Philadelphia is home to some of the nation’s most celebrated restaurants, but it also hosts its share of lesser-known venues that only locals know about; most never fail to impress.
Many people visit Philadelphia to see cornerstones of the U.S.'s history firsthand. The Declaration of Independence or the Liberty Bell, for example, are necessary spots to hit when you’re in town. As a Philadelphia native, I might be biased, but I have found the only true way to experience the rich diversity of modern-day Philadelphia is through its cuisine. Of course, it’s impossible to hit every important venue that makes up the city’s culinary culture in just a few days, but eating your way through a weekend here is a great start to your immersion.
If you’re spending a weekend in Philadelphia, these are the places you must go to eat.
4 p.m.: The foundation of Philadelphia is camaraderie; it’s the City of Brotherly Love, after all. There’s no better way to be welcomed into town than by visiting the McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest-operating tavern in the city. Since 1860, McGillin’s has had a special way of making locals and visitors alike feel like they are at a neighborhood pub in Dublin chatting it up with locals over a brew. Fantastic pub fare is also offered at the tavern, including everything from traditional shepherd’s pie to their take on the famous Philly cheesesteak. Kick things off with a light Philly Pale Ale while soaking up some Irish culture.
7 p.m.: Make your way over to North Broad Street to experience perhaps the most authentic Italian cuisine in all of Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Walking into Osteria is like traveling to a Tuscan vineyard with its simple, yet rustic decor. Although the classic Osteria is fairly small, its warm environment simply begs diners to have a long, relaxing dinner of perfectly crisped thin-crust pizzas, fresh ravioli with walnut pesto, or squid ink cavatelli. Of course no Italian meal is complete without wine, and Osteria doesn’t fail to impress with its extensive list of more than 100 varieties from vineyards all over Italy.
10 a.m.: Philadelphia is home to dozens of top-notch breakfast spots, but one in particular reigns supreme: Marathon Grill. This city staple has set up shop in three different locations, but the one on 19th and Market is in the thick of the city buzz; it’s the ideal spot to chow down, people-watch, and get your day off to an energetic start. Marathon Grill has one main focus: to serve the freshest, highest-quality food possible through urban farming. Lunch and dinner fare includes everything from a free-range turkey and grain burger to the grilled salmon with ginger soy glaze, but breakfast is what they do best. This is especially true when it comes to eggs. The Philly hot spot makes it nearly impossible to choose just one plate, with its hearty breakfast quesadilla with asadero cheese and the make-your-own omelettes with dozens of filling choices. If you happen to start the day with a sweet tooth, though, the dark chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes are your go-to. They taste just as magnificent as they sound, and while it’s likely you’ll enter a sugar coma soon after your meal, you won’t regret a single bite.
1 p.m.: Visiting the Reading Terminal Market is an adventure in itself, as it’s a sort of catch-all place; walk in and you'll see cheesesteaks and ice cream juxtaposed with whole fish flying through the air. It’s one of the most impressive farmers' markets in the country, with more than 80 vendors. While there are numerous dining venues you’d be foolish to pass by without snagging a few samples, there’s one vendor that tops the list: DiNic’s. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it is home to the best sandwich in America, according to Travel Channel’s Adam Richman. The eatery specializes in fantastic roast beef, meatball, and roast pork sandwiches, all of which are made fresh daily. However, the star of DiNic’s is the hand-carved pulled pork sandwich. Its rich barbeque taste doesn’t need any additional toppings to amp up the flavor, and the simplicity of the made-to-order sandwich is a true testament to DiNic’s mastery of pork and beef. When you visit, though, you’ll probably have to wait a few extra minutes for that pulled pork sandwich, but trust me — it’s well worth the wait.
4 p.m.: It’ll take a few hours to wander around the Reading Terminal Market, and after that drool-worthy pulled pork sandwich, you’ll probably be full well into the afternoon. Rouge Ninety Eight Inc is the perfect place to unwind a bit before setting your sights on dinner. This Rittenhouse Square staple has been a go-to for both city natives and tourists alike since 1998, and it has remained one of the best dining destinations in the city. Although the restaurant is small, its popularity is due in large part to the chic ambiance and executive chef Sam Noh’s gourmet twist on traditional bistro fare. Even if you’re not staying, a simple drink here proves to be just as satisfying as the food. Dozens of beers, international wines, and cocktails are served, and after sitting at the circular bar for just a few minutes, chances are you’ll want hang out.
7:30 p.m.: Although it’s difficult to pinpoint one restaurant in Philadelphia that tops all others, it’s very possible Tinto takes that title. Located just around the corner from Rouge, this Spanish tapas bar features cuisine from Spain's Basque region. Chef Jose Garces presents a modern spin on everything from traditional charcuterie to bocadillos (sandwiches) to the freshest of fish. Its rustic decor also creates a cozy atmosphere, with the warm colors, wooden chairs, and an impressive wall of wine that houses varieties from all over Spain. Although the bill can add up quite quickly, you must try the melt-in-your-mouth Berkshire pork belly.
11:30 a.m.: Before you make your way out of the city, stop by Continental Midtown to experience the ultimate Sunday brunch. This Steven Starr restaurant instantly sets a retro vibe from the get-go, with its old-school hanging light fixtures, booths lining the windows, and hanging basket chairs on a balcony that overlooks the entire restaurant. The Continental's menu boasts fairly big portions, from crispy calamari salad with soy-ginger vinaigrette to smoked salmon hash. Even if you're dining solo, order a few different items to sample. It's nearly impossible to settle on just one dish at the Continental, and no trip to Philadelphia is complete without dining at this spot.
Cameron Simcik is the Philadelphia Travel City Editor for The Daily Meal.