Fishtown and Kensington — two neighborhoods in the northeastern corner of the city, marked by Front Street to the west, and the Delaware river to the east — are obvious choices for flashy restaurants that often receive national press. With Fishtown’s numerous trendy businesses and ever-growing selection of luxury apartments, the neighborhood has become an appealing choice for professionals moving to Philadelphia, with gentrification quickly creeping north in Kensington and Port Richmond.
But there is much more that these neighborhoods have to offer beyond flashy restaurants. In our third edition of our Ask A Local series, we asked three Fishtown residents to tell us about the restaurants that make up their day-to-day lives and the places that give the neighborhood a culture that often goes unseen.
Melissa Alam, brand consultant
Melissa Alam is a Bengali-American brand consultant, the founder of Alam Digital, where she works with businesses like R&D Philly, Suraya, and many others to help them design logos, build websites, and generally consult on all things branding.
Why she loves Fishtown
“The gentrification happening here is a bummer. When I lived here years ago it wasn’t as densely populated, and a lot of big developers are coming in and changing the culture. But there’s this community feel — I run into people I know all the time and that makes it feel like home to me.”
El Sabor Puerto Rican
176 Diamond Street
Whenever I’m craving Puerto Rican food, El Sabor is walking distance from me. They have this amazing fried chicken that just falls off the bone — and the owner is so nice.
Roving currently; 413 E. Girard Avenue in the future
La Chingonita is currently a food truck, but they’re about to take over the old Sketch Burgers location on East Girard. They do really good birria tacos. I spend a lot of time in Mexico City and this is where I go when I’m craving those flavors.
165 W. Girard Avenue
I go to Streetside for quick, affordable lunches. They’re my go-to for banh mi and their chive and pork dumplings are amazing. They do fun things like banh mi fries, also.
2041 Coral Street
Forin is pretty new. The aesthetics of the place are beautiful and the coffee is great, but they’re also doing tons of cool pop-ups. I recently went to one where they had a Cuban food truck and sometimes they have mobile bookstores come in. For me it’s exciting to always see something new when I go in there.
Roland Bui, retail and hospitality specialist
Roland Bui is a regular at seemingly every restaurant in the city. Since he came to Philly more than 15 years ago, he’s been a fixture in the restaurant scene, constantly exploring the city. During his time as a bartender and later as a vendor for a major Philly-based coffee company, he became friends with servers, bussers, cooks, and baristas across the city who have gone on to become chefs, owners, managers, and entrepreneurs, making him well-connected and well-fed throughout the city.
Why he loves Fishtown and Kensington
“My wife and I moved to Fishtown in 2015, so I like to call us the older new wave. We have two young daughters and we love taking them around to all the local establishments, and we’ve been really lucky to feel like family pretty much everywhere we go.”
632 E. Girard Avenue
Sulimay’s is a neighborhood joint with that old Fishtown feel. The food is great, and they always support lots of other local businesses. I recommend the scrapple fries — they’re amazing.
3400 J Street
Càphê Roasters is a beautiful space and the food and coffee drinks are great. As a second-generation immigrant, my experience has been that at first, you repress your cultural identity to fit in, but then you grow up. Becoming a parent you want to feel proud. Càphê Roasters has given me so much pride. It’s a space where I see myself, which is so important, and I’m grateful to Thu and Jacob for bringing it to life.
9 W. Girard Avenue
I know there are other ice cream places around, but Weckerly’s is just incredible. My daughters only know ice cream as ‘Are we going to Weckerly’s?’ They have the best ice cream in Philadelphia. I love their local approach to the product, and they’re really connected with the community in Philly, always doing partnerships with chefs and businesses.
1310 Frankford Avenue
The staff at Kensington Quarters has always made me and my family feel really welcome. My daughters love their crudo. It’s also changed and adapted a lot, and I think that’s cool. We can feel like adults there but the kids are also comfortable.
Jeannine A. Cook, bookstore owner
Why she loves Fishtown and Kensington
“I moved to Philly when I was 17 years old and people were like, ‘You can go anywhere in the city, but do not go to Fishtown because it’s a very racist neighborhood.’ They were known for chasing people out with bats or attacking people if they weren’t white. When we were looking for a location, I really wanted to be in West Philly, but I couldn’t get any positive response, and the only place that gave me a yes was the place where we are right now [in Fishtown.] I knew I wanted to live walking distance from the bookstore, so now I live here too.
For the most part, the voices of support have been far louder than the voices of dissent. Some people consider me a gentrifier, but my big thing is if a neighborhood is racist, those neighborhoods deserve to be infiltrated. The racists don’t get to just have a neighborhood to themselves. So I feel like we ended up in the right place, even though it’s not what I originally thought. There are not enough Black-owned businesses in Fishtown.”
Cake Life Bake Shop
1306 Frankford Avenue
When we hosted Will Smith’s book launch, we called Cake Life last-minute and asked for a cake and they made it right away. They do little things to support us and I think that is really sweet, plus all their cakes and pastries are so good.
1108 Frankford Avenue
Fabrika is right around the corner from us. It’s like a modern cabaret, and they’ve been really supportive. When we hosted our Sisterhood Sit-In, I went to them because I realized it was going to rain. And they totally let us use their space on super short notice, and it was a really powerful event. They even let me fly on their trapeze set-up.
Franny Lou’s Porch
2400 Coral Street
Franny Lou’s Porch [in Kensington] is the only other Black-owned spot that I can think of near Fishtown. I try to get breakfast from there as much as possible. Blew [Kind, the owner of Franny Lou’s Porch] is someone who checks on my heart and soul and that is so important. I love their “Pro-Community” sandwich, and the “Pro-Love” is also really good.
400 E. Girard Avenue
When we were in the trenches of the pandemic and we could only have five people in the store at a time, we would send people down to Milkcrate with a bookmark and they could have whatever they wanted off the menu while they waited to get into the bookstore. We still send people down there a lot.