It comes as no big surprise that the birthplace of American democracy — home to the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s print shop, Betsy Ross’s flag-making studio, and the very same building where the U.S. Constitution was signed — just so happens to be Philly’s tourist epicenter. Fortunately, in lieu of lining the streets with middling cheesesteak joints geared toward school groups and the vacationing set, the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is full of all-day dining options frequented by locals and visitors alike. From storied taverns and modern hot spots to 19th-century ice cream shops, Old City’s top eating and drinking destinations are steeped in their own fascinating histories.Read More
Eat Your Way Through Philadelphia’s Historic District
Where to dine in Old City, from morning pastries through after-dinner drinks
1. The Bourse
With vendors selling loaded fries, gussied up grilled cheeses, Korean tacos, Egyptian shawarma, fried chicken, Filipino lumpia, Chinese dumplings, and more, the hard part is narrowing down what to order at the new food hall inside the historic Bourse building.
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2. High Street on Market
It takes a talented crew to engineer sandwiches good enough to impress a town as tough as Philly. Whether it’s an eye opener of Lancaster bologna and egg on a house-baked poppy roll or a reimagined favorite like pork with provolone and fermented broccoli rabe, High Street’s sandwich game is on point. Later in the day, the dining room lights dim and the restaurant transitions from counter service to a sit-down spot.
Iron Chef Jose Garces’ first restaurant remains a Philly favorite after more than a decade serving traditional Spanish tapas in Old City. Shrimp in garlic sauce and bacon-wrapped dates are among the go-tos at this stylish spot.
This Old City institution has been on the cutting edge of fine dining for more than 20 years, embracing the farm-to-table ethos long before it was trendy. These days Fork is as worth a visit as ever, thanks to a wealth of skill and creativity in both the front and back of house. The $78 set menu is a four-course affair that allows tables to sample a luxe selection of starters, pastas, mains, and desserts.
5. Sonny's Famous Steaks
If a cheesesteak is an absolute must, this Old City fave has garnered its fair share of national accolades for its rib eye and Whiz sandwiches. Bonus points for a 3 a.m. last call on weekends. Another good option in the neighborhood is Campo’s, which, along with the cheesesteaks, grilled chicken sandwiches, and hoagies, has several vegan items on the menu.
6. City Tavern
City Tavern hasn’t actually been around since Ben Franklin was singing the praises of beer, but it sure looks like it has — with good reason. Opened in 1976, the restaurant is modeled after the original City Tavern on the same spot, built in 1773 and frequented by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and crew. Head to this historic watering hole for a hearty meal of “Colonial turkey pot pie,” or just go right to the bar for beers brewed with the Founding Fathers’ recipes, delivered by waitstaff outfitted in tricorner hats and other period garb.
7. Khyber Pass Pub
With neon craft beer signs illuminating its windows, it would be easy to assume that Khyber is just another Philly beer bar. But while its draft and bottle offerings are among the city’s best, what sets this former dive apart is its menu of New Orleans-inspired fare. Philly might be miles from the Big Easy but the po’ boys and étouffées here are no joke. There are also a lot of vegan options.
8. Royal Boucherie
Every neighborhood should have a solid French restaurant. In Old City, it’s Top Chef winner Nick Elmi’s lively brasserie Royal Boucherie. Pop in for glass of vin or a full meal. Either way, snagging a seat under the string lights on the hidden deck and starting with charcuterie or selections from the raw bar is the move.
9. Han Dynasty
A tiny Chestnut Street restaurant was the beginning of Philly’s love affair with Sichuan cuisine. Han Dynasty is now a mini-empire with satellites in three states. These days the flagship operation in Old City has moved across the street to statelier digs with more space to enjoy fiery dan dan noodles, cumin lamb, and twice-cooked pork belly.
10. Ariana Restaurant
Ariana has been serving Afghan food in Old City for two decades. The cozy restaurant is BYOB, so bring along a bottle of wine to go with the lamb kebabs, kofta, and sautéed pumpkin.
11. Buk Chon
Korean BYOB Buk Chon, with its exposed brick walls and comfy banquettes, is where to go for double-fried chicken with chili sauce, a plate piled with bulgogi, or sizzling bibimbap.
Who knew that something as humble as hummus could change the way the nation views Israeli eating? Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook of Zahav — the best restaurant in the country — have cultivated a masterful crew to run the open kitchen from which diners are treated to multi-course meals featuring smart takes on classic Middle Eastern flavors. Order al la carte or go for one of the two prix fixe options — either way, kick off the meal with that game-changing hummus.
13. The Franklin Fountain
History buffs and antiquarians Eric and Ryan Berley’s old-timey soda fountain doesn’t mess around when it comes to ice cream authenticity. From period-perfect decor to classic Philadelphia-style scoops and fizzy phosphates and floats, desserts here are Wonka-level over-the-top and timelessly tasty. It does get busy, especially in high season, but good news: The brothers’ Franklin Ice Cream Bar on the same block almost always has a shorter line. Head there for a slightly smaller selection of ice cream, plus chocolate-dipped ice cream bars with colorful toppings.
Philadelphia’s wine scene has been flourishing as of late, thanks in no small part to Panorama’s longtime sommelier, Bill Eccleston. At this dark-wood wine bar, guest can sample 120 wines from the world’s largest preservation and dispensing system, either by the glass or incorporated into fanciful flights with themes like “wines for beer lovers” and “future cult classics.” To eat, chef Matthew Gentile’s menu features house-made pastas.
15. Tuna Bar
Chef-owner Ken Sze honed his skills at his family’s sushi restaurant in South Jersey before heading to Old City to open Tuna Bar. The stylish spot has a full bar with wine, beer, and cocktails and serves both lunch and dinner.
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