Philadelphia in my book has got to be one of the most underappreciated towns in America. Why? I don’t really know. It’s probably because it’s so closely located to New York City and Washington D.C.
Despite being located so close to two other major metropolitan areas, Philadelphia deserves to be appreciated for the gem that it really is. The city has everything you could really want: culture, great food, easy walk-ability, fun sports events, and locals who are one of kind. Let’s talk about the locals real quick, they get a bad rap mainly due to the fact that most South Jersey/Philly/Delaware Valley folks are fairly blunt and to the point. That often can rub people the wrong way, but honestly it doesn’t bother me. If you’re acting like a dip shit you deserve to be told so.
I love Philly, I’ve always loved it, but again I’m biased. My parents met in Philly when they first came to the States and ever since then fairy tales of Philly and its sports teams became apart of my childhood. Anytime spent with Dad meant mythical tales of the Broad Street Bullies or the Eagles and their crazy defense in the late 80s/early 90s. So because of all this Philly has always had a special place in my heart and it always will. I always feel more at home in Philly than in Baltimore or D.C. whenever I go I just say, “Ahhh these are my people.”
I decided to go up to Philly recently for the Flyers home opener against the Washington Capitals (spoiler alert, they kicked the Caps ass), but instead of making a one-day turnaround this time I decided to set up base camp in the city itself and explore what Philly had to offer for 48 hours. That meant two things a lot of walking and a lot of eating.
When one first comes upon Philadelphia, you will notice that the city is organized in such a fashion that it’s ridiculously easy find your way around town. The city is basically one big grid and there’s not much two way traffic on many of the side streets so it’s a breeze to walk the city when the weather is nice. We started out near Chestnut street which certainly has a 5th Avenue feel to it, Chestnut street always reminds me of my Dad. Why? Not because of really anything to do with the street itself, but rather the street’s name. Dad would ALWAYS complain when we were kids about how idiotic the street names were in Howard County he’d say,”Why can’t they just name it something simple, ‘like Chestnut street!'” So when we made our way to the famous Chestnut street I couldn’t help but laugh.
If you’re on Chestnut street in the morning and you’re hungry, I recommend visiting Chestnut Street Bagels for a quick breakfast. The shop appears to be a local chain or at least related to the well known South Street Bagels, regardless of their popularitythey make great bagels at a reasonable price and they are always busy (which is a good sign).
While visiting Chestnut Street you would be well served to visit Gran Caffe L’Aquila, this is an authentic Italian cafe that serves up amazing food at really reasonable prices. The waiters/waitresses here all wear fedoras and many of them seem to have a great grasp of Italian and Italian cuisine. We visited L’Aquila for lunch and we were very happy we did. L’Aquila was actually a very successful cafe in Italy so much so that it won Best Cafe in Italy in 2007, however in 2009 due to the catastrophic earthquake that struck their region they were forced to shutter their doors. However a chance meeting with a local Philadelphia restaurateur led them to constructing L’Aquila in Philadelphia in 2014 and they’ve been a favorite ever since. Everything here is really delicious and you can’t go wrong, but I would definitely recommend ordering what we got which was the french fries,melanzana parmigiana, gnocchi, and bologna sandwich. What really struck me about this place was how authentic the feel of the restaurant was. Whether it was the fun Itailan pop playing over the loud speaker or the subtle notes that were in each dish, the restaurant just felt right. This place is a must try if you love Italian cuisine.
Once you’ve had your fill of bagels and Italian food I recommend going to Rittenhouse Square, the square was one of the original open air spaces designed by William Penn and it holds onto its beauty to this day. Not surprisingly the square has become one of Philadelphia’s higher rent areas, Rittenhouse Square features an idyllic open air space that’s surrounded by brilliant classic architecture. If you’re lucky, they often have various cultural festivals going in and around the square we were lucky enough to catch a craft fair and their Saturday Farmer’s Market.
After you’ve taken in the sights and sounds of the square, I recommend visiting Parc Restaurant, it’s literally right next to the square and they serve delicious French food in a fun atmosphere that’s both energetic and timeless. I highly recommend making a reservation if you plan to dine at Parc as it can get packed for both brunch and dinner, if you can get a table you’re in for a treat. You can’t really go wrong with anything on the menu, but if I had to get one thing it would be their macaroni and cheese, it’s out of this world.
With so much to do in Philly and so little time, we had to prioritize our adventures over our 48 hour span. So that meant not being able to visit some of the more iconic areas, but what it did mean was really stuffing our faces with delicious foods.
With that in mind, we walked down to South Philly to take in the Italian Market, which is one of the most famous Italian markets in the country. Originally an area that featured a heavy Italian immigrant population in the late 19th and early 20th century the Italian Market grew into bazaar and meeting place for all the different immigrant populations residing in Philadelphia. While it’s called the Italian Market, today the area features stores and shops that sell food from places such as El Salvador, Vietnam, and Korea. If you’re a true foodie, this place is a little slice of heaven. And like any proper paradise, it’s littered with various Italian grocery stores that sell authentic meats, pastas, cheese, and other sundry goods. It’s hard to pick just one, but if you’re short on time and you need to just pick one place to go, Claudio’s , is a perfect one stop shop for everything you could want. I recommend at least ordering some mortadella for the road as well as some authentic Italian Nutella straight from the source.
When you’re in the Italian Market it’s damn near impossible to not work up an appetite and there are a plethora of delicious options to choose from. We decided to try Monsu, which is a cute little restaurant that was serving up some powerful Sicilian cuisine. Sitting right at the tip of the Italian Market, Monsu is a BYOB cash only restaurant, but don’t let those discourage you from going despite these minor inconveniences the food here is fresh and incredible.
We came here for lunch and left delightfully surprised by how great the food was and how affordable it was. Their lunch menu seems to be a cross between brunch and dinner, but you really can’t go wrong. We ordered the lasagna, roast pork sandwich, and a cannolo to share and everything was magical. Literally, like it tasted like a wizard did magic in our mouths. Oh god. That sounds really bad. Ignore everything I just said. Just know that this place is good. Really good.
Although it wouldn’t seem possible after all this eating that one could even possibly still have an appetite, we still had room for dessert # 2. So with that said we scoped out some of the best donuts in town and all signs kept on pointing us to the Reading Terminal Market for Beiler’s Donuts. Let me preface this by saying it’s about a 35 minute walk at least from the Italian Market to the Reading Market so you’ll work up enough of an appetite to at least want a sweet nosh.
The market begin in the late 19th century as an offshoot of the Reading Railroad Company which owned the space until the mid 1970’s. Once the company filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its assets, the market fell into decline, however by the 1980s the market began its rebirth with numerous shops and vendors coming to the space. Today the market is a vibrant food bazaar packed to the brim with hungry diners and eager vendors wanting to sell you their goods. You really cannot go wrong here, there are so many delicious options to choose from. But like I said we came here for one thing and that was donuts, specifically Beiler’s Donuts, these handcrafted pieces of heaven are well worth the line. I’m not about to tell you which flavor to choose from because they have literally anything you could ever want, but I would recommend as the nice woman behind the counter said so well, “The Soulty Caremel” translation, get the salted caramel donut. You can’t get just one anyways because that’s like kissing your sister so order a dozen and really embrace the early-onset Diabetes that you’re about to give to yourself.
After we engorged ourselves on donuts, we made our way to the stadium to take in the sights and sounds of opening night in Philadelphia. It was really a magical evening, the thorough ass kicking that was delivered and the raucous crowd created a surreal atmosphere. If you’ve never been to a Flyers game when they’re doing well, you’re truly missing out, unless well of course if you’re not a Flyers fan because then it wont be very fun as 19,000 folks remind you about how much you and your team suck. If you do find yourself at a game though, be prepared to eat because they have GREAT stadium food.
On our way out of Philly we had to punch our travel card and get a cheese steak because no trip is complete without one. We always go to Tony Luke’s because one it’s damn delicious and two it’s really convenient compared to some of the other places. You can literally go there on your way out of the city.
As we left the city of Philadelphia with our bellies full of an assortment of tasty meals I couldn’t help but feel a little sad like I was leaving a good friend behind. Philly really charmed the pants off of me this time around and I can’t wait to go back to eat and take in more of the sights that it has to offer.