Welcome to The Infatuation’s Philadelphia Greatest Hits List.
We’re assuming you’ve probably listened to your fair share of “greatest hits” albums, but unlike Green Day’s International Superhits!, this is one you actually need in your life. To be clear - this isn’t meant to be a full list of every place with a historic landmark sign or a Now That’s What I Call A Restaurant 2018. The Greatest Hits list is a short and carefully chosen set of spots in Philadelphia that you should hit up first if you’re new in town (or if you’ve lived here for years and just been seriously misguided) - restaurants that are essential to the Philly experience, from old-school cheesesteak counters to seven-course tasting menus.
Just like you wouldn’t introduce someone to Bruce Springsteen by playing them his rendition of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” you wouldn’t send someone who didn’t know Philadelphia to a new basement BYOB in Kensington without making sure they went to these restaurants first. Or at least, you shouldn’t.
If you’re looking for what’s new, head over to our Hit List - a guide to recently-opened spots that are worth your time.
Kind of like your coworker whose hair looks perfect every day, or The New England Patriots, Zahav is the restaurant that every other place in town is a little jealous of. And for good reason - their food is delicious and it’s the only place in Philly where people will willingly wait two months for a reservation. The Israeli menu is focused on small plates, and you should go with as many people as possible to split the maximum number of dishes. It’s also relatively affordable with nothing on the menu costing more than $16. If you’re planning on eating here, either make a reservation way ahead of time or be prepared to try for a bar seat right when they open at 5:00 PM.
We hate lines, but we love South Philly Barbacoa enough to stand in one. Or we come early enough to beat the line and have tacos for breakfast instead. Whichever way you do it, South Philly Barbacoa is where you should go to get the best tacos in the city. There are only three items on the menu - lamb tacos, pork belly tacos, and consome - but they’re all perfect. Top the tacos yourself and grab a seat at one of the few tables inside, or get them to go and walk around the Italian Market that’s decidedly not Italian anymore.
Vetri Cucina is more than a restaurant, it’s a Philadelphia rite of passage - kind of like running up the Art Museum steps, except with a lot more pasta. And when you leave here, instead of having a general sense of self-loathing for how out of breath you are, you’ll have eaten 15 or so courses of Italian food and you’ll feel like you belong here. Welcome. Vetri is the single best meal in the city, it’s different every time you go, and it’s really expensive, so only come here when you’re trying to celebrate something really big, like your 10th wedding anniversary, or the third anniversary of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win.
There are a lot of dim sum options in Chinatown and you’d be happy at most of them, but Dim Sum Garden earns its spot here because of its versatility. It’s cheap, BYOB, and the food is perfect for sharing - we especially love the spicy pork soup dumplings and the scallion pancakes. They’re also open late, which means it works for everything from brunch to dinner before going out to late-night shumai.
We could make an entire Greatest Hits list of just BYOBs in Philadelphia, and if we did, Audrey Claire would be right there at the top of it. They were one of the first spots in the city to dig into the whole farm-to-table thing, and they’ve been cooking seasonal American food on their little Rittenhouse corner for more than 20 years. Come here with a bottle of wine, a wad of cash (they don’t take cards), and a few friends, and sit outside for one of the best people watching situations in the city. And some pretty great food.
Here in Philadelphia, we take our cheesesteaks very, very seriously - like way too seriously for something that is literally boiled steak and cheese wiz on a roll. But if you want to do a classic cheesesteak the right way, go to John’s. They’ve been around forever, they know what they’re doing, and they use provolone instead of the classic “wiz wit,” which may not be the most Philly way of doing things, but it definitely tastes better.
Multi-tasking is hard, like riding a bike down Broad Street while watching the Sixers game on your phone. Or in the case of Vernick, serving a wider variety of food than Reading Terminal Market in a space that can work for wildly different occasions. Because of how versatile it is, though, it can be tough to get a reservation. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to get a seat at the bar, and you can walk in on most weeknights and get a spot for two pretty quickly. The menu changes up a lot, but we’ll always go for the whole roasted Amish chicken or the sea bass in a pinch.
There are a lot of newer and trendier pho spots across the city, but Pho 75 is better than all of them, and seemingly without even trying. This isn’t somewhere that you’ll walk by on a whim and go “Oh, that’s where Pho 75 is,” because it’s located in a strip mall in no man’s land north of East Passyunk. However, we do suggest you go out of your way to find this spot and order a large bowl of pho with fatty brisket and eye-round steak - especially if you’re nursing a particularly rough hangover.
If you can’t remember the last time you got excited about a carrot, you’re not alone, but Vedge will change that. Everything here is vegan and actually made from vegetables (besides the soft pretzel, which is a must-order), and even though you won’t find anything on the menu resembling a steak, you won’t miss it a bit. They also have a huge front bar that serves great cocktails, so even if you’re just hanging out in Midtown Village and need a spot for a quick drink with a friend, Vedge is still a good choice.
Parc is a special place - partially because we think it’s slowly fused into Rittenhouse Square’s permanent architecture, and also because you can pull it out of your back pocket for pretty much any situation. It’s a classic French bistro with a classic French bistro menu (think steak tartare and duck l’orange), and while none of their food comes with table-side magic tricks, everything is fresh and delicious. They also have some of the best sidewalk seating in the city, so if you’re in the mood to watch people walking their dogs who look just like them, this is the place to be.
Hungry Pigeon is an all-day cafe that has more Feel Good Factor than most other places in the city combined. It also has enough hanging plants to make you consider becoming a full-time plant parent, and the only communal tables you’ll ever enjoy. They do breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it all tastes like something your friend who is a really good cook would make. It’s also one of the few places in the city that you can go to for a cup of coffee and some pancakes in the morning, and then come back for dinner that night and not feel like people are going to look at you weird for it.
Murph’s is a dark, cash-only Irish pub in Fishtown where you have to pay for your beers separately from your spaghetti bolognese. If that sentence isn’t the most Philadelphia thing you’ve ever read, we’d like to see you try to beat it. The food here is very good (you can’t go wrong with any of their pastas), but the main reason you are here is because everything about this place epitomizes the city, and that’s what the Greatest Hits list is all about. You’ll sit down in the crowded back room, maybe with a taxidermied goat hanging precariously over your head, order things like meatballs and lobster ravioli, and then get into an argument with the bartender over the Eagles’ defensive line. Exactly how it was meant to be.
Laurel is a small spot in Easy Passyunk that’s both expensive and pretty formal, but they also serve one of the most interesting tasting menus in the city. It’s technically a French restaurant, and some of the things you see here will indeed feel French - you’ll probably get something resembling foie gras or escargot - but a majority of your dishes will be combinations of foods that seem to make no sense together, but end up tasting really good. The house-made kombucha shot with mustard seeds and the caviar and potato crisps dish that’s topped with ice cream and tastes like when you dip fries into a milkshake are two of our favorites.