The Philly Diner’s Guide to Taking Advantage of Time Off

Looking for something great to eat or drink on a random day off? Try these ideas.

An arepa filled with pernil from Arepa Grub Spot / Photograph by Casey Robinson

It’s your day off and your boss technically has to leave you alone. I see no reason why you shouldn’t spend the entire day bopping around the restaurants and bars you’ve been meaning to try for months now. Go forth and explore, you little PTO pioneer.

Eat a leisurely dim sum breakfast
The overripe banana you normally eat on workdays deserves some time off, too. Get in the car and drive to the Northeast for dim sum at China Gourmet and grab as much pleated har gow, glistening rice rolls, and xue shan bao from the roving carts as possible. (They serve dim sum every day of the week and there’s a parking lot.) For something closer to Center City, Ocean Harbor is currently my favorite dim sum option in Chinatown. Though Grand Palace on Washington Avenue deserves an honorable mention on account of being new and the fact that their dim sum selection is typically a bit more expansive than Ocean Harbor’s.

Cosplay as a lady who lunches
Nothing says “I don’t care what time it is” like a two-hour meal in the middle of the day. If it’s a martini-lunch situation you’re after, Parc, Fork, and Middle Child Clubhouse should all scratch that itch. (And by “that itch,” I mean the sort of energy that channels someone with a fat prenup agreement.) For something comparatively low-key, try East Passyunk’s new Mexican spot El Chingon. The team here serves a remarkably good chicken milanesa on a puffy, homemade cemita roll, plus mixers so you can concoct your own BYOB michelada. Head’s up, El Chingon’s seating is mostly limited to counter spots, so it’d be perfect for a solo meal or a lunch with one other person.

Go on a tamale pilgrimage
Brad Pearson, the features editor here at Philly Mag and a man of taste told me about this holiday tradition that I think you should steal for yourself:

“One of my favorite Christmastime traditions when I lived in Dallas was visiting the tamale man on a corner downtown, with a red cooler. Every time I saw him I’d pull whatever cash I had out of my pocket and hand it over for bright, acidic pollo verde, or smoky adobo rojo. I’d bring them home, eat them as quickly as possible, and pray that I could start the cycle all over again the next day. In Philly, I try and replicate this with my near-daily December walk past El Paisano Supermarket #1, at the intersection of Passyunk and Reed. I heard about these tamales through the grapevine a few years ago, though whatever route this information took to my brain has long been wiped off my chalkboard. I do not know who makes them, how they appear at El Paisano, or when they’re available. But I know that they’re always at the same spot: just sitting on the counter next to the steam table. They cost $6, and are the best tamales I’ve ever eaten. Fat and overflowing their husks, my six-year-old and I plow through them in one sitting, our fingers stained with red by the end. We save just enough so that I can pack some into her lunchbox the next morning. Every day during December I walk past El Paisano, and peer through the glass doors. Most days they’re not there. But sometimes, like a Christmas miracle, they appear, wrapped in tin foil and waiting, I believe, just for us.”— B.P.

Ask a bartender to make you something they’re excited about
A new and possibly annoying thing I’ve been doing is asking bartenders what drink/spirit/amari they think more people should be ordering and then trying whatever answer they come up with. Choose your bartender and bar wisely, not everyone is going to think this is a charming practice depending on how busy the place happens to be. Though there’s a good chance you’ll get to drink something glorious at Tequilas, South,, Royal Izakaya, Martha, and Friday Saturday Sunday.

Pizza at Down North. / Photograph by Jauhien Sasnou

Eat the iconic Philly thing you’re embarrassed you haven’t tried yet
The Fountain Porter burger? Pizza from Down North? A pretzel from Miller’s Twist? Bánh mì from Ba Le? They’re all waiting for you and I won’t tell anyone that it took you this long to meet them.

Try a new restaurant that’s not in your neighborhood
Though I am decidedly not this kind of person, I understand if you rarely leave your neighborhood on normal weekdays. But that’s exactly what you should be doing on a day off without plans. Right now, some standout new restaurants that I’m most jazzed about include: Honeysuckle Provisions and Doro Bet in West Philly, Pietramala in Northern Liberties, the new Kalaya in Fishtown, Arepa Grub Spot in the Italian Market, and whatever you can get your hands on at Heavy Metal Sausage Co. in South Philly.

Drink fancy coffee like a fancy-coffee person
Someone who is extremely nerdy about espresso recently told me that they can’t stop going to Thank You Twice on 7th and Sansom. This relatively new cafe sources their coffee from places like Seoul, Copenhagen, Brooklyn, and Portland, Oregon. If you too are a bean geek, I suggest you check it out. But know that they’ll be closed from the 25th to the 28th. Everyone deserves time off, duh.

Bring a book to a bar and count how many neighboring patrons fall in love with you
Listen, I don’t make the rules. These bars should work well for such a task.

Put your name in at Zahav and see a movie while you wait
You probably spend much of your life being a planner, and the weird blur of days between Christmas and New Year’s is a perfect opportunity to quiet your inner organization freak and do something semi spontaneous. I’m not sure I can name a more romantic one-two punch than seeing a movie at The Ritz and walking into Zahav. Put your name in around 5 p.m. on a weekday and you’ll have a good shot at getting a table around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Prioritize cheese
The Philly Cheese School in Bella Vista runs frequent classes where you can learn about (and eat) the delightful, edible mold we call cheese. Alternatively, go on a walk around Old City that culminates in buying cheese at Riverwards Produce. Before you stock up on dairy, peek into a few galleries, stop by Omoi Zakka and flip through a Japanese magazine, check out the tchotchkes at Four Foot Prune, and see what cool booze Art in the Age is selling these days.