Drunken Dining: The Best Drunk Food in Philly
Had a few drinks? Need something to eat? We're here to help.
When it comes to food and drink, there are a lot of things that Philly does well. Hoagies, gin, the neighborhood gastropub. I’d put our Italian restaurants up against anyone else’s. Our craft beer scene is the envy of just about any city out there. And no one takes a perfectly good plate of anything and puts an egg on top of it the way Philly does.
But take a look at that list. A lot of what we do? It has alcohol at the center of it. Our breweries, our distilleries and tasting rooms and all those gastropubs are places where the drinking has just as much weight as the eating. And there’s nothing wrong with that (as a matter of fact, I’d say there’s just about everything right about that), but it does make us necessary experts in one other area of cuisine as well: Drunk food.
If you’ve got the number of bars that Philly has, you’re going to need a commensurate number of late-night specialists churning out food that drunk people love — salty, greasy, rib-sticking and starchy foods to soak up all that alcohol sloshing around inside you. And being a city like Philly, we’re not just going to leave it at a basket of fries and some chicken wings. No, we are experts in the production and distribution of drunk food. And here are some of the best places to get it.
The Classic: Pat’s King of Steaks
Look, this is one of those you’re-not-a-real-Philadelphian-until kinds of things. Cheesesteak Vegas at 9th and East Passyunk is ground zero for last-call dining, and what’s served is the sandwich that made Philly famous: the cheesesteak. Cheap, filling, salty, greasy — a Pat’s steak is fine when you’re sober, absolutely better when you’re drunk, and the kind of thing you only really need to experience once. But you’ll be back. There’s no doubt about that.
The Standby: David’s Mai Lai Wah
There was a time when, if you wanted to rub elbows with Philly’s rising culinary superstars after-hours, all you had to do was hit David’s on any night after the city’s kitchens (and bars) had shut down. And while our cooks and chefs have since branched out some — finding new places to hang out once the workday is done — David’s remains a kind of Apollonian ideal of late-night Chinese. The space is straight 70’s-style Chinese-American with its neon, tube-chairs, curling dragons and pink tablecloths. The crowd is bustling at 2 a.m. with just about every nocturnal creature in the city looking for a seat. The menu is huge, but keep it simple and go for pan-fried noodles, dumplings, sweet-and-sour whatever — all those things you remember eating and loving when you were a kid. Oh, and order in bulk. Because the one thing about David’s is that you never know who’s going to be next through the door, and you might just end up with a table full of new friends.
The Puzzler: Prima Pizza Taqueria Mexicana
I know, the name is confusing. But if you were wondering where the chefs in town (the ones who used to flock to David’s Mai Lai Wah) go now, one of the places to find them is this weird, small, late-night taco joint on 9th Street. It’s beloved by the locals, serves killer tacos, and does so until 4 a.m. So no matter how late you’ve been out raising hell, Prima Pizza will always be there to offer you a soft landing.
The New Kid: Shoo Fry
A poutine-and-sliders operation open until 3 a.m. (on the weekend) in the middle of Rittenhouse? Yeah, that’s pretty much a way to just print your own money. Sure, there are probably better poutines out there. And there are certainly better sliders. But having the two of them together in one place, in a fast-casual operation that’s like the Chipotle of last call? That’s Philly innovation right there.
The Local Favorite: Tai Lake
Another Chinatown spot frequented by chefs, bartenders, club kids, professional drinkers and other late-night hedonists, Tai Lake is open ’til 3 a.m., serves all kinds of fried sea creatures, and was immortalized by none other than Michael Solomonov in this episode of Vice’s “Chef’s Night Out”. As a bonus, the bar here serves tropical and tiki drinks, so if you get here before last call, it’s an ideal spot for finishing the night.
The Street Food Specialist: Side Of The Road Jerk Chicken
James Leggett and his drum smoker are always on the move. But if you follow him on Instagram, you can generally figure out where he’s going to be (Northern Liberties some weekends, at 2nd and Laurel Streets, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.) and plan your bar-hopping accordingly. And yes, it is worth planning your drinking to coordinate with where Side of the Road is setting up, because Leggett does some of the best jerk chicken in the city.
The Junk Food Champion: Potato Skins at Franky Bradley’s
For a long time, the humble potato skin had been relegated to the back-burner of bar foods — eclipsed by all the crudos and fancy tater tots that the cool kids were doing. But Franky Bradley’s brought ’em back with their well-considered, artfully composed and just freakin’ delicious potato skins, loaded with smoked brisket, aged cheddar and a horseradish crème fraîche. Because that is how Philly rolls when we’ve been drinking.
The Game-Changer: Masala Kitchen
Indian street food is some of the best street food there is. And Masala Kitchen on Walnut Street is trying to change the landscape of Philly’s drunk food scene by throwing a dozen different kinds of kati rolls into the mix. Think of it like an Indian taco — skewered meat (beef tikka, lamb kabob, chicken masala) wrapped in fresh paratha and topped with sauce and some vegetables. It is cheap (they top out at $6), quick and awesome. And the best drunk kati of them all, the aloo roll, is nothing more than mashed potatoes with Indian spices wrapped in paratha, and it will cost you all of $4. So skip that last High Life, make your way to Walnut street and taste how the drunks of the future will be eating in Philly.
The All-Nighter: Makkah Market
When drinking in West Philly, the one place you always want to know the way to is Makkah Market. Sure, it sells groceries, Islamic books and clothing on the side, but it also operates a 24-hour Middle Eastern restaurant offering ridiculously cheap food (a foul platter for $3.50, beef stew with rice for $4.95) that’s ideal for late night partiers. There’s vegetarian options if you’re picky, but a 2 a.m. shwarma sandwich and a slice of baklava to chase it for less than eight bucks is the pro’s move.
Damage Control: The Melrose Diner
If you’re in South Philly and you’ve had a few too many, you’re probably within staggering distance of a very, very Philly way to get right again. The Melrose, among its myriad charms, serves two eggs, home fries, toast and scrapple — which is essentially a magical cure for hangovers and always tastes better when you’ve been drinking. And even if the scrapple doesn’t put you totally right after the night you’ve had, the home fries and toast will put some starch and carbs in the bank which (if chased with enough water) will spare you the worst of tomorrow’s hangover.