Philadelphia may be best known nationally for its hearty cheesesteaks and technicolor 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 you’ve got, consider forgoing the city’s famous foodstuffs in favor of some other classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Start in South Philly at Bok Building, where you’ll get going with a menu of pastries and coffee, with some light shopping inside the building on the side. From there you can be ambitious and walk (Philly is a fairly small city and is great for walking), or rent a bike and see the sites that way. The subway is so-so but it’ll definitely get you from one place to another if you’d rather not get too sweaty. You’ll definitely be covering a lot of ground, so get going early and wear elastic-waist pants.
9 a.m. Pastries at Machine Shop Boulangerie
A perfect day always starts at a pastry shop, and lucky for both residents and visitors, Philly is home to one of the world’s best. Machine Shop Boulangerie — located on the ground floor of Bok Building, a massive former technical high school in South Philly — is about as good as you’ll get without boarding a flight to France. Owner Emily Riddell’s croissants, kouign amann, and Danishes are all stellar, and the breads are perfect to take with you. Our recommendation: Buy a whole box's worth of stuff and snack while you walk around town. Two Persons coffee shop is next to the bakery and opens at 8 a.m. daily if you’re looking for a little caffeine before Machine Shop opens at 9 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.
10 a.m. Coffee and provisions at Herman’s Coffee
Wander north and east — swinging through Dickinson Square on the way — to arrive at Herman’s Coffee in Pennsport. There, you can pick up specialty coffee drinks, local provisions like chocolate bars, sauces, and coffee beans, and a remarkable array of tinned fish — very on-trend. It’s a welcoming place with outdoor seating and an open garage for hanging out and taking a break. If you’re still hungry after eating several pastries (or are so enamored with Herman’s that you want to head back later), there are usually lunch and dinner pop-ups that run out of Herman’s food truck — check the website for the current schedule.
12 p.m. Lunch at Juana Tamale
Yes, yes, you may have to walk in a bit of a roundabout way to make it to Juana Tamale for lunch, but it’s worth a little extra effort to get a filling, flavorful meal of birria tacos, ramen, and churros in a space that’s colorful and exciting. Chef Jennifer Zavala made her name with a spectacular birria pop-up over the past few years in Philly, so when her permanent location opened on East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphians flocked there from all over the city. Walk all around the neighborhood and up East Passyunk — the city’s hottest dining strip — for even more food options, like sausage rolls at Stargazy, banh mi and pastries at Artisan Boulanger Patissier, bagels at Korshak, and a perfect burger at Fountain Porter.
3 p.m. Cookies at Isgro Pastries
The city has had a proliferation of buzzy bakeries in the past few years (you already tried one this morning if you’ve been following along), 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 archetypal cannoli. 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 the staff to hold the powdered sugar to limit sogginess.
5 p.m. Take your pick at Reading Terminal Market
We’ll keep it short and sweet: Reading Terminal Market is actually worth the visit. It’s touristy, sure, but there are so many good dining options that it’s a shame to come to Philly and not at least get a Beiler’s doughnut or lumpia from Tambayan. The market closes at 6 p.m. daily, so sneak in on your way north for a snack before dinner.
6 p.m. A glass of wine and a French hot dog at Le Caveau
The story of Chloe Grigri’s wine bar has been one of boom and bust: Right before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Le Caveau was nominated for a James Beard Award for outstanding wine program and was a bustling hotspot before the shutdown six months later. Suddenly, the bar à vins — a longtime dream of Grigri’s — was shuttered and empty with no reopening date in sight. Then, in October 2021, Le Caveau opened again, the wines resumed flowing, and the party picked back up. It’s one of the best places in the city for a glass of wine and a French hot dog, which is served on a baguette, of course.
7 p.m. Dinner and a show at South
A stalwart of Philadelphia’s dining and entertainment scene since the ’90s, South is a great option for out-of-towners seeking not just excellent soul food (buttermilk fried chicken, Creole deviled eggs, vegan jambalaya) but also a concert to enhance the vibe. You can reserve tables and book tickets in advance, so time your visit to Philly around a favorite singer or jazz group or trust that you’ll find a new favorite anytime you come here.
10 p.m. After-dinner weekend drinks at Middle Child Clubhouse
This city’s bar options are nearly as diverse as its dining scene, and while you’re in Fishtown, you should at least stop at Middle Child Clubhouse for the fun atmosphere and the cocktail menu, which are both representative of Philly in a way that is difficult to put one’s finger on. It stays open till midnight Fridays and Saturdays. You could also try nearby International Bar or Johnny Brenda’s for music. For a classic dive, make for Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar. If you’re looking for something a little swankier, go back into Center City for the Franklin, a sleek subterranean spot with intricate, meticulously made cocktails and roots in the Prohibition era. 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 on Fridays and Saturdays — but you have to get past the whims of the owner to be allowed entry.