Where to Eat in Center City: The Ultimate Guide
For those times when you're craving tehina milkshakes in Rittenhouse or Spanish tapas in the Gayborhood or seafood towers in Old City.
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Center City is more of a concept than it is any one place. It’s Philly’s “downtown,” but we don’t call it that. It’s the place with all the tall buildings, but it includes Philly’s historic district and Chinatown and the Gayborhood, too. Technically, it has borders — Spring Garden Street to Lombard Street, river to river — but really, Center City means different things to different people, so we gathered all the neighborhoods into one place to make things easier — for those times when you’re craving tehina milkshakes in Rittenhouse or Spanish tapas in the Gayborhood or seafood towers in Old City.
Where to Eat in Rittenhouse
Vernick Food & Drink
Occasionally (and rightly) called the best restaurant in Philadelphia, Greg Vernick’s original Philly restaurant was a wonder when it opened and has only gotten better. A focus on simplicity, comfort, and exquisite technique have kept it honest, and (miraculously) it’s never let praise and money distract it from its primary mission: making dinner for the neighbors. 2031 Walnut Street
The drinks are strong and the menu is interesting, but I’m including this joint among the musts for two reasons. One: There’s a nine percent chance on any given night that you’ll end up sitting next to some very famous Philadelphian (I’ve done the math). Two: As unlikely as it seems, I have had some of my best, strangest nights in Philly at this tiny bar in the middle of Rittenhouse. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just magic. 1737 Walnut Street
Goldie does two things: falafel and milkshakes. And it does them so incredibly well that the line regularly runs out the door, down the steps, and out onto the sidewalk. Trust me, though — it’s worth the wait. (Also, they have really good French fries, but no one’s standing in line just for those.) 1526 Sansom Street
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Where to Eat in Chinatown
David’s Mai Lai Wah
At this point, David’s is basically an institution. If you’re a regular nightcrawler, you already know the place as a last-call destination for chefs, bar crews, insomniacs, the bungled, and the botched. If you’re not, I’ve heard it’s also open during daylight hours, too, though I can’t swear to that. 1001 Race Street
Xi’an Sizzling Woks
Shaanxi cuisine is the focus here — a combination of Szechuan heat and Silk Road spices that result in dishes like Chinese hamburgers, chive pie, ma po tofu, and pita bread soaked in lamb soup. 902 Arch Street
Nan Zhou Hand-Drawn Noodle House
The name says it all, right? Try the oxtail noodle soup or the shredded pork stir-fry noodles (with a little chile paste). If you need something green, the snow peas with garlic are also very good. 1022 Race Street
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Where to Eat in Midtown Village and the Gayborhood
Dinner here remains the single most remarkable dining experience in Philadelphia — the kind of thing that everyone should do at least once. It’s expensive, it takes hours to get through the tasting menu that runs upwards of fourteen courses, but it is so, so worth it because there is no other chef in Philly who thinks as deeply about menus as Marc Vetri does, and no service staff in the city that can hold a candle to the team at Vetri’s namesake restaurant. 1312 Spruce Street
Simply the best vegetables-only restaurants in the city. Arguably, the best in the country. It’s one of those that’s so good, you’ll forget you’re eating nothing but turnips and dirt. (Just kidding. There are also probably some beets.) 1221 Locust Street
An all-day cafe upstairs doing breakfast pastries and coffee, lunch bowls, a killer happy hour and bar snacks. Downstairs, one of the coolest, sexiest, darkest, most surprisingly amazing restaurants in the city. Seriously, if you’re going to eat sushi in only one basement this year, make it Double Knot’s. 120 South 13th Street
Where to Eat in Old City
Fork has been a lot of things over the years — heralded and counted out a half-dozen times each, survived things that would’ve killed any other restaurant on earth. And yet consistently, year after year, it claws its way to the top of the heap by consistently turning out one of the most interesting and innovative New American menus in the city. Plus, it’s become one of the city’s great training kitchens, something that becomes more and more important with each passing season. 306 Market Street
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
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