The Best Places to Eat in West Philly and University City

With everything from brewpubs to Ethiopian cafes, West Philly has a wealth of places just waiting to feed you.

Dock Street Brewing Company | Facebook

West Philly is Philly’s most perfect food neighborhood: It’s our culinary laboratory, where one-offs and wild knots of Asian and African cuisines feed the neighbors and try to make their marks. Our atelier, where young chefs sharpen their skills and take risks. The neighborhood isn’t a one-trick pony, offering endless repeats of a single cuisine. It contains multitudes.

It is a place for risks, for bargains, for midnight discoveries. It bridges the diverse communities of Philly’s food scene, offering a little bit of Center City’s high-rent glitz on one side, then fading into narrow streets, rowhouses, strip mall holes-in-the-wall, and a roiling froth of Asian heat, Middle Eastern spice, African flavors and Indian comfort.

West Philly is the future of Philadelphia. To eat here is to taste what everyone else will be eating five or 10 years down the line. So let’s begin with…

The Restaurants in West Philadelphia You Must Try First

Marigold | Facebook

Marigold Kitchen
Chef-owners Tim Lanza and Andrew Kochan are modernist experimenters, putting their own twist on the long line of innovative takes on tasting menus that have come through this Victorian twin. These days, the restaurant is serving New Nordic (lots of grilled seafood, preserved chanterelles, birch ice cream with white truffles, pheasant glazed in fermented elderberry and licorice, that sort of thing) with executive chef Eric Leveillee in the kitchen, but who knows where they might go next. 501 South 45th Street

Aksum
Then there’s Aksum, which for years has been deconstructing and reconstructing Mediterranean cuisine — hewing closer to or further from Italy, diving more deeply into or pulling back from the flavors of the Middle East and North Africa. The result is a uniquely balanced blend where a curried cauliflower bisque, Roman-style artichokes, Turkish eggplant with goat cheese, Lebanese lemon chicken, and spicy Tunisian shrimp can all share turf on the same menu without any of it seeming out of place. 4630 Baltimore Avenue

Abyssinia
At Abyssinia, you can get a plate of gored gored swimming in berbere sauce and clarified butter, or a kitfo sandwich with rare spiced beef, freshly made cottage cheese ,and stewed collards on bread, then walk it upstairs to Fiume, one of the best whiskey bars in the city. Is there anything more Philly than that? 229 South 45th Street

best pizza west philly ucity

Pitruco | Facebook

Franklin’s Table
This University City food hall essentially offers miniature versions of some of the best restaurants in the city. There’s DK Sushi from the Double Knot team, a second location of Michael Solomonov’s Goldie, sandwiches and salads from High Street on Market (called High Street Provisions here), pizza from Pitruco, burgers from Kensington Quarters, ice cream from Little Baby’s, and more. 3401 Walnut Street

Beiler’s Donuts
Beiler’s opened a University City location, and now I want to move to University City. First, because the donuts are awesome. But also because this location will deliver donuts right to your house. Is there anything better? We truly are living in a golden age. 3900 Chestnut Street

Dock Street Brewing Co.
Sure there is: Dock Street’s brewpub at the corner of 50th and Baltimore, offering bar food, burgers, local beer, and a killer flammenkuche pizza from the wood-burning oven. 701 South 50th Street

Koch’s Deli
Look, this place has been serving thick deli sandwiches here since 1966. It is as much a part of the neighborhood as the sidewalks and is older than some of the trees. And when a place has been around for that long, it’s safe to say that they know a thing or two about making sandwiches. As proof, I offer you their Jewish Hoagie, made with corned beef, pastrami, spiced beef, kosher salami and American cheese. It is one of mankind’s great sandwiches, and you aren’t going to find one anywhere other than at Koch’s. 4309 Locust Street

The Best African Restaurants in West Philadelphia

Dahlak | Facebook

Kilimandjaro
Kilimandjaro does enormous plates of Senegalese-style roasted lamb, Thieboudiene fish stew, plantains, poulet roti with marinated onions and other dishes that sing with French technique and traditional flavor. 4317 Chestnut Street

Dahlak
At Dahlak you can experience an odd blend of serious Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking (full of injera and fitfit and sambusas), plus six kinds of spaghetti, open mics, karaoke, and comedy nights. 4708 Baltimore Avenue

African Small Pot
If you’re looking for something deeper and closer to the ground, check out African Small Pot, where chef Abdarahmane Diop has had decades of experience doing everything from bar food to Italian to Mauritanian fine dining. He and his crew do African comfort food out of a small storefront, their menu full of kebabs, dibi, stewed fish, and cassava over wolloff rice and onion-draped lamb shank with fried plantain. 6505 Woodland Avenue

The Best Middle Eastern Restaurants in West Philadelphia

Manakeesh | Facebook

Makkah Market
Let’s start here, because Makkah Market will serve you chicken curry or a kufta sandwich for $5.50 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They even have a breakfast menu and serve a chickpea ful with garlic, pepper, and lemon that I love. 4249 Walnut Street

Saad’s
Saad’s does two different all-halal menus — vegetarian and not-so-vegetarian. Three, I guess, if you count the American menu, too. 4500 Walnut Street

Hadramout
It specializes in Yemeni cuisine, which is both comfortingly recognizable and completely new to West Philly. Braised lamb stew, fahsah with hulba, chicken mandi rubbed with cumin and coriander, homemade khobz, fresh from the tandoor (or tanoor here). It’s not the Middle Eastern food you’re used to around here, which should be all the reason you need to check it out. 136 South 45th Street

Manakeesh
Manakeesh was named for the Lebanese flatbreads that are its specialty, but it also offers some of the best baklava and Middle Eastern pastries in the city. 4420 Walnut Street

The Best Indian Restaurants

Kabobeesh | Facebook

Kabobeesh
For more than a decade, the Indian-Pakistani restaurant Kabobeesh has provided for the curry and kebab needs of West Philadelphians. The naan is baked fresh every day in tandoors, and the menu is full of comforting biryanis and lamb kabobs plus less well known dishes like haleem barley stew and paya (basically Indian trotters). 4201 Chestnut Street

Dana Mandi
It’s a no-frills Indian grocery store with a seating area in the back sectioned off for diners looking for some of the best Punjabi eats in town. 4211 Chestnut Street

Desi Chaat House
For those of you who bought into the contention at the top of this list (that West Philly is a showcase for the flavors that will be everywhere a few years from now), Desi Chaat House is one of those places that every chef and every serious eater in town ought to check out. It specializes in Indian snacks — the kind of stuff that would be served out of roadside stalls or neighborhood shops in Mumbai, Dhaka or Peshawar. There are chicken wraps and desserts, chai tea and biryani, but the real eye-opening dishes here are the profusion of chaats that run the gamut from nine different kinds of lentils tossed in Indian spices to a kind of mini-burger made of potatoes, fried in chickpea flour, and stuffed inside pav bread with garlic and mint. 501 South 42nd Street

Wah-Gi-Wah
What’s that? You’re really just interested in some Pakistani fried chicken? Yeah, then Wah-Gi-Wah is the place for you. Sure, the kitchen does other stuff, too, but did you not hear me when I said Pakistani fried chicken? 4447 Chestnut Street

The Best Caribbean Restaurants in West Philadelphia

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48th Street Grille
This vibrant restaurant is chef Carl Lewis’ first solo venture after a career working in corporate kitchens and upscale restaurants. His BYOB has a more relaxed atmosphere, with sweet calypso music playing in the background to accompany your jerk chicken cheesesteak or braised oxtail. Come earlier for their brunch options, or stick around for dessert and try the bread pudding with signature rum sauce. 310 South 48th Street

Little Delicious
Little Delicious is a Jamaican food classic here in Philly, serving national favorites with authentic flavor for over two decades. Grab a drink from the fresh juice bar before getting a platter — they don’t skimp on anything here, so you get more bang for your buck. What’s good? Pretty much everything, but try the ackee and salt fish with dumplings and banana or the beef stew. 4821 Woodland Avenue

Ibis Lounge & Restaurant
Head to this casual dine-in or take-out spot for a platter of stew oxtail or fried fish, or a roti with a variety of curried sides. The restaurant serves specials, like curry crab and dumplings on Saturdays and bake and shark on Fridays, on certain days of the week — call ahead to pre-order. Ibis has a full bar, so you can follow your ginger beer up with something a little stronger. 5420 Lancaster Avenue

The Best Southeast Asian and Japanese Restaurants

Vientiane | Facebook

Vientiane Cafe
Penang curry with big chunks of potato and Thai beef jerky are two of the best things in the world, and Vientiane has both of them — plus laab and Laotian sausages and a whole bunch of other stuff that’s tough to find anywhere in Philly, but slightly easier to track down west of the Schuylkill. 4728 Baltimore Avenue

Fu Wah Mini Market
This is the perfect place if you happen to need a can of Cafe Du Monde, some dried shrimp, coconut water, and a killer banh mi all at the same time. They’re is rightly famous for their tofu version, but the chicken and pork varieties are great too. 810 South 48th Street

Terakawa
The Chinatown location is one of the best spots in the entire city for ramen. Now, with a new location up and running in University City, they’re just spreading the joy across the river and making it easier for more people to get a taste of ramen that doesn’t come from the microwave. Expect to wait a little during the rush, but trust me. It’ll be worth it. 125 South 40th Street

The Best Chinese Restaurants in West Philadelphia

best chinese food west philadelphia

Photo courtesy of Dim Sum House

Dim Sum House by Jane G’s
Three things you have to know about Dim Sum House. First, it serves battling dim sum menus — Shanghai-style on one side, Cantonese on the other — with a few Americanized dishes like General Tso’s Chicken thrown in for fun. Second, this is all cooked by three different chefs who all share the kitchen at the same time. Third, it’s open early for lunch and late into the night, and those nighttime crowds? Well, they can get a little loud. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 3939 Chestnut Street

Chengdu Famous Food
How can you not be intrigued by a place that has both “chilled fungus” on its menu, and a noodle dish called Chengdu Ignite? This spot is doing specifically Chengdu-style cuisine, which means a lot of pepper, a lot of chile oil, noodles served both cold and warm, and a fine spread of buns and dumplings to cover the street food side of things. 3635 Lancaster Avenue

Chili Szechuan
Chili Szechuan is a small, unassuming Chestnut Street hole-in-the-wall that you’ve probably gone right past a dozen times without even noticing. But you should pay attention, because inside is a kitchen that’s banging out some very affordable and seriously authentic Szechuan-style cuisine. There’s an “Americanized” section of the menu, but the good stuff is all to be found under the chef’s specials, where you can get anything from Dongpo pork belly to “spicy chili frog,” and a dry pot section of dishes cooked with enough Szechuan peppercorn to set your hair on fire. 4205 Chestnut Street

And the Best of the Rest

White Dog Cafe | Facebook

White Dog Cafe
For history, there’s the White Dog, which has been serving out of three Victorian brownstones for 30-some years now. The place was farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool and remains one of the champions of the style, offering a particularly Philadelphian take on New American cuisine. 3420 Sansom Street

Enjay’s Pizza
Want the best semi-secret pizza in the neighborhood? Head to Enjay’s, located inside the venerable Smokey Joe’s pub on the Penn campus. It’s from the crew behind Pitruco, so the pizzas are just as crazy good as you’d imagine. But the (brief) menu is also rounded out by intriguing options like a couple of fat burgers, fries with rosemary, garlic, parmesan and cherry peppers, or a fried cauliflower sandwich. 210 South 40th Street

Honest Tom’s Plant-Based Taco Shop
Last year, owner Tom McCusker decided that he was going to make the menu at his food-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant look more like what he was eating on a daily basis — which meant turning it into a 100% plant-based restaurant. That means walnut tacos, “carbacoa” made with slow-cooked carrots and lentils, and “chucken” tinga made from chickpeas and plantains — plus grilled veggies, rice and beans, and lots of fresh salsas. 261 South 44th Street

university city west philly lunch

Fried chicken and biscuits for lunch at the EAT Café | Photo by Alexandra Jones

EAT Café
This Drexel-backed, non-profit experiment in pay-what-you-want dining has been operating in UCity for more than two years now, offering an approachable but surprising menu of comfort foods and local favorites for whatever customers can (or are willing to) pay. The cafe operates four nights a week for dinner, but chef Valerie Erwin (ex of Geechee Girl Rice Cafe) recently added on a fixed-price lunch. There are fried chicken sandwiches and grilled cheese, daily soups, a fried eggplant Caesar, pulled pork. And all of it is made possible by Drexel’s Center For Hunger-Free Communities. 3820 Lancaster Avenue

Bistro Perrier
This ode to the great French chef (and local Philly character) Georges Perrier opened recently at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College with a menu absolutely inspired by some of Perrier’s most notable dishes from Le Bec Fin — escargot, onion soup, chicken supreme, and galette de crabe. 4207 Walnut Street

Loco Pez
We lost Taco Angeleno last year, and that sucks. There’s nothing that could replace it. But for those of you looking to find some tacos to ease the pain, let me just say this: Loco Pez finally got their West Philly location open at 47th and Baltimore and they have, among other things, some very good tacos. Those other things include brunch, a variety of hot dogs (including chili dogs), chimichangas, shrimp y fideos, tortilla soup, nachos and beer — but really, it’s the tacos that sell me here. They’ve got street-style and thoroughly American versions (hard shell and everything), and the vibe is always fun. Plus, they serve lunch and brunch, which is just awesome. 4631 Baltimore Avenue

Local 44
And finally, if you want to see the way Philly eats today, just go to Local 44. With a couple dozen craft beers on tap, a crowd of locals at the bar, a menu that comfortably encompasses bowls of ramen, Parisian gnocchi and smoked carrot flatbread with lemon tehina without seeming the least bit weird, Local 44 is one of the restaurants that defines Philly’s scene — month after month and minute to minute. 4333 Spruce Street

Updated: 1/17/19