After a Long-Awaited Return, Can Royal Tavern Reclaim Its Burger Glory?

East Passyunk’s favorite bar reopened this past fall with a new take on an old classic: the Royal Burger.

Royal Tavern

A full house at Royal Tavern / Photograph by Rachel Del Sordo

I was at the Royal Tavern on the second day it really felt like spring in Philly, several months after the place reopened. The day after they decided it was nice enough outside to prop open the front door and let a little breeze blow through.

At the bar, a tow-truck driver and his friend were drinking imported pints and talking about women with the kind of South Philly hoagiemouth accents you only hear when someone’s making fun of Philly accents. On my other side, a couple — young, beautiful, thin and pointy as greyhounds. A date, maybe. Or date night, anyway.



Royal Tavern
937 East Passyunk Avenue, Queen Village

CUISINE: Elevated American bar food


Order This: The burger for sure, short rib if you’re staying a while, and don’t sleep on the specials.

And I’m between them, watching the bartenders work. The Royal slept through plenty of bad news during its three and a half years in the dark, but not a lot has changed. The beautiful pressed-tin ceiling seems a little brighter, maybe. The walls went deeply blue back in 2019, just before COVID shut the city down, so that might seem new to you, even if it isn’t.

On the floor, the staff walk in grooves cut by 22 years of (nearly) continuous service. In the kitchen, Nick Macri (of La Divisa, Southwark, Osteria and elsewhere) has put a shine on the menu. The burger that rightfully made the place famous back in the day is a little different: a carefully curated patty topped with smoked Gouda, a curl of bacon, sharp chili mayo, shaved onions cooked down and caramelized until they’re almost a jam, and a whole pickled long hot. It’s available now as a single that’s smaller than the original or a double that’s almost too much.

Royal Tavern

Royal Tavern — and its burger — is back! / Photograph courtesy of Royal Tavern

That same smoked Gouda elevates a grilled cheese sandwich with garlic confit, bacon and tomato on thick-cut, herb-smeared bread. Macri’s porchetta sandwich is weirdly off-putting, with pickled celery fighting the smooth fattiness of the thin-sliced pork on every bite, but he also makes his own smoked beef-and-pork bologna for a massive sandwich with maple Dijonnaise and horseradish onions, and that’s delicious. He balances the kitchen’s classic vegan cheesesteaks and a new vegan gyro swaddled in a house-made pita with composed plates of grilled and sliced short rib doodled with bright green chimichurri.­

Next to me, the tow-truck driver finishes a long story about his girlfriend by saying, “I’m not gonna stay if she can’t appreciate my cat,” and his friend shakes his head and says, “No, you can’t do that.” The couple tap their phones in silence. A breeze blows through the open door. And for a minute, the Royal just feels like the Royal — not a new version, not a polished version, just itself. A bar for every night of the week. A time machine back to easier days.

3 Stars — Come from anywhere in Philly

Rating Key
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in Philly
★★★★: come from anywhere in America

Published as “The Return of Royal Tavern” in the June 2024 issue of Philadelphia magazine.