Everyone knows what you’re supposed to eat in Philadelphia: a cheesesteak, right? Of course. But there’s way more to Philly’s always-evolving food scene. The city’s most iconic dishes are rooted in Italian-American traditions, original Americana recipes, and the contributions of Philly’s many immigrant communities. Yes, get a cheesesteak or two — but this map highlights many more iconic Philly dishes everyone needs to try, from uniquely shaped soft pretzels and tomato pie to nationally known lamb barbacoa tacos.Read More
22 Restaurants Offering Philly’s Most Iconic Dishes
The best places for cheesesteaks, water ice, soft pretzels, and other iconic Philly foods
Wings at Cafe Soho
In the moody dining room of Cafe Soho, lit by K-Pop videos, opt for double-fried wings or boneless, then choose from a menu of sauces ranging from classic soy garlic to sweet chile to spicy, and add an extra order of pickled daikon.
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Jerk Chicken at Jamaican D's Caribbean & American Restaurant
It’s hard to pick a favorite here; Caribbean platters of jerk chicken, fried whiting, curry chicken, and oxtail are all to die for at this Chelten Avenue destination. Don’t be intimidated by the lines, which are just one more sign that Jamaican D’s is a beloved hotspot for some of the tastiest mac and cheese, collard greens, and plantains in the city.
Roast Duck at Sang Kee Peking Duck House
The Chinatown spot that claims to have introduced Philly to Beijing duck (sometimes called Peking duck, as it is here) in the 1980s is still the place to go for the Chinese specialty. Sang Kee Peking Duck House’s roasted birds have a crisp mahogany skin and come with pancakes, steamed buns, scallions, and hoisin.
Empanadas at Jezabel’s
No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to Jezabel’s in West Philly, where chef Jezabel Careaga offers some of the best empanadas outside of her home region of northwest Argentina. Order an empanada pack with a mix of meat, vegetarian, and vegan fillings and enjoy them with the spicy sauce of the day. Go ahead and tack on some alfajores for dessert while you’re at it.
Combo Platter at Abyssinia
In West Philly, homey Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia has convenient meat or vegetable platters that are perfect for sampling several dishes. Use the tangy injera to scoop up lentils, collard greens, spicy berbere chicken, and tender cubes of beef. Also in West Philly, Dahlak has been a reliable option for Eritrean and Ethiopian fare for decades.
Scrapple at Down Home Diner
Scrapple: It’s a Pennsylvania thing. The Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast staple combines pork scraps, cornmeal, and heavy seasoning into a loaf that gets sliced and pan-fried. Try it at Down Home Diner in the iconic Reading Terminal Market, either for breakfast or on top of a burger. You can also grab a side of scrapple at Dutch Eating Place, another Reading Terminal classic.
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Ice Cream at Bassetts Ice Cream
Bassets has been making ice cream in Philadelphia since 1861, and packing pints out of a Reading Terminal location since the market’s debut in 1893. Unlike other ice cream companies who have chosen to modernize with endless riffing, this family-run creamery keeps its mix-ins simple. A straightforward lineup of flavors ranges from chocolate chip and French vanilla to throwback scoops like rum raisin and butter pecan.
Oysters at Oyster House
For the last three generations, the Mink family has been in the oyster business. The current Center City location of Oyster House, which has been around since the 1940s, is polished, modern, and known for its happy hour. All of the seafood is served within 24 hours of being taken out of the water.
Lamb Shoulder at Zahav
As a nationally renowned restaurant that’s been part of the charge for exceptional Israeli food in America, Zahav is a major point of Philly pride. The lamb, braised in pomegranate molasses and strewn with chickpeas, is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
Cheesesteak at Angelo's Pizzeria
There’s plenty of debate about where to eat a cheesesteak, but the point is simple: Eat one. There is no more iconic food in this city than the cheesesteak — the rest of the world calls it a Philly cheesesteak for good reason. In South Philly, Angelo’s version is a showstopper. The key factors are a fresh, locally baked roll; flavorful (if moderately greasy) meat; Cheez Whiz (or American); and optional sauteed onions. For a bright twist on the formula, try the cheesesteak torta with serranos, chipotle mustard, and fresh pico de gallo at Mexican favorite Café y Chocolate, also in South Philly.
Square Pizza at Santucci’s (multiple locations)
The square pie from Santucci’s has been a local favorite for many years, starting in the 1950s in Northeast Philly. It’s currently available at several spots throughout Philly and beyond. The pizza is well-charred in cast-iron pans and piled with “upside-down” toppings, meaning the sauce is on top.
Water Ice at John's Water Ice
While Philly has many places to get good water ice, John’s in Bella Vista is a longstanding favorite. The cold treat is made with only water, fruit, and sugar, just like when the South Philly takeout shop opened in 1945.
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Meatballs and Gravy at Villa Di Roma
Villa Di Roma, a retro Italian Market stalwart, is beloved for many reasons, not least of which is its famous meatballs and gravy (otherwise known as red sauce). Get them over spaghetti, atop ravioli, on a sandwich at lunch, even to grab and go and pass off as homemade — just get them.
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Soft Pretzel at Center City Pretzel
A true Philadelphian will tell you all about how soft pretzels were considered a basic food group growing up, how guys at every intersection sold them in brown paper bags, and how they used to be much cheaper. The intersection guys are mostly gone and the prices have gone up, but pretzels are still part of the standard diet here. A good Philly soft pretzel is uniquely elongated into the shape of a paper clip, baked to a rich, golden-brown with an almost crunchy outside and a doughy-soft middle. Center City Pretzel opens its bakery doors at 6 a.m. most days to serve the hungry masses and get wholesale orders out the door. For more than three decades, this bakery has been going strong, making its pretzels from just the basic ingredients: flour, yeast, water, and that crunchy salt on top.
Vietnamese Hoagie at Ba Le Bakery
In the rest of the country, this baguette sandwich filled with pate, butter, pickled veggies, and other goodies is known as a banh mi, but in Philly it’s commonly referred to as a Vietnamese hoagie because, well, welcome to Philly. Ba Le has been at it since 1998 and offers extensive filling combinations from grilled pork to spicy sardine to a couple of vegan options.
Tacos at South Philly Barbacoa
Cristina Martinez’s lamb barbacoa tacos regularly draw national attention to this casual Italian Market eatery. The lamb is marinated and cooked overnight before tender chunks, chopped to order, are served on house-made tortillas. South Philly Barbacoa is open incredibly limited hours so prepare for a wait.
Pho at Pho Saigon
There are two Pho Saigon locations in Philly — one in the Northeast on Bustleton Avenue and the other in a shopping center right by the entrance to I-95. Either destination will hit the spot with one of Philly’s most revered dishes: a rich, hot bowl of pho, topped with all the necessary herbs and stewed in a lovely bowl of broth. Are you a morning pho kind of person? You can get Pho Saigon’s famous noodle soup starting at 9 a.m.
Cannoli at Termini Brothers Bakery (multiple locations)
South Philly is known for its picture-perfect family-run Italian bakeries, spilling over with sweets like torrone, lobster tails, zeppoli, and cannoli. One must-try spot is the century-old Termini Brothers Bakery, whose cannoli are integral to the Philly experience.
Gudeg Jackfruit Stew at Hardena
This unassuming South Philly corner spot has been serving incredible Indonesian food for the past 20-plus years. Visit Hardena on any given day for savory stews like fish in yellow curry and tender braised beef rendang, but it's the vegan gudeg jackfruit stew that has the most devoted fans. The stew is unctuous and rich and unlike anything else you can get in Philly. Don’t skimp on the house-made sambal.
Roast Beef Sandwich at Old Original Nick’s Roast Beef (multiple locations)
Grab extra napkins because this sandwich, stacked densely with thick-sliced roast beef drowning in its own intense beef gravy, is messy. The kaiser roll soaking up some of the juice is one of the best parts of the well-loved South Philly sandwich.
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Roast Pork Sandwich at John's Roast Pork
Philadelphia may be best known for cheesesteaks, but locals know a little secret: Get the roast pork instead. The no-frills John’s Roast Pork in South Philly has been perfecting the sandwich since 1930, even earning a James Beard Award as an American classic. And if you must have a cheesesteak too, this is an excellent place to get one.
Tomato Pie at Cacia's Bakery
Depending on geography, the words tomato pie mean different things. In Philadelphia, it’s a stripped-down take on pizza — Italian bakery-made dough, tomato sauce, and, depending on who’s asking, a pit of cheese. With a vibrant, lightly sweet tomato sauce and soft crust, Cacia’s textbook tomato pie comes by the rectangular slice, alongside another Philly original: the pizzaz pie, topped with banana peppers, sliced tomatoes, and American cheese.
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