Fishtown is like a laboratory experiment studying what would happen if you tried to gentrify a whole neighborhood over night. And then tried it again the next night. And then again the next.
Things change fast here. Real estate is, in the grand scheme of things, still affordable. Turnover happens all the time. There’s constant friction over just about everything — even the boundaries of what actually comprises Fishtown. But out of all of this comes a scrappy, DIY sensibility. A sense that if you’ve got a crazy idea (or a brilliant idea and not a lot of money), then Fishtown is the place to try to bring it to life. Some of the best restaurants in the city have opened here over the past few years. Some of Philly’s most classic neighborhood joints have been here for years. You can see (or taste) both yesterday and tomorrow within the same block.
Which is why I’ve organized this list the way I have — as a balanced look at both the newcomers and the old guard. This being Fishtown, even the classics are largely young operations with just a few years on the ground. And the upstarts have sometimes been around for just a few weeks or months.
But there are a few places that anyone trying to get their heads around the Fishtown food scene ought to know about first. So let’s start with those:
It started as a retail butcher shop and classroom with a restaurant attached — which, paradoxically, served some of the best and most interesting vegetables in town. Over time, retail went by the wayside in favor of the restaurant, but with a serious focus on the bloody business of turning animals into dinner. The menu is diverse, offering everything from parsnip ravioli and grilled swordfish with roasted ginger vinaigrette to 100-day dry-aged steaks.
1310 Frankford Avenue
It’s a Southeast Asian BYO with no phone, no reservations and a small space, with a kitchen that goes to great lengths to recreate (and sometimes subtly alter) classic Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian and Burmese dishes.
308 East Girard Avenue
Owners Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh did everything backwards. Rather than having a crazy idea and letting it incubate in the forgiving real estate climate of Fishtown, they had a super-crazy idea (international noodle fusion and brisket ramen), which they made successful through super-craziness in some of the city’s more expensive neighborhoods. Only after they’d become a powerhouse in the buns-and-dumplings game did they expand to Fishtown, putting a kind of stamp of cool on the whole joint.
1416 Frankford Avenue
Like the guys from Cheu, La Colombe’s Todd Carmichael did things entirely wrong — and got famous for it. He opened his first cafe in Rittenhouse (pricey), expanded all over the city, colonized New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. And then, when all that was done, he came back to Philly and opened this flagship cafe, roastery and distillery in the heart of Fishtown.
1335 Frankford Avenue
So you want to start a pizza place where all the pies are named after imaginary people, occasionally use ingredients like dates or brown sugar or horseradish, and also make the whole place a Guinness World Record-setting pizza museum? Sounds like Fishtown to me. And now that Pizzeria Beddia has closed down, everyone seems to be remembering how good those weird-ass pizzas were in the first place.
2313 Frankford Avenue
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
Yeah, the place has had some problems lately — which they’ve taken steps to rectify. There’s no getting around that. But Mulherin’s was cool from the minute it opened, lovely and casual and so perfectly, strangely wedded to the neighborhood. The bar bangs out some of the best classic cocktails in the city, and the kitchen does pastas that rival anyone’s — along with a full spread of pizzas and snacks that have rarely been anything less than fantastic.
1355 North Front Street
Once upon a time, owner Greg Root was one of Stephen Starr’s top guys, a director within the organization. And he must’ve learned his lessons well, because Root opened strong right out of the gate as a sleek, shining combination wine bar and restaurant with a Mediterranean streak. The menu is simple and straightforward, focusing heavily on toasts, snacks and salumi plus a few smart mains. And the bar program is stellar with several different G&T variations, a good (if short) beer list and dozens of wines by the glass.
1206 Frankford Avenue
Philly Style Bagels
Bon Appétit said that this place served the best sandwich in America — a simple lox sandwich on one of Philly Style’s awesome, small-batch, fermented, Yards beer-boiled and plank-roasted bagels. And you know what? I’m pretty sure they were right.
1451 East Columbia Avenue
Cake Life Bake Shop
What began as a wholesale and catering operation run out of the Globe Dye Works building now has a brick-and-mortar home in Fishtown. Run by two Cupcake Wars veterans, it now offers retail sales of some of the tastiest pastries in the city. Plus, at least one member of our staff is just super excited that this shop is where Beyonce got her birthday cake last year, so there’s that, too.
1306 Frankford Avenue
We’re talking about the original here, not the high-gloss, touchscreen new one. No, we mean the one that’s basically just a shack set up in a vacant lot, offering picnic table seating and messy, chef-y, border-hopping tacos and burritos to anyone who shows up with a few bucks left after closing time.
1431 Frankford Avenue
Front Street Cafe
I like this place because of its inherent conflict. It serves, side-by-side, vegan waffle bites and fried chicken and waffles. It has a kale caesar salad and loaded shoestring fries. There’s fresh-squeezed juice and smoothies and a heavily local cocktail list with a cinnamon margarita on it. Sure, it might look like it’s trying to be all things to all people, but I’d rather think of it as veering wildly from beloved thing to beloved thing without any concern for labels.
1253 North Front Street
Tierce, 2218 Frankford Avenue
You guys know Helm, right? Killer little BYO? One (really, two) of the best restaurants in the city? Yeah, well Tierce is the brand new breakfast, lunch and brunch place from Helm owners Michael Griffiths and Kevin D’Egidio, opened a few months ago in the old Pickled Heron space on Frankford Avenue. They both live in the area, and they wanted a place that would be fun for everyone — families included — so they’re offering everything from eggs and pancakes to a fried chicken sandwich with horseradish mayo.
Street Side Cafe
Banh mi, pho, dumplings, rice paper rolls and a whole bunch of snacks, all inspired by Southeast Asian street foods? Yeah, sign me up. This tiny spot is open six days a week only for lunch and dinner with a break in between, with s a lot of delivery and take-out business (as they should, considering their influences). A meal here can feel like looking at the future of dining in Philly, which makes Fishtown the perfect neighborhood for it to live in.
165 West Girard Avenue
Though it’s mostly a specialty Italian grocery store, Castellino’s also serves a handful of hoagies. And it says something about how much people like the place that they’ll go out of their way to get an Italian or a Fig Pig from here rather than hitting any of the other streetcorner shops scattered around the neighborhood.
1255 East Palmer Street
It’s a Greek restaurant with a bar and pool hall attached. Or maybe a pool hall with $4 Citywides and a big, Greek menu. Whatever you call it, it is very, very Fishtown.
15 West Girard Avenue
The team from Root opened this massive Lebanese market and all-day cafe late last year. This year, they’re planning on adding a proper restaurant and a full outdoor garden. They’re doing flatbreads, house-made pastries, coffee, cocktails and more. And just as much as Street Side represents one direction for Philly dining to take, Suraya — with its huge ambitions and all-in-onementality — offers an opposite and equally valid possibility.
1528 Frankford Avenue
Weckerly’s Ice Cream recently expanded into Fishtown with this friendly spot offering their amazing, local ice cream plus the ice cream sandwiches that everyone loves.
9 West Girard Avenue
A Fishtown spin-off of the South Philly original, Garage’s Fishtown location has everything you want in a great neighborhood joint–canned beer, skeeball, picklebacks, a great happy hour and a rotating roster of some of the best chefs in the city serving food in a food truck-style set-up.
100 East Girard Avenue
Bottle Bar East
800 beers, either to-go or for drinking at the bar? That’s nice (and handy for all the nearby BYOs). But Bottle Bar also has a kitchen that does good chicken wings and Vietnamese pork belly tacos that are awesome all the time and half-price on Tuesdays.
1308 Frankford Avenue
Stephen Starr’s big indoor-outdoor German beer garden is one of those places where it’s almost impossible not to have fun. It’s full of big beers, party games and bar snacks, and it’s the best place in the city to play drunken ping pong.
1210 Frankford Avenue
I don’t think it’s too much to say that there wouldn’t be a Fishtown restaurant scene without Johnny Brenda’s. It’s held down the corner of Frankford and Girard for a long time, offering a great bar full of craft beers, a live music venue and a kitchen serving rabbit rillettes, kale salad and roast beef sandwiches that almost define the Philly style of being so much better than they need to be.
1201 Frankford Avenue
The Freedom Tacos here are still just as great as ever, but it’s the chef-y-er varieties (sweet duck with chile sauce, falafel, pork belly banh mi in taco form) that consistently surprise newcomers. Plus, they’ve got an excellent selection of local and craft beers to go with them.
19 West Girard Avenue
Truth: you’re never going to find better gnocchi or tagliolini served in a half-secret dining room in the back of an Irish bar. The unusual arrangement has Italian chef Francesco Bellastelli renting kitchen space from Murph’s owners, Greg and Theresa Walton, and cooking incredible cash-only Italian food for a crowd that often waits up to 90 minutes for a table.
202 East Girard Avenue
It’s convenient that Fishtown has long had one of the best Indian restaurants in the city. I mean, convenient if you live in Fishtown, that is. Seriously, they’ve got everything you could want, and mango lassi, too.
250 East Girard Avenue
Cold beer and awesome tacos. What more do you need to know? (The nachos are pretty spectacular, too.)
2401 East Norris Street
A dependable breakfast and lunch spot for the neighbors that does nice pancakes, breakfast sandwiches on long rolls, lots of scrapple and chipped beef, and a good selections of lunch sandwiches.
632 East Girard Avenue
Good Spoon Soupery
Soup maven Kate Hartman opened her cozy soup and sandwich spot in 2014, after four years of slinging hot and take-home soups made with locally sourced ingredients at farmers’ markets. Today, her shop is a fresh lunchtime go-to for the neighborhood. Head there for a bowl of rich Senegalese chicken peanut stew or a cooling cupful of summertime gazpacho.
1400 North Front Street
Les and Doreen’s Happy Tap
I have this theory, that the weirder the name a streetcorner bar has, the better it’s gonna be. And that plays out really well at Les and Doreen’s, which is about as old-fashioned a neighborhood joint as you’re going to find anywhere in Fishtown.
1301 East Susquehanna Avenue
Everything that I said about Les And Doreen’s goes for Old Philadelphia, too. Plus, you can smoke there, get hustled at the pool table and walk out loaded for about $25.
2118 East Dauphin Street
All-day breakfasts and a huge deli menu, sure. But the real draw here? What a lot of people consider to be the best falafel in the city.
1939 North Front Street
Lloyd has had some ups and downs over the years. But the whiskey bar and gastropub has hung in there since 2012 and settled into its neighborhood, becoming an indispensable spot for those who want to drink whiskey and eat jumped-up chicken nuggets with pink peppercorn honey and spicy pickles.
529 East Girard Avenue
Along with Frankford Hall, this Stephen Starr-produced BBQ joint out of Brooklyn helped cement Fishtown’s modern renaissance with smoked meats, picnic table seating and an excellent list of brown liquors. On a winter evening, Fette Sau might also be one of the best-smelling restaurants in the city.
1208 Frankford Avenue
In a way, this place has been around since the 1940’s. Under a different name, it served some of the best cheesesteaks and sandwiches in town. Current owner Joe Groh started his career there, working in the kitchen, then bought it when Sherman died in 1999. He changed the name but kept the sandwiches, and now he runs it as a kind of retro sandwich shop full of cheesesteaks, hand-cut fries, milkshakes and egg creams.
1 West Girard Avenue
A legit neighborhood bar with dive-y tendencies, the El Bar has been liquoring up Fishtown locals for years–plus giving them a place to sing karaoke and play pinball. It’s cash only, cheap, does a perfect PBR Citywide and has a backyard patio area that’s awesome when the weather is nice.
1356 North Front Street
Kung Fu Necktie
It’s a bi-level bar and music venue that’s oddly cool, weirdly pretty, diversely populated with both regulars and wandering hipsters, and serves some of the cheapest drinks in the city. Every serious neighborhood needs a place like this, and it’s a sign of just how fast Fishtown changes that even though it feels like KFN has been around for decades, it only opened in 2008.
1248 North Front Street
This tucked-away neighborhood joint in the heart of Fishtown is known for its really good beers, solid burgers, and of course, the iconic Fishtown iced tea — a suicide-style take on the Long Island that’s served in an Arctic Splash container.
1235 East Palmer Street
Keeping it local, keeping it real, keeping it cheap. This unapologetic dive bar is one of those places that the neighbors have held onto during these changing times in Fishtown. It’s friendly, it’s cheap (especially during happy hour) and the cocktails are surprisingly solid.
1301 Frankford Avenue
Yeah, the craft beers on tap here are excellent. But the menu is also surprisingly good, offering upscaled bar snacks — like pretzel bites with beer cheese, Korean BBQ tacos and fried pierogies with crème fraîche and apple chutney — and a big list of creative sandwiches.
541 East Girard Avenue