Where to Eat in Reading Terminal Market
The heart of Philadelphia's food scene turns 125 today. Here are some of our favorite places to shop, sip and dine in the historic food hall.
Philadelphia was built around its markets. It has flourished and failed on the backs of its street grocers, the region’s farmers, and the 800 six-foot stalls that made up the original Reading Terminal Market, which turns 125 years old today.
Reading Terminal is a direct descendant of the original public markets that William Penn envisioned when he sketched Philadelphia into life — the open-air produce stands and grocers’ stalls that gave Market Street its name as they stretched six blocks from the Delaware River waterfront and into the core of America’s first city. It was the throbbing, beautiful, edible heart of the city for decades.
But the bad years came: the Depression, the obsolescence of the railroads. Bankruptcy and inattention nearly killed the place. But now, at 125 years old, Reading Terminal Market is more vital than it has been in half a century, sitting at the center of Philadelphia’s food system and our city’s conversation about food.
Local farmers still bring their goods to the market, although more stands offer sandwiches to hungry conventioneers and tourists than dry goods and produce to city residents. But with new management and a recent influx of new vendors — a whole-animal butcher, a trendy fried cheese curd and corndog spot, and an eagerly awaited Puerto Rican stand, the market has more to offer locals than ever.
Let’s go to market.
There are no slow days at Reading Terminal. There are slow times, though — like before and after the lunch rush on weekdays, which makes the market the perfect place to stop on your way in to work to grab a locally-roasted morning cup. Get yours from Old City Coffee at one of their two stalls, one at the 12th and Filbert entrance and the other across the market midway down the 1100 block of Arch Street. Flying Monkey Bakery in the market’s Center Court and Termini Bros. Bakery on the Filbert side both offer alternatives — One Village and La Colombe coffees, respectively.
If you’re grabbing a bite on the way in to work, there’s no quicker or more delicious option than Miller’s Twist. The soft pretzel and ice cream spot starts its day with their big, tender soft pretzels as well as one of our favorite market delicacies: that same pretzel dough wrapped around fluffy egg and melted cheese (with sausage, bacon, and turkey sausage options available). If you’ve got time to grab a counter seat, belly up to Smucker’s Quality Meats & Grill for a breakfast sandwich with your choice of pork roll, scrapple, or turkey scrapple — and stock up on a huge selection of jerky while you’re at it.
DiNic’s has been slinging iconic roast pork sandwiches since 1918, but the stand really blew up when it was named Best Sandwich in America by the Travel Channel in 2013 — so it’s a magnet for tourists and conventioneers hitting the market. Your best bet for a short line is any time before or after the lunch rush (between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.) but it’s best to plan on a DiNic’s sandwich when you’ve got some give in your schedule. No matter how long the wait, it’ll be worth it. Or for a Dagwood-style, super-stacked sandwich that rivals the best delis in New York, Hershel’s East Side Deli is the place to go. In addition to juicy, house-made pastrami, corned beef, and brisket, you can order up classics like matzo ball soup, knishes, lox, and New York-style cheesecake.
At the back of the market, Valley Shepherd Creamery and Meltkraft Grilled Cheese do double duty as a gourmet grilled cheese stand and a destination for artisan wedges, offering cheeses from the New Jersey creamery as well as Northeast heavyweights like The Cellars at Jasper Hill at the case and gooey, melty pressed sandwiches at the counter.
One of our favorite spots in the market for crispy comfort food is Fox & Son Fancy Corndogs, which puts all your favorite deep-fried treats on one menu. Former Valley Shepherd/Meltkraft managers Rebecca Foxman and Zeke Ferguson spun off with this stand last year, and it shows in their local sourcing — their cheddar curds are sourced from Chester County cheesemaker Birchrun Hills Farm — and their flair for elevating childhood favorites. Near the 12th and Arch entrance, Beiler’s Donuts & Salads offers dozens of fried dough flavors, plus tubs of briny pickles and your favorite mayo-based salads, too.
And for sit-down soul, you can’t beat Keven Parker’s Soul Food Cafe, where you can watch Whitney Houston and Beyoncé performances on a TV screen while you order. Our go-to plate? The fried chicken with two sides (we go with their classic baked mac ‘n’ cheese and green beans or collards stewed till tender with smoked turkey). Head to Beck’s Cajun Cafe for muffaletta sandwiches, more mac ‘n’ cheese, and deep-fried beignets.
Amid the cheesesteaks and hoagies, Reading Terminal boasts a variety of vendors serving cuisine from around the globe. Little Thai Market’s salmon curry is what draws crowds to its stall. Grab a counter seat at Sang Kee Peking Duck and order anything with noodles, preferably with duck in it. Wursthaus Schmitz offers the German-style sausages of its South Street parent restaurant. Or head to Nanee’s Kitchen for Indian and Pakistani treats like lassi, halal meat dishes, and an array of vegan and gluten-free curries, Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties for falafel, and Olympia Gyro for, well, you know. And the forthcoming Loco Lucho will add Puerto Rican flavor to the market’s melange.
In addition to the Beiler family’s growing donut empire, there’s a whole section of the market — the “Dutch Corner” in its 12th and Arch quadrant — where tourists can take a bite of Pennsylvania heritage and area natives can get a taste of home. For something smoky and meaty, order up a rack from The Rib Stand or a half-bird from Dienner’s Bar-B-Q Chicken. And don’t miss the Dutch Eating Place, which has all the classics — pork and sauerkraut, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings — plus desserts like shoo-fly pie and apple dumplings, wrapped in golden-brown pastry.
The not-for-profit Fair Food Farmstand has been throwing back to the market’s original purpose — as a place for local farmers to sell their goods — for more than a decade. The nonprofit stand sources direct from local farms, cooperatives, and food hubs within 150 miles of Philly, with local produce and an all-local artisan cheese case taking center stage. You can get a ton of sustainably-raised goodies that are hard to find at the city’s farmers’ markets, like local organic rolled oats, grassfed butter, raw milk, and artisan vinegar, there too.
On Saturdays, local seafood outfit Shore Catch brings the morning’s seafood — like plump day boat scallops, swordfish steaks, and tilefish fillets — from boats that fish off the Jersey shore.
Right next door to Fair Food, La Divisa Meats is the market’s whole-animal butcher shop, working with Chester County’s Wyebrook Farm to bring pasture-raised beef and pork to the city, plus lamb, goat and veal from other producers, too. Get custom fresh cuts to cook up in your own kitchen, or stock up on chef-owner Nick Macri’s charctuerie to supplement your next cheese board.
The market has upped its game considerably in terms of convenience in recent years: Condiment, a second stall from Flying Monkey’s Elizabeth Halen, makes Reading Terminal a one-stop grocery shop, with dips, sauces, compound butters, and side dishes to complement the fresh produce, meats, and fish you just bought — or take home one of their prepared meals if you don’t have time to cook. Birdie’s Biscuits, one of the day stall vendors, is there with boxes of ultra-flaky, cat-head biscuits, made from scratch and ready to mop up a delicious sauce or gravy on your dinner plate.
And for dry goods, The Head Nut has you covered, with bulk bins brimming with everything from candy and nuts to baking powder and Spanish saffron — or hit up Jonathan Best Gourmet Grocer, which stocks pantry ingredients galore as well as hard-to-find international goods.
Looking for something sweet in Reading Terminal Market is like being, well, a grown-up in a candy store. In addition to funnel cake and donuts, there are several stands devoted to dessert: Flying Monkey sells signature baked goods like its Pumpple Cake (that’s a double-layer cake with an apple pie baked inside one layer and a pumpkin pie in the other) and — our favorite — golden slabs of butter cake, the densest, richest shortbread you’ve ever tasted. For Italian classics like cannoli, head to Termini Bros. on the Filbert Street side, and for something cold, there’s Bassett’s Ice Cream with scoops and shakes.
For straight-up candy, though, you’ll want to hit up two stalls: One is Chocolate by Mueller, which has just about anything you could ever want, candy-wise, and several things (like the chocolate-covered onion) that you don’t. The other is the Sweet as Fudge Candy Shoppe, near where the Dutch Corner meets the middle of the market, for slabs of handmade fudge and bins of colorful penny candy.
In addition to an eclectic menu for every time of day, Molly Malloy’s sells beer, wine, and cocktails. If the bar is bumpin’ and you can’t grab a seat, no worries: you can take your adult beverage to go and sip while you shop (just stay inside the market till you’ve drained your cup). If you’re looking for something to go with dinner tonight, Blue Mountain Vineyards in the market’s northeast corner offers bottles of wine made in the Lehigh Valley. And recently, Reading Terminal has added a few harder options on old carts around Center Court: Boardroom Spirits sets up on Thursdays and Saturdays, and Eight Oaks Distillery in New Tripoli comes to the market on Friday and Saturday.