Where to Take Your New York Friends Who Heard the Philly Food Scene Is “Supposed to Be Cool”

So they finally booked Amtrak tickets.

friends visiting philly restaurants

When your NYC friends visit Philly, bring them to Mural City Cellars to check out the wine and rotating pop-up vendors in the garden. / Photograph by Ted Nghiem

It’s not news to Philadelphians that Philadelphia is a cool place to eat and drink. But in the last couple of years, an influx of national press and awards have put Philly on the map as a city that food-obsessed people want to visit and explore (beyond the folks who have just heard of Zahav). That’s nice — we welcome fanfare. And we get it. If we didn’t live here, we would wish we did.

But if you’ve ever tried to convince your NYC friends that Philly is so worth their time, you already know it can be overwhelming to look for the perfect restaurants and bars once your people finally book Amtrak. This list is meant to ease some of that hosting-induced anxiety, and built intentionally to highlight establishments you might not see on the lists your friends have been reading via other (non-local) publications.

Here are some of the places where you can show off the best, the quirkiest, and the most Philadelphian dining and drinking experiences our city has to offer.

A spread at Mawn in Bella Vista / Photograph by Mike Prince

MawnItalian Market
At this new BYOB, Cambodian American chef Phila Lorn combines and tweaks classics from a number of Southeast Asian cooking traditions, including Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, and Burmese. The place feels personal: Lorn was the first member of his family to be born in America after they survived war and political turmoil in Cambodia and moved to South Philly. And the dishes are almost unreasonably delicious: crackling chicken skin served with house hull sauce, khao soi with noodles courtesy of Neighborhood Ramen, and hunks of coconut-and-scallion crepe in a bath of fish sauce with herbs. Think of this meal as a distillation of what makes our restaurant scene so juicy — it’s intimate, it’s relaxed, it doesn’t take itself too seriously but the food will be unforgettable.

Plaza Garibaldi Mezcaleria, Italian Market
Your friends probably know that Philly has some of the most exciting Mexican food in the Northeast, though we’d bet they haven’t heard of Plaza Garibaldi. This restaurant has been serving dazzling Mexican food — influenced by owner Raul Castro’s upbringing in Puebla as well as his time in Mexico City — near the Italian Market for more than twenty years. But people don’t talk about it enough. Get an order of cabeza tacos on freshly made, pillow-y corn tortillas, a coctel de camarones, huitlacoche quesadillas, and then work your way through the collection of agave-based spirits behind the bar (or drink some homemade horchata). Plaza Garibaldi makes for a great lunch stop after a morning at the Italian Market, or a casual group dinner before going out for drinks, since the place is open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day.

Doro Bet’s Alicha fried chicken / Photograph by @amandadidiophotography

Doro Bet, West Philly
Plenty of other cities have fried chicken at their disposal. But, as far as we can tell, only D.C. can compete with Doro Bet, a casual Ethiopian restaurant that seasons their birds with turmeric-lemon or berbere spice, then batters them in teff flour so every order is crispy and light. To say this chicken is memorable is an understatement. We especially like the Alicha version, but you should decide for yourself by getting both. Grab your food to-go, hang out in Clark Park, and then wander around Baltimore Avenue or get on the trolley so you can delight your friends’  little MTA minds.

Heavy Metal Sausage Co., South Philly
Some of the most noteworthy dining in Philly right now is happening at places that aren’t exactly restaurants. Pop-ups or underground dinner parties, for example. Or this whole-animal butcher shop and deli. Every Thursday and Friday, Patrick Alfiero and Melissa Pellegrino transform Heavy Metal into a tiny BYOB trattoria serving a $75 prix-fixe menu of Italian cooking with a hyper-local bent. Alfiero is obsessive about sourcing, so everything is grown locally — our guy doesn’t even use lemons. If you’re planning dinner in advance, try to make a reservation. (It’s tough, admittedly.) And if you can’t get in, we still think it’s worth bringing friends for lunch, when Heavy Metal serves sandwiches stuffed to the gills with (semi-esoteric) charcuterie made by hand.

Mural City Cellars, Kensington
Philly’s food scene is full of under-the-radar pop-ups, and one of the spots that regularly hosts them is Mural City’s wine bar and summer wine garden in Kensington. Recent events have included Amy’s Pastelillo’s, Chef Reuben Asaram, and Dream World Makes. Check their site for updates, since the outdoor space sometimes closes due to weather.

Nam Phuong, Bella Vista
At Nam Phuong, you can ostensibly bring an infinite number of friends and still fit at one table. (This should come in handy, seeing as many, many of your friends have said they’re going to visit you “soon.”) The portions at this casual Vietnamese restaurant are generous, so we’d suggest sharing everything. A couple of orders of summer rolls and cold beer should hit the table first, followed quickly by a flurry of clay-pot dishes, shaking beef, whole fried fish, and papaya salad ringed with crisp shrimp chips. After dinner, walk to John’s Water Ice and be patient (but firm) with your people as they provoke you: “Don’t you mean, Italian ice?” No. We fucking don’t.

Solar Myth / Photograph by Chris Sikich

Solar Myth, South Philly
Inside the old Boot & Saddle space on Broad Street, under the glow of the giant neon sign, is Solar Myth. Part wine bar from the team behind Fountain Porter (that means interesting bottles), part vinyl haven, and part experimental jazz venue, this place screams cool in an unpretentious, Philly way. And there’s tomato pie. If the need for more music hits you late in the evening, walk a few blocks to The Dolphin, where you can dance, spill tequila-soda on yourself, and pretend you’re 23 again for 90 minutes.

FDR Park Southeast Asian Market, FDR Park
There’s simply no New York City-equivalent of this historic Southeast Asian market. And there probably never will be. (Thank you, Philly’s resilient and deep-rooted Cambodian and Lao immigrant communities. Thank you, open green space. Thank you, South Philly hustle.) Every Saturday and Sunday from April to October (10 a.m to 6 p.m.), vendors take over a corner of FDR Park serving snacks like fried bananas, noodle-stuffed chicken wings, fresh coconuts, papaya salad, and way, way more. Lines can get long on beautiful days, so plan to make an afternoon out of snacking at will and sitting in the grass. You’ll need water and cash.

SaloonQueen Village
Pals who associate Philly with Rocky (or a similarly oversaturated pop-culture reference) might want to eat Italian food during their time here. And since these friends live in NYC and pay attention to the national food scene, they’ll also want to drink martinis and feel a little showy. Appease them at Saloon, which exists at the intersection of kitschy and deluxe — and way beyond their wildest Greenpoint, Brooklyn fantasies. Saloon is essentially a living, breathing time-capsule of the era when the holy trinity of dining involved red sauce, red meat, and valet parking. Old photos fill the walls. High-heeled, Philly-accented waiters recite perfect monologues explaining the 50 specials available that night. And the lobster pasta, steaks, and Caesar salads are genuinely recommendable.

Doobie’s BarGraduate Hospital
Perhaps nothing tells you more about a city than its oldest dive bars. Doobie’s is one of Philly’s best, and we’re proud to have it represent us with a constantly updated and perfectly curated jukebox (mostly David Bowie) and a menu of city-wides inspired by local people, places and beverages. Owner Patti Brett’s mom bought the bar in 1978, but the place feels distinctly Patti’s now. Expect a Phillies game playing on the TV in the corner and Bowie memorabilia everywhere (she is a major devotee and, if you ask nicely, might share some stories).

Alfajores from Jezabel’s / Photograph by Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme

Jezabel’s Cafe and ManakeeshWest Philly
One charming quality of Philadelphia is its ability to be chill. Jezebel’s is an example of that laidback quality, an Argentine cafe where you can hang on a quiet morning in the sunny windows, eating empanadas and alfajores. For round two, walk across the street to Manakeesh and order the restaurant’s namesake Lebanese flatbread topped with za’atar or spiced ground beef, peppers and tomatoes.

Martha, East Kensington
If it’s a nice day outside, Martha is an optimal destination. Their plant-filled patio works well for people who are into wine, vegan diners, and anyone who insists you bring them to the Fishtown area so they can see how “Bushwicky it feels.” Drink something local (or homemade amari) and order some hoagies and pickles.

Cosmi’s Deli, East Passyunk
Yes, your friends have heard of Angelo’s via the chefs they follow on IG. They’ve heard of “hoagies” and continue to say “subs,” much to your chagrin. But, if, perhaps, your visitors have already hit a lot of the places on our first-time visitor’s guide, we recommend Cosmi’s Deli, where everyone can have a simultaneously weird and wonderful Philly deli experience. The space is small and cramped, full of Herr’s chips and bags of bread. The people behind the counter are going to call you “sweetheart” and, in our experience, mention their son as a potential suitor for you to marry. More importantly: the meats are sliced to order and the provolone (whether its on your Italian or your cheesesteak or, better yet, both) is very, very sharp.