Monday, March 5, 2012

What I Will Miss in Philadelphia, Part II

Food.  I will miss the food dearly and in Philadelphia it is so good that it deserves its own post.  When I think of Pennsylvania, I imagine Amish farms with butter and doughnuts and Philly cheese steaks.  While Philadelphia does have these things, it has much more than I realized.  Even when you go to a pub for a burger, it's often well-made and fancier than you'd expect.  My taste buds will miss this place.

Food Trucks

When I mentioned the food trucks in Philadelphia to a coworker from New York, he responded, "Oh, yeah, like all the halal carts in Manhattan, right?"  No, not quite.  There are halal carts in Philadelphia, but Philly has taken its food trucks to a new level.  Many are also brightly decorated and distinctive.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Tyson Bee's - A Korean Barbeque truck just off of Penn's campus at 33rd and Spruce, Tyson Bee's is one of my favorite stops for a quick lunch.  From edamame tacos to steamed pork buns, it's great Korean food with a Mexican twist.

Tyson Bee's food truck - photo from
Koja - Located at 38th and Chestnut Street, Koja has become my most recent favorite dinner spot.  They serve a mix of Korean and Japanese food and their Tonkatsu sandwich is one of the best sandwiches I can remember eating ever.  Their Bulgogi steak sandwich made a top ten list of America's best sandwiches.  My favorite part might be that you can get a dinner for two for $10.

Sugar Philly - Right next to Koja on Chestnut Street, Sugar Philly is a gourmet dessert truck.  Though I'm always tempted by the crème brulée and cheesecake, I go for the French macarons.  Sugar Philly has great flavors, including milk and honey, chocolate ganache and occasionally dulce de leche.  The macaroons are put together as they're ordered, so often they don't travel well, but they're delicious.

photo from the Sugar Philly website
The Mysterious Man at 20th and Market - Next to my office there was a food truck that constantly had a line down the block.  There was no sign, and aside from the numerous hanging plants on the front, it was a simple silver cart.  As it turns out, the half hour wait was absolutely worth it.  Every weekday, the man grills meat and side dishes, and when you get to the front of the line, he hands you a container with the day's meal and you hand him $7.  He made some of the best fallafel and hummus I have ever had, and his chicken was incredibly flavorful.  Not getting to choose what you wanted that day wasn't a problem, since it was always delicious.  A man behind me in line once asked if the cook was serving lamb.  He explained that lamb was too expensive and if the guy wanted, he could go to the halal cart across the street.  The day the truck closed down for the winter, I think Eric's heart broke a little bit.


I'm not sure if I can provide any level of detail in this section without getting too hungry and eating my computer like Cookie Monster eating his typewriter in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  Let's go by category:

Food from Asia:
Thai Singha House To Go, 20th and Sansom Street for friendly service and amazing red curry
Koreana, 38th and Chestnut for great bibimbap — it may be tucked into a parking lot next to a gentleman's club, but the food is delicious
Sang Kee Noodle House, 36th and Chestnut for dim sum on the weekends
Vic Sushi Bar at 21st and Sansom is a tiny sushi bar that's good on the budget and tasty.  For fancier sushi, try Raw or Pod.

Food from the Middle East and Africa:
Manakeesh at 44th and Walnut has the best hummus in the city combined with amazing Lebanese food, friendly staff, and great desserts
Abyssinia at 44th and Locust has the best Ethiopian food I've ever had (granted, I've only been to three Ethiopian restaurants in my life, but this is one of the best meals I've had in general)

Hot chocolate at Manakeesh
American Food
Rx at 45th and Spruce is my favorite brunch place, and their dinner menu includes butternut squash risotto, mac and cheese with jalapenos, and baked potato soup.
Update on March 13: On my last night in Philadelphia, I discovered that Rx has closed.  

Tequilas at 16th and Locust is nicer than the rest of the restaurants in this section, but the food is delicious and their tacos are served out of a bowl made from lava rock, so really how can you go wrong?

Wine, Beer, and Cheese
Tria, with multiple locations in Philly, offers these three of my favorite things plus a full dinner menu.  They also serve Bell's Oberon in season, which made me love them more.

Fancier Restaurants

Many restauranteurs start out in Philadelphia, since it's cheaper than New York.  Steven Starr, who owns Continental, El Rey, Parc, and more than a dozen others, is a household name.  Chef Jose Garces also has quite an empire going.  I've been lucky enough to try a few of his restaurants during Restaurant Week or on special occasions.  

Amada serves delicious Spanish tapas; I loved the croquetas de jamón and sangria.  Additionally, their restaurant week menu is one of the best in the city.  You get a full sampling of their dishes, especially since tapas are meant to be shared, and you leave feeling full but not overstuffed.  Since a normal meal there can be expensive, paying $35 plus tip for one night also feels great.

Also by Jose Garces, Chifa is a mix of Peruvian and Cantonese cuisine.  Like Amada, it also features small plates.  Eric and I tried the chef's tasting menu one night and went home moaning about how full we were but how absolutely delicious it was.  They also have a cocktail named the Inigo Montoya.  How can I not love this place?  Though definitely high-end, if you want to have a fancy dinner in Philadelphia, try Chifa.

Other notable upscale restaurants: Devon for seafood, Pod for sushi (they have a conveyer belt!)

Philly has dozens of restaurants I wasn't able to try but certainly wanted to.  If you ever find yourself in the city, you won't struggle to find a good place to eat.

What are your favorite restaurants/food trucks in Philly?
What about in your city?


  1. I love Lolita!! I also find myself drawn to Monk's and Belgian Cafe....casual + mussels = yum!

    1. Ahh I can't believe I forgot Monk's and Belgian Cafe! I love their mussels and beer!

  2. Favorite food truck is the crepe truck on Temple's campus (Temple is a gold mine for lunch trucks) around 13th & Norris. Favorite BYOB at the moment is Giorgio's at Juniper & Pine. Amazing Mexican at Bugambilias, 2nd & South. The best breakfast/brunch in the city is easily Sabrina's, 18th & Callowhill or Italian Market. I could go on all day... I miss Philly food!

    1. I did get to go to Sabrina's once and it was delicious! I wish I'd gotten to explore the area around Temple a little more. It looked really cool!

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  4. Eric's heart broke more than a little bit the day 20th & Market man shut down... I still miss him.