Field Guide: Best Meatballs in Philadelphia

From old school Italian meatballs and spaghetti to fancy duck meatball sandwiches.

Sal's meatballs at Amis | Photo via Amis

Sal’s meatballs at Amis | Photo via Amis

Sure, we argue a lot over who has the best cheesesteak, the best pizza or the best cheeseburger in Philly. One argument we’re not having nearly enough? Who has the best meatballs. Because seriously, once we started looking into it, we realized what a ball-shaped bounty exists in this city.

Here, then, are the best of the best. Philadelphia’s best meatballs, in several different categories. Dig in.

Traditional Italian Meatballs

Villa di Roma meatballs with ravioli

Villa di Roma meatballs with ravioli

Triangle Tavern
1338 South 10th Street, East Passyunk
(215) 800-1991

Triangle Tavern is a solid South Philly bar that just happens to have a really good, surprisingly modern Italian restaurant attached. Not only do they offer spaghetti with really good meatballs, a hoagie with really good meatballs and really good meatballs just served as a meal all their own, they also have a vegan option for all of the above.

Forno Antico
416 East Main Street, Collegeville
(610) 454-1130

The suburbs are full of places offering meatballs in various forms–as hoagies, atop spaghetti, all on their own. Forno’s are very traditional, dense, large, and some of the best anywhere.

Villa di Roma
936 South 9th Street, Bella Vista
(215) 592-1295

Villa di Roma has been around since 1963. In all those years, you’d think they’d learn a thing or two about making meatballs. And you know what? They have.

Pizzeria Stella
420 South 2nd Street, Society Hill
(215) 320-8000

Yeah, yeah. Everyone knows Stella as a pizza place. But as good as the pizza is, what’s even better is everything else–including the wood-roasted polpette meatballs. And not for nothing, but they happen to go very well with both the mushroom and the pistachio pizzas. Just sayin’.

412 South 13th Street, Midtown Village
(215) 732-2647

Deliberately old school, “Sal’s Meatballs” at Amis are named for Marc Vetri’s dad. Marc got the recipe from him (veal, beef and pork, a little bread, a little milk), who got it from his own Sicilian grandmother. And there’s a reason this simple preparation has survived so long. Go have some and you’ll taste why.

760 South 9th Street, Bella Vista
(215) 627-6011

It doesn’t get any more old school than spaghetti and meatballs at Ralph’s. Seriously, the place should be a stop on one of those historical bus tours or something.

112 South 13th Street, Midtown Village
(215) 732-2400

The semi-traditional foil to the chicken meatballs offered by their sister restaurant (Tredici) across the street, these veal meatballs are stuffed with ricotta and dressed with crushed tomatoes and parmesan.

Foodery Rittenhouse
1710 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square
(215) 567-1500

Slowly but surely one of our hidden lunch gems has been discovered. The meatball sandwich gushing with sauce and a dusting of parmesan cheese, is one big reason. All those beers help as well.

Jerry’s Bar
129 West Laurel Street, Northern Liberties

Because you can’t have a great bar without bar snacks and you can’t have a great list of bar snacks without meatballs. At least not around here. Another solid example of meatball traditionalism. And as a bonus, these come with an excellent round of garlic bread on the side for sopping up all that leftover red sauce.

Stogie Joe’s
1801 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk
(215) 463-3030

These hefty and delicious meatballs made with beef, pork and veal are served on a Kaiser roll. They’re so old school good, you’ll be trying to spot the grandma in the kitchen who must be making them.

Me N Mo
214 South Street, Queen Village
(267) 928-3262

The old school Italian feel of Me N Mo is enhanced with the restaurant’s six types of meatballs. Feeling undecided? Mix and match for $3 a meatball.

Fancy Italian Meatballs

Little Nonna's Meatballs | Photo by Jason Varney

Little Nonna’s Meatballs | Photo by Jason Varney

Little Nonna’s

1234 Locust Street, Midtown Village
(215) 546-2100

Little Nonna’s may be modeled on a very traditional, old-school neighborhood Italian joint, but the food is anything but old fashioned. The meatballs here (best when planted firmly atop a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce) are made from veal. pork and beef and are stuffed with fontina cheese.

Tredici Enoteca
114 South 13th Street, Midtown Village
(267) 928-2092

Not your mama’s meatballs, certainly. Unless your mama happens to be a trained chef focusing on continental modernism. What they’ve got on the menu are chicken meatballs that come dressed in a ginger-spiked tomato sauce and, seriously, don’t plan on sharing. Order two if you’re on a date because you’re going to want to keep this one all for yourself.

In Riva
4116 Ridge Avenue, East Falls
(215) 438-4848

They’re called “Mommy’s Meatballs” on the menu but with sage, pine nut, veal jus, it seems chef Arthur Cavaliere’s mom might be a bit fancier than yours. But that’s OK because in this case, fancy also mean delicious.

International Meatballs

Meatballs at Zahav | Photo via Zahav

Meatballs at Zahav | Photo via Zahav

237 St. James Place, Society Hill
(215) 625-8800

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but Zahav got tagged a couple years ago by Travel + Leisure magazine as having some of the best meatballs in America with their charcoal-grilled beef and lamb kofte, and we couldn’t agree more.

105 S 13th Street, Midtown Village
(215) 922-6061

With Jamonera, we face our first serious question of what makes a meatball. I mean, the albondigas? Sure. They’re awesome. But I’m also a fan of the fava bean croquettes with goat cheese and lump crab meat, and since those are made with meat and vaguely ball-shaped, do they count, too? I say yes.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
1022 Race Street, Chinatown
(215) 923-1550

There are a half-dozen different kinds of meatballs scattered across the menu at Nan Zhou–from lamb balls to fish balls to just about every other kind of ball you can imagine. And all of them are good, but the one we’re recommending in particular here is the House Special meatball noodle soup. Why? Because it’s special, that’s why. And also delicious.

217 Chestnut Street, Old City
(215) 625-2450

Albondigas again. Because, seriously, you can never have too many albondigas. And these are almost perfect examples of the form.

Just Plain Odd Meatballs

Duck meatball sandwich at High Street on Market | Photo by Caviar

Duck meatball sandwich at High Street on Market | Photo by Caviar

Kung Fu Hoagies

4360 Chester Avenue, University City
(267) 344-6259

Yes, it’s a food cart. Yes, it does primarily Vietnamese food. And yes, they have some of the best all-tofu vegan meatballs you’re going to find anywhere, used to bulk out their banh mi xiu mai, dressed with red sauce and fried onions.

High Street on Market
308 Market Street, Old City
(215) 625-0988

At lunch, the kitchen does a duck meatball sandwich with young swiss from Lancaster, a spread of liver mousse, razor-thin red onion and a spicy marinara sauce. It is quite possibly one of the best sandwiches in the city and you should go get one right now. (And no, I don’t care that you’re saying you don’t like liver. Nut up and get there. You won’t be sorry.)

South Philadelphia and Plymouth Meeting

Yes, the Swedish meatballs really are that good. Yes, there are people who go there just to eat. And yes, I am one of those people (though I always seem to walk out with an end table, whether I wanted one or not).

Multiple Locations

You can NOT tell me that there hasn’t been a moment in your life (probably coming at about 2:30 in the morning, probably not all that long ago) when you weren’t thankful as hell for finding that Wawa just when you needed it. Maybe you’re spoiled, though. Maybe you’ve never lived in a place where you can’t get a fresh hoagie, some Gatorade and a soft pretzel in the middle of the night. But I have, and I know to be thankful. And the meatball hoagies at Wawa? They are better by a million percent than they need to be and at least twice as good as you think they are if you’ve never had one.

London Grill
2301 Fairmount Avenue, Fairmount
(215) 978-4545

Served up every Monday, London Grill cooks up an ever changing lineup of meatballs where a plate of three costs just $6. The meatballs might be duck one week, vegan the next and made with foie after that. But whatever the week, the meatballs attract a hungry neighborhood crowd.

Co-written by Jason Sheehan and Arthur Etchells