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Where to Eat, Drink, and Snack in South Philly: A Local’s Guide

Neighborhood recommendations for hot pho, cold water ice, and classic Indonesian street food from the locals who know South Philly best

South Philly is tough to define. Anything south of Washington Avenue is really a collection of individual neighborhoods, all bleeding together into one of the most culturally rich, exceptionally delicious parts of the city. In South Philly, ask and you shall receive: Regional Mexican food, plentiful Vietnamese restaurants, and Italian spots run the gamut from nationally renowned restaurants worth dressing up for to cozy old red sauce joints that have been home to family birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries for decades. South Philly is a neighborhood where all kinds of people live, work, eat, and play — and for the fourth installment in our Ask A Local series, we asked a few of those locals to share their favorite spots.

Want to learn where locals eat in other neighborhoods around Philly? Read our Ask A Local guides to Fishtown and Kensington, Germantown, and West Philly.

Sam Gellerstein, musician

For those who have happened upon (or sought out) Snacktime, the roving, smile-inducing brass band turns any corner of the city into a dance party, then they’ve seen Sam Gellerstein in his element. He plays the sousaphone for Snacktime, and is also a voracious eater, drinker, and lover of people and community.

Why he loves South Philly

“I’ve lived in South Philly since 2013 — I’ve lived all over the area. I think what’s really special about it is that there are so many different cultures that really shine through. It feels like I can always find something new and beautiful to eat or drink or experience.”

His neighborhood favorites

Cafe Nhan
1606 W. Passyunk Avenue

“I’m probably at Cafe Nhan twice a week, if not more. The food is full of amazing and complex flavors, but nothing is ever overdone. You get the fried fish and it has herbs and pickles and chile sauce and it’s just perfect. It’s people food, family food. My usual order is the pho dac biet with the steak on the side because I like to cook the steak myself. And an iced coffee.”

Artisan Boulangerie
1218 Mifflin Street

Whenever I can get there, I love to go to Artisan. Unfortunately one of the co-owners, Andre Chin, just passed away, which is so sad, because they’re so sweet and talented there. They have amazing baguettes, and their banh mi is my favorite in the city, for sure. I also love the almond stick, which is like a big, long, almond pastry that’s all crispy and delicious. I like to dip it in the Vietnamese iced coffee.”

Messina Social Club
1533 S. 10th Street

I’ve been finding myself drinking a lot at Messina recently. I mean obviously their food is amazing too, but I go there just for drinks a lot. The bartending staff is full of lots of amazing industry vets that are super fucking cool and just really make incredible fucking drinks. They made one of my favorite drinks that I’ve had in quite some time — it was a blend of like 10 different rums, with coconut cream, kind of in the style of a daiquiri. It was so good.”

D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats
1928 E. Passyunk Avenue

“That shit’s so good. Chris [D’Emilio’s] stuff is just really unique and amazing — sort of like water ice, sort of like sorbet. Some of my favorite flavors have been the Dr Pepper, and he does a birch beer one, which is delicious. And then he does just really fun sundaes, and it’s just him in there. And he’s always down to hang out and have a nice conversation with you. He’ll have a line out the door but he’s never rushing, he’s never in a bad headspace. He just wants to make a really delicious product.”

Diana Widjojo, chef and owner of Hardena

Diana Widjojo’s tiny, homestyle Indonesian restaurant has captured the hearts and stomachs of all who eat there since it opened in 2001. Widjojo took over Hardena in 2017, after being around the family business her whole life.

Why she loves South Philly

“I grew up in Queens, but we always came back and forth to Philly and spent a ton of time at the restaurant. When my parents first opened the restaurant, there was a bigger Indonesian population in the area, and so my relationship with the neighborhood was really through my people. I’ve made a lot of friendships here, both personally and business-wise. I’ve really grown to love it.”

D’Jakarta Cafe
1540 W. Ritner Street

“I usually love to go to D’Jakarta for their noodles, which are, like, classic Indonesian street food. We don’t really do fried rice like that at Hardena, but I usually have a craving for fried noodles, so I will go to D’Jakarta Cafe for that.”

1838 S. 18th Street

“The owner is from Sumatra, so her food is a lot spicier than D’Jakarta — and sometimes that really satisfies my cravings. I really love their meatball soup. [The restaurant] is like Hardena because they have a steam table and you can choose what you want. They do a goat curry, which is really good and spicy.”

Pho Ha
600 Washington Avenue

“When I’m really tired or I feel like I’m about to get sick, I go to Pho Ha and I just feel a hundred times better. I usually get the meatballs or the fatty brisket.”

River Twice
1601 E. Passyunk Avenue

“River Twice changes their menu all the time, and I usually go there for a special occasion; but last summer I had this tomato sandwich with caviar and seaweed and it was just amazing. Like your typical tomato sandwich but just elevated. River Twice is just special to me.”

Rex at the Royal
1524 South Street

“Last year we took a trip to the South and we went to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, and the food was just amazing, so Rex at the Royal is where I go when I’m craving [Southern cooking]. I always, always, always get the crawfish pot pie.Their bar menu is really good and I always order a lot of different drinks, and try as many as I can.”

Cristina Martinez, chef and owner of South Philly Barbacoa

The force of nature behind South Philly Barbacoa and Casa Mexico, Cristina Martinez recently won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Martinez has lived in Philly since 2006, and recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of South Philly Barbacoa.

Why she loves South Philly

“I love the Italian Market because it’s unique to Philadelphia, and because it’s so convenient for chefs — you can find anything you need here, whether you’re looking for Italian ingredients, Mexican, or something else. There’s also so much diversity here, many different communities of people, and I like seeing different groups of people.”

Pho 75
1122 Washington Avenue

“I like the pho without chicken at Pho 75. I go there three or four times a week. I like it because it’s clean and the service is really fast and they don’t bother you or anything.”

Anthony’s Italian Coffee & Chocolate House
903 S. 9th Street

“Everything that they serve at Anthony’s is really good, and I like sampling different things and knowing that the quality is going to be really good. People keep a really high standard on Ninth Street.”

Mole Poblano
1144 S. 9th Street

“I love the tacos dorados con papa at Mole Poblano. I’m pretty busy, and usually when I go out I just want to go somewhere they know me and where I know I can get something really good — and Mole Poblano is so close and delicious.”

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