A Foodie’s Paradise
When a friend from high school invited me to go to Philadelphia this past weekend, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone knows about Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but other than that, I was completely unaware of what the city had to offer. What I found was an underrated destination filled with a ton of excellent restaurants, bars, and artsy attractions hidden in plain view.
Philly is super walkable, so you probably won’t need to rely heavily on public transportation or Uber/Lyft to get around. However, you’ll want to do a bit of planning before venturing out. We found that the best recommendations came from locals and people who’ve lived in Philly before, so in this post I’ll be passing those suggestions on to you! Whether you want to eat, drink, or sightsee, I’ll give you my honest opinion on how to make the most out of two or three days in the City of Brotherly Love!
This is definitely Philly’s biggest selling point! You’ll be able to find anything you have a craving for, but consider the following restaurants if you’re in need of ideas:
Double Knot for a Classy Dinner
The highlight of our trip ended up being Double Knot, a modern Japanese-inspired restaurant serving small plates of street-style meat skewers (called robatayaki, 炉端焼き), sushi, and sophisticated cocktails in a chic underground dining room. We tried to go for lunch only to find an American-style brunch buffet, so we decided to make a reservation to come back for their traditional menu for dinner. It was lucky that we did, because when we came back at 5:00 p.m. (the only time they had available), the entire place was packed. In other words, be sure to make a reservation beforehand.
They offer a ten-plate “Chef’s Tasting Menu” for two ($60 per person), which allows you to essentially try one item from each section of the menu. We decided to forego this and order by the plate since we wanted to try more of a variety of the robatayaki, pictured below.
Our main course was a duck special over rice which our waitress said would be added to the menu as a permanent fixture in the near future. It was excellent; I also recommend trying the wild mushroom gyoza, the Japanese scallop sashimi, and a DK Espresso Martini after the meal.
Little Nonna's for Lunch
For lunch that day, we ended up at Little Nonna’s, a quiet and cozy Italian restaurant just down the street from Double Knot. We were less adventurous eaters here, but when the spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread arrived at our table, we knew we had made the right choice! The meal was as delicious as it looked, and the meatballs even had melted cheese inside.
For an appetizer we tried wild mushroom arancini topped with truffle oil and split a carafe of Italian Lemonade (citrus vodka with lemonade and thyme syrup). The fact that this restaurant wasn’t jam-packed at noon on a Saturday made it feel like we had found a hidden gem.
Maison 208 for Brunch
This modern restaurant was fairly standard brunch fare. Although the kurobuta pork shankwich I ordered was good but not amazing, I really enjoyed their spicy and unique bloody mary as well as the rum punch cocktail. Try a few raw oysters or a side of Maison pomme frites (truffle oil fries).
And of course... a Philly Cheesesteak!
You can’t leave without trying one of these! A local suggested Steve’s Prince of Steaks as a good alternative to the more famous (but allegedly overrated) Pat’s or Gino’s. The restaurant was nestled among skyscrapers downtown, but once you get inside, it’s a no-frills atmosphere. There are a bunch of free condiments at the counter, so feel free to customize and add what you want.
If none of these places entice you, we also heard that El Vez (Mexican food) was another good option, but we didn’t get the chance to try it. For a quick snack, check out Shoo Fry for poutine and sliders. (They deliver late!)
Feeling indecisive? Go to the intersection of South 13th Street and Sansom Street and check out the surrounding two blocks or so. All of the restaurants mentioned above are located in this vicinity, and we must have seen a dozen more that all looked very popular and trendy. Chinatown also seemed to be a good option, especially for a late-night meal after a night on the town (read more below).
First, I’ll say that basically every sit-down restaurant we to went to had good cocktails on the menu, although these tended to be on the pricier side. If you’re done with dinner and are looking to go out, here are some of the places we ended up.
For cheap drinks, check out Dirty Frank’s. This hip, artsy dive bar with some interesting murals painted on its exterior offered mixed drinks for $5, so it was a great place to start the night. They only take cash and are located here.
If you want to dance, the Trestle Inn is a disco bar that specializes in whisky sours. They probably had half a dozen flavors on the menu. All around a good time!
However, my favorite bar was a speakeasy recommended by a coworker called the Hop Sing Laundromat. I’ll spare you the details of how to get in (read here or here), but know that they have a strict photography ban; hence I have no pictures of the interior. The drinks were classy and the lights are low (seeing as it’s a speakeasy, there are no windows), but make sure to sit at the bar if you can. It’s made out of nickels (see here), which is just awesome! Note that they have recently updated hours (only open on weekends).
Once you’ve finished drinking, head on over to Chinatown for a bite to eat. We ended up at David’s Mai Lai Wah, where we filled up on carbs: fried rice and noodles. There were tons of people there past midnight, and it reminded me of some of my favorite spots in Seattle’s Chinatown (nostalgia!). That area looked like it had quite a few late-night restaurants though, so you should have numerous options.
Full disclosure: we didn’t buy tickets for Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell. It was cold, the lines were long, and I’ve technically already seen them. With that said, I’m sure you could skip lines with online bookings and a little bit more planning than we did. You can also technically see the Liberty Bell through the glass wall of the Liberty Bell Center where it is currently housed from the street, if that’s any consolation, but the view isn’t great. Instead, we went to…
Philly's Magic Gardens
This was probably my favorite sightseeing destination in Philly. Everything in this enclosed space was created by artist Isaiah Zagar, who ask you can see has a very unique style. What’s most impressive about the Magic Gardens is the amount of detail on each square inch of the art that fully surrounds you. At first glance, it can look like a chaotic and unplanned exhibit, but only when you see miniscule, handmade components do you realize the almost unimaginable amount of planning that went into creating the garden.
Talk about complexity: countless little pieces like this hand-painted ceramic man below are hidden in plain sight among the twisting paths and tunnels that comprise the Gardens.
We had to make reservations in advance, which I recommend you do as well. But even the surrounding streets and alleyways are covered in Zagar’s artwork as well as other murals like this floral one below.
The Carpenters' Hall
This was probably the most “historical” attraction we went to, although we also ended up briefly checking out another museum with presidential portraits in it. Inside are a number of interesting artifacts and other exhibits.
While we were checking out the interior of the hall, we ran into this guy in period costume who had a college lecture’s worth of knowledge about fashion and dress of the late 1700s.
Sightseeing on Foot
As I mentioned before, Philly is best explored on foot! This is especially the case in the very heart of downtown.
Be sure to check out Philadelphia City Hall, perhaps the city’s most iconic and beautiful building. The building has a courtyard of sorts that’s open to the public, and there are a number of interesting statues atop its tallest tower, including one of the city’s founder, William Penn.
What Will You Discover Here?
Hopefully this blog post sets you off on the right foot if you have a trip to Philly planned in your near future! If you don’t, consider it for your next weekend getaway: there’s so much to see and do in this underrated city. Everything I’ve mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg; I’d definitely go back again to see what else I missed this trip!