Field Guide: The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Fishtown and Kensington

Frankford Avenue is where it’s at in 2016.


We hope you’re hungry, and thirsty Photo by | Jeff Fusco

Maybe you think you know Frankford Avenue. You’ve met friends for table tennis, jenga and liters of German beer at Stephen Starr’s Frankford Hall. You’ve gotten the high score on Asteroids at Barcade. Maybe even checked out the pizza and pizza museum that is Pizza Brain. But even 12 years after William Reed took over Johnny Brenda’s and made it the Avenue’s shining welcome beacon, the best days for the corridor are still ahead of it.

Our field guide takes you on an eating and drinking tour of the rest of the best on the food mecca that is the Frankford Avenue — a full day’s worth of delicious debauchery.

For Breakfast

The recently opened Front Street Cafe represents one of Philadelphia’s best new trends, the all-day cafe. In the morning the vegan-friendly cafe offers quinoa porridge, breakfast tacos of the vegan or sausage variety, and an interesting take on shrimp and grits. And since the cafe has a liquor license, a Bloody Mary or Maria (with tequila) is a must.
An eater’s tip: In nice weather, the enclosed outdoor garden and bar is the place to dine.

For a Late Breakfast and Pick-Me-Up

La Colombe is actually a good place to start no matter what time you arrive on Frankford Avenue. The 11,000-square-foot cafe, bakery, distillery and bar is a great place to bring out-of-towners or, better yet, returning Philadelphians — there’s no way they’ll believe this place exists in Philly. But if you arrive after the morning rush, it’s that much easier to settle in for a bit and admire the handsome cafe over a skillet of shrimp and grits, or biscuits and gravy, or a ham and cheese biscuit, or the game-changing draft latte. Or all of the above.
A drinker’s tip: Go ahead and buy for later bottle of Different Drum Rum, La Colombe’s boozy combination of sugarcane and coffee.

For Lunch

Lunch options keep expanding on the Avenue but few choices are as appealing as Kensington Quarters. The combination butcher shop and restaurant recently began lunch service, and the KQ Burger is already creating a buzz. The beef is of course top-notch and the house-made bun stands up to the juicy patty. Another option is the excellent roast beef sandwich with horseradish. Or go with chef Damon Menapace’s mushroom tagliatelle. (After all, Menapace came to KQ from the Vetri orbit. The man knows his pastas.)
An eater’s tip: The deli cases in the front of Kensington Quarters beckon with all kinds of beef, pork and poultry. Take home a package of house-smoked bacon to recreate the KQ breakfast at home.

For Lunch on the Go

At the Soup Kitchen Cafe, soup is elevated to destination food. The soups rotate daily but there’s always the warming option of a grilled cheese with tomato soup.
An eater’s tip: The shakshouka is another hearty, warming option that works for breakfast or lunch.

For Afternoon Boozing

Just across from Philadelphia Brewing Company is Rowhouse Distilling. The small distillery is one of four in the neighborhood and the only one directly on Frankford Avenue. Check out the one-room operation from the front counter, and sample all that distiller Dean Browne has to offer.
A drinker’s tip: The best buy here (to take home) is a bottle of Browne’s Rowhouse Gin. It isn’t just good for a local gin, it’s a great gin.

For Afternoon Boozing, Part II

At Bottle Bar East, it’s a choose-your-own-beer adventure. Scan the coolers and pick a beer from the more than 700 stocked. Walk up to the bar and have a bartender open it and enjoy the biggest TV screen around. If 700 beers is overwhelming, there’s also a very well curated list of draft beer available.
A drinker’s tip: Don’t leave without ordering a growler of beer from local nano-brewer, Saint Benjamin’s.

For Happy Hour, The Popular Favorite

Dinner at Fette Sau can rack up fast. Half-pound of brisket, rack of ribs, a couple of sides and you hit the register with way too much food and a bill to match. But at happy hour, it’s easier to find a deal, as all beers are half off, and Manhattans and Old Fashioneds are just $5. For food, there’s two smoked chicken legs for just $4.
An eater’s tip: Don’t leave without trying the burnt-ends sandwich. The $4 bargain is only available during happy hour.

For Happy Hour, The Local Favorite

As Fishtown has become more of a destination, the locals need a spot to call their own. The always-chill Fishtown Tavern offers a respite for local and visitor alike. It’s never pricey there, but from 5 to 7 p.m., everything (beer, drinks and food) is a dollar off.
A drinker’s tip: Though it may look like a shot-and-a-beer kind of bar, Fishtown Tavern’s cocktail list is quite solid.

For Upscale Dinner

White tablecloths in Fishtown? That’s the deal at the Pickled Heron, the French-inspired BYOB by Todd Braley and Daniela D’Ambrosio that has been covering its tables in linens, housemade charcuterie, foie gras and wild skate for four years now.
An eater’s tip: If the Pickled Heron has a signature dish, it’s the pan-seared duck. Worth the order.

For Not-So-Upscale Dinner

At the other end of the dining spectrum is Joe Beddia’s Pizzeria Beddia. Every since Bon Appetit crowned Beddia as the best pizza in America, the competition for one of Beddia’s 40 nightly pies has increased, but with patience and a plan, you can get in on the action. Get there a little before opening time (5:30 p.m.), place your order, hit one of the happy hours above or hang out next door at Johnny Brenda’s, then return for your pizza pie.
An eater’s tip: Pizza Arrabbiata, the angry pizza — heated by some serious bird’s-eye chilies — is $24, but worth every cent.

Late Night Drinks

Martha is an important bar. We don’t know how else to say it. Yes, other bars offer local beers, produce and meats, but at Martha, each artisanal product is given a pedestal from which to shine. Maybe it’s because the primary food offering is the hoagie or because no one else comes close to the 40-plus local spirits that Martha stocks, but this bar takes the local-beer-focused bar to the next level. Go there to see what’s being created in the city, or go because it is a warm, welcoming spot to hang.
An eater’s tip: Order an Italian hoagie to go. Wrapped up tight, the sandwich is just as good the next day.

Late Night Eats

Though Martha may offer hoagies late into the evening, Philadelphia’s quintessential drunk food, is undoubtedly the cheesesteak. And there may be no cheesesteak being served within four walls better than the one at Joe’s Steaks.
An eater’s tip: Pair your cheesesteak with a milkshake and you’ll be ready to finally put your head down to sleep.

And For Future Plans for Frankford Avenue  …

With the Fillmore’s opening and the SugarHouse Casino expansion, development is booming on Frankford Avenue near Delaware Avenue. Tommy Up promises to bring back his P.Y.T. to the area and Philadelphia Distilling is continuing work on its new distillery and tasting room. The avenue is also getting two wine bars: Fishtown Social is just weeks from opening at Frankford and Oxford,  while next to Fette Sau, a liquor license has just gone up for a wine bar there. That project includes Cafe La Maude’s Nathalie Richan and man-about-Fishtown Roland Kassis. Kassis is also working to build out a boutique hotel at 1224 Frankford Avenue – a plus for anyone looking to eat and drink their way down that street, as there is already way too much to do in a day.