanely delicious falafel, shawarma-spiced fries, and tahini milkshakes, which happen to be vegan — in fact, the whole restaurant is vegan. The falafel comes atop a salad of kale and veggies or tucked inside chewy, house-made pita. Choose from one of three spiced sauces (schug is the hottest) and don’t skip the shake. Flavors like mint chocolate or Turkish coffee, sprinkled with crushed halva, are as rich and satisfying as any omnivore option.
2 p.m. Isgro Pastries
The city has a proliferation of buzzy bakeries that have opened in the past few years (see: Essen and Lost Bread Co.), but one of the oldest is still one of the best. Near the Italian Market in South Philly, Isgro has been around for over a century, and still whips up excellent Italian rum cakes, soft and lemony ricotta cookies, chewy almond macaroons, perfect pignoli, and the archetype of what cannoli should be. The ricotta filling, dotted with mini-chocolate chips, is not too sweet, and since it’s piped in to order, the shell is still crispy. If you aren’t planning to eat it right away (but why not?) ask them to hold the powdered sugar so the cannoli won’t get soggy.
5 p.m. ITV
In the late afternoon, make your way farther south to East Passyunk Avenue, which brims with restaurants that really show off Philly’s wonderfully eclectic culinary landscape. (If you pass the aforementioned modern Jewish bakery Essen, duck in to grab a chocolate rugelach.) For a pre-dinner drink, stop into ITV (In the Valley), a cocktail bar from Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi, who also owns fine-dining spot Laurel next door. The elegant little bar has one of the most surprisingly excellent happy hours in town, with select wines and cocktails for $7 and a lineup of $3 snacks, like salt-and-pepper cashews. Another solid choice, though not included in happy hour pricing, is the puffed pork chips with sour cream and wild onion.
7 p.m. Sate Kampar
When it‘s time for dinner, get in on Philly’s famed BYOB scene. But instead of one of the red gravy Italian joints that once dominated the bring-your-own-bottle options, try one of the new guard. Housed in an inviting storefront on East Passyunk, Sate Kampar is chef-owner Ange Branca’s ode to the Malaysian cuisine of her childhood. Sample hot and tender skewers of meat or tofu grilled over coconut shell charcoal and served with peanut sauce, tangy pickled vegetables made using an old family recipe, and slow-cooked beef rendang. If you’re more in the mood for a restaurant with a wine list, a block south is Le Virtu. Focusing on Abruzzese cuisine, the Italian eatery makes its cured meats and pastas in-house, like the Ventricina-style salami with nutmeg and citrus.
10 p.m. After-Dinner Drinks
Philly’s bar options are nearly as diverse as its dining scene. For a classic dive, make for Bob & Barbara’s on South Street and ask for the “Special” — a can of PBR and a shot of Jim Beam that will set you back $4. Every Thursday night, the well-worn bar hosts a decidedly glam drag show, starting at 10:15pm. If you’re looking for something a little more swank, go back into Center City for the Franklin Bar (officially The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company) in Rittenhouse Square. The sleek subterranean spot has roots in the Prohibition era, and today serves intricate, meticulously made cocktails. Or keep heading north to test your luck at Hop Sing Laundromat, an unmarked bar in Chinatown that makes some of the very best cocktails in the city — but you have to get past the whims of the owner to be allowed entry. Note that it’s only open Thursday through Saturday.