Where to Eat in Old City: The Ultimate Guide
From sushi to ice cream to French pastries to Peruvian, Philadelphia’s first neighborhood has it all.
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Old City has been hit particularly hard with the sudden drop in tourism, and a significant number of restaurants in this neighborhood have shuttered. Despite this, it remains one of the city’s loveliest neighborhoods, chock-full of excellent eating spots. Here are a handful of our favorite spots to visit right now, followed by our complete guide. (Restaurants that are open are demarcated with a star.)
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Jose Garces has switched his new approach to many of his restaurants, which remain closed. Instead of offering takeout through the restaurants, guests order through Garces’ Trading Company, the catering offshoot of the business. It’s a smart pivot: they get to produce more food in a concentrated space, and diners get meals that are more optimized for takeout and delivery. 219 Chestnut Street
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Owner and baker Christy-Jae Cheyne turns out seasonal, beautiful French pastries in this airy spot, but the thing that sets it apart is its menu of bake-at-home offerings, which always, always includes croissants. Clearly, Cheyne understands the magic of waking up to a hot, buttery roll, and for that we thank her. 103 North Third Street.
Art in the Age
In early pandemic days when liquor stores were closed, Art in the Age remained open offering a boutique selection of local spirits. It was a good reminder that this is an excellent resource: for liquor, yes, but also for literally anything you might need for your home bar —from bitters to shakers, and everything in between. 116 North Third Street.
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Independence Beer Garden
The words “large outdoor space” used to be seasonally appealing. Now, they’re essential to any eating or drinking space’s success. Independence Beer Garden has quite a bit, plus an appealing menu of snacky things (pickle chips, buffalo wings, pretzel bites and the like) and many, many beers. 100 South Independence Mall West.
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Christopher Kearse’s restaurant serves the exact food I find myself craving these days: ambitious, surprising French food that is at once exciting and comforting. 233 Chestnut Street.
Where to Eat in Old City: The Ultimate Guide
Old City Philadelphia contains multitudes. It’s the public face of our city, a central downtown neighborhood, a tourist destination, a Friday night horror show of drunken idiots, a historic call-back to our roots. It’s a place where some of the best and worst ideas Philly ever had are continuously smashed together, where the modern and the Ye Olde exist side by side in a display of pride that’s sometimes shameless and sometimes brilliant.
It also happens to be one of the most dismissed restaurant neighborhoods in the city despite being the home of some of our absolute best. Old City is where Philly began. It’s also a peek into its future. And if you’re looking for somewhere to eat, you’ve come to the right place.
The Places You Must Try First
Nick Elmi’s Old City bar and restaurant remains one of the most comfortable, welcoming, strangely fancy-but-casual spots in the entire city. The menu is all French-inflected bar snacks and filling, rustic, impeccably designed dinner plates like lobster farfalle, pork schnitzel with pickled Fresno chiles and caramelized honey or steak au poivre with potatoes and a Bordelaise sauce. Go once and you’ll wish your neighborhood bar was this good. Go twice and you’ll see why people come from all over the city to make Royal Boucherie their neighborhood spot. 52 South 2nd Street
*Khyber Pass Pub
The Khyber has become such a part of the Old City scene that if it didn’t already exist, someone would have to go back in time and invent it. Back in the day, before Old City got (marginally) respectable, it was the place you went when you wanted to pretend you were somewhere cooler than Old City. And these days (after a remodel almost 10 years ago that turned it into the Khyber Pass Pub it is now), it is a place to go for craft beer, good eats with a distinctly Southern accent and bowls of bacon grease popcorn. 56 South 2nd Street
While his original Old City location definitely deserves a shout-out as one of the foundations of Philly’s most recent restaurant renaissance, he shuttered that tumble-down space in favor of this gleaming, glossy, high-ceilinged flagship. The Sichuan menu is just as fiery as you’ve heard. It’s just as much fun for takeout as it was late-night on the weekends.. 123 Chestnut Street
Franklin Fountain exists like a museum-grade reproduction of a turn-of-the-last-century soda fountain, complete with ice cream sundaes, floats, phosphates, milkshakes, and more. The Cherry Bomb (bittersweet chocolate ice cream dropped into a cherry soda) is amazing, and the cult favorite honeycomb ice cream might be even better. 116 Market Street
If You’re Looking for Something Casual
The new Bourse food hall is an eclectic collection of food and drink vendors. Want some cinnamon rolls and leige waffles? Barry’s Buns. Korean tacos? Takorean. Artisanal grilled cheese? Mighty Melt. There’s also a place that does nothing but dumplings (Pinch Dumplings) and another spot for fried chicken (Freebyrd). Basically, it has everything you need, all in one place (and almost all available for delivery), plus tables to eat at. 111 South Independence Mall
Waffles and shakshuka at breakfast, Israeli salad and a grilled cheese sandwich with olives at lunch, coffee and pastries all day long. What more do you need to know? 147 North 3rd Street
*2nd Story Brewing
Look, if you’re going to have a brewpub in this town, you’d better do something special with the menu, because the competition is fierce. Know what works well? A really good poutine. A playful adult grilled cheese with apple chutney and smoked bacon. An unexpected coconut curry stew. And 2nd Story has all of this (plus a lot more) on their surprisingly deep and well-put-together menu. Plus there’s, you know, the beer. 117 Chestnut Street
*Glory Beer Bar
Lunch and late-night menus, weekend brunches, chamomile-rubbed pork sliders and charred octopus with potatoes on the bar menu (along with a surprising amount of salads, vegetables and pot-pies on the dinner menu, plus butter cake for dessert). This is the modern, post-gastropub spot that Old City always falls in love with. 126 Chestnut Street
*Cafe Square One
If you don’t already have a regular breakfast spot in Old City, you should check out Square One. Seriously, for the Cragel alone (cream cheese, bacon, tomato and avocado on a bagel) it’s worth a stop. Throw in the Breakfast Press — an entire breakfast, hash browns included, all pressed together into a single sandwich — and it almost becomes a morning imperative. 50 South 3rd Street
This is a coffee shop with a mission. They do breakfast and lunch, salads and wraps, fresh French pastries, and quiche Lorraine. But they’re also there to connect the community with game nights, art classes, and all manner of events and workshops designed to bring together people of all generations. The food has a French bent (that’s where the chef trained) and the culture is very inclusive. 320 Walnut Street
*United by Blue
Because who doesn’t want to eat breakfast in a clothing store, right? The surprising thing is, once you try it, you’ll want to go back. At least for the River Hash with eggs and onions, bacon, salmon and hot honey. 205 Race Street
Yeah, for brunch. Sure. The lines can tell you how popular it is. But this place does breakfast every day so, you know, maybe try a Tuesday? Not saying it isn’t worth waiting in line for the cinnamon apple french toast — but why do it if you don’t have to? 317 Market Street
*Sonny’s Famous Steaks
Looking for a cheesesteak in Old City? This is it. 228 Market Street
The requisite British-themed restaurant for Old City. But hey, if you’ve ever wondered what Marmite wings would taste like, you can find out here. Jokes aside, this has always been a solid place to eat and drink, with all kinds of craft beer, a menu of modern British gastropub classics, and a full schedule of British-y events (think soccer and Doctor Who on the telly). 10 South Front Street
*Tomo Sushi and Ramen
A BYO sushi and ramen spot in Old City. 228 Arch Street
If you’re looking for a proper dinner
Chef-driven Korean food with modern international influences? Yeah, that’s what owners Chris and Alicia Chung brought to Old City when they opened their restaurant. The KFC is awesome, the galbi bourguignon is just the right kind of weird, and the Army Stew is an updated version of the classic Korean comfort food. 132 Chestnut Street
This city needs more upscale Peruvian food. Downscale, too. Just more Peruvian food in general. As a matter of fact, every city needs more Peruvian food. Except maybe the cities actually in Peru — they probably have enough. But until Philly gets more yucca, ceviche, and lomo saltado in the scene, the people of Old City will be well served by Vista Peru, which does a fantastic job flying the flag of Peruvian cuisine in this town. 20 South 2nd Street
This started out as a very French-y bistro from Peter Woolsey of Bistrot La Minette. Then it became a very traditional American restaurant with some odd French influences and a menu that eats like a very American restaurant being run by a kitchen staff who know how to properly cook a French meal. The result is a surprising meld of the two, with some of the best versions of American classics in the city, all served in a gigantic warehouse space attached to the FringeArts theater. 140 North Columbus Boulevard
It’s gorgeous the way a 1940’s movie star is gorgeous — timeless, but just a little bit faded. For drinking, it’s one of the best bars in Old City, staffed by a crew who know how to shake a proper cocktail. And the kitchen backing them up doesn’t try anything weird or fancy but provides ample support in the form of classic bar food and a few larger plates for those who want to stay and hang out a while. 48 South 2nd Street
Asian fusion is still alive and well in 2018, and Buddakan is the place where it thrives. Seriously, we’re talking wasabi mashed potatoes, tuna pizza, kung pao lobster and all the greatest hits, served in a room that could’ve doubled as a set for Big Trouble in Little China. And believe it or not, I mean all this as a huge compliment — mostly because I love a place that does one thing, does it well, and won’t stop for anything short of the end of the world. 325 Chestnut Street
Philly’s center for Cuban art, culture and food, all in a space that looks like a Cuban street scene. The empanadas are classics (pulled pork, picadillo, and others), the tapas have a distinctive Latin flavor, and the Ybor City-style Cuban sandwich is a fine example of the form. 10 South 2nd Street
It used to be the old Snow White Diner. For 60 years, it sat there at 2nd and Market, offering breakfast and lunch to the neighbors and workers in the area. Then it closed down for renovations, and when it re-opened in 2011 (still owned by the same Snow White family), it was a very different thing. Revolution House is a two-story bar and restaurant offering a menu of tater tots and pizzas, flatbread sandwiches and quinoa salads. There’s also a popular brunch and a kid’s menu, making it one of the rare upscale restaurants in the neighborhood that’s family-friendly. 200 Market Street
*Kisso Sushi Bar
For 20 years, Kisso has been laying down sushi for Old City. And no restaurant lasts that long without doing something right. At Kisso, it’s a dedication to well-sourced fish, traditional skills, clever innovation, and making regulars out of just about every single person who has walked in the doors in the past two decades. Seriously, people get fanatical about this place. Check it out and see why. 205 North 4th Street
Small, local, seasonal, BYO — Chloe remains one of the overlooked gems in Old City. The kind of place where you should have a standing date every Wednesday night. 232 Arch Street
*The Olde Bar
Yeah, Olde Bar is kinda new-ish. But its style, form, and inspiration are so old that I’ve put it here. Opened by Jose Garces in the old Bookbinder’s, it is a restaurant that pretends it’s been in Philly for a century, featuring oysters, lobster, crab cocktails, iceberg wedge salads, steak Oscar, snapper soup, and other flavors from Philly’s restaurant history. I’m still pissed off by the $26 lobster roll, but Olde Bar isn’t a cheap place and doesn’t pretend to be. 125 Walnut Street
Homemade pastas and a big, continental wine list are kind of par for the course at Philly’s Italian restaurants. The polpette are made from Wagyu beef. The squash blossom fritti come stuffed with sheep’s milk ricotta and sauced with a gremolata made from local cherries. And the tortellini are filled with house-made burrata. 14 North Front Street at the Penn’s View Hotel
For nearly two decades, this simple, close-packed dining room has been where people have come for Afghan food in Philly. The menu is large, but just about everything on it is worth trying, from the aashak dumplings to the chicken kofta and the combination kabobs. And if you find yourself lost and not knowing what to order, the staff is always more than happy to offer suggestions (which you should absolutely listen to). 134 Chestnut Street
*Race Street Cafe
Exposed bricks and a long bar, craft beers on tap and wings on the menu. Race Street Cafe is a polished version of the neighborhood bar that every neighborhood needs, with a few surprises (like a shrimp curry) hiding on a tight, uncluttered menu. 208 Race Street
Yes, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself anywhere in this city wanting Italian food and not being able to find it. But discovering a good, inexpensive, slightly off-the-radar place where you can always get a table, a drink, and a plate of veal in a porcini and gorgonzola cream sauce is like finding buried treasure. And Spasso can be that place for you. Bonus: They’ve got a daily specials menu that’s really impressive. 34 South Front Street