Where to Eat in South Philly

South Philly is arguably the heart of Philly's restaurant scene. Here’s where to go for the best restaurants below Washington Avenue.

bok building

Irwin’s / Photograph by Steve Boyle

While South Philly has historically been heavy on Italian-American classics, now you can find dozens of cuisines and traditions all crammed together amid the rowhouses (including a huge number of our 50 Best Restaurants). One meal in South Philly might mean lunch at an Indonesian cafe or a casual date revolved around eating tacos de canasta. The next could involve a visit to a Jewish bakery, a huge group dinner at a Vietnamese BYOB, or caviar service on Passyunk Avenue.

For our purposes, we’re casting a wide net and calling South Philly anything south of Washington Avenue. (You can send an email to foobooz@phillymag.com if you have thoughts and feelings about Philly’s neighborhood boundaries, by the way. We’ll gladly write back.) And while there are a hundred little spots south of Washington Avenue that have faithfully catered to the neighbors for decades, we’re focusing on the restaurants and bakeries that stand out among the crowd.

Stay tuned for separate mini neighborhood guides to areas like Bella Vista and the Italian Market, Point Breeze, and East Passyunk in the future. For now, consider these the overall best places to eat in what’s arguably Philly’s best restaurant neighborhood.

Mike’s BBQ
No, our city is not necessarily known as a barbecue town. But someone forgot to tell Mike Strauss that — and he’s almost single-handedly putting Philly barbecue on the map with fun specials and consistently exciting smoked meats. The brisket cheesesteak is a cult favorite, but ordering brisket in any form is always a good idea here: it’s smoked for 14 hours with oak wood, and usually costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 per pound. 1703 South 11th Street

Gabriella’s Vietnam
We were sad when Saté Kampar closed in this location in 2020, but fortunately, Gabriella’s has carried on the tradition of a woman-led operation serving exceptional Southeast Asian food. Gabriella’s serves Vietnamese staples you won’t find at phở shops or bánh mì  joints, in a casual room that’s great for a fourth(-ish) date or a fun group dinner. We always start with the sizzling bánh xèo filled with pork and shrimp that makes for a savory-sweet-funky, lettuce-wrapped bite, and vermicelli platters stacked high with fried tofu and pork patties. If you order the shaken beef — caramelized with fish sauce and so tender that you can bite directly through each rectangular hunk of filet mignon — just know you’re going to inevitably end up wanting to order a second helping. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 1837 Passyunk Avenue

Spread at Irwin’s / Photograph by Clay Williams

Getting a 7:30 p.m. table at Irwin’s is a hot reservation right now. It is clear why: There’s simply no place quite like this Sicilian restaurant on the eighth floor of the Bok Building. After the devastating pandemic-era closure of Res Ipsa, Michael Ferreri moved much of his staff (including chef Ervis Kullolli) into what used to be a Mediterranean restaurant. The menu here is similar to Res Ipsa’s — modern Sicilian food, as he calls it — but the surroundings (a top-floor dining room with graffiti in the former classroom space and a gorgeous view of South Philly in several directions) makes it even better. Bring a date, or maybe your mom, and split the fritto misto and a plate of gnocchi sardi in a velvety eggplant-tomato sauce buzzing with chilis. 800 Mifflin Street

I Heart Cambodia
This longtime Cambodian community staple serves everything from gargantuan, crispy-fried shrimp to Khmer salads made of beef that’s been cured with lime and prahok. Aside from living up to the promise of its name, another draw of this restaurant is the fact that it’s BYOB (we like to bring a bottle of white wine or some light beer to go with an order of whole tilapia in a tamarind ginger sauce). But you’ll also see a full bar available in the back of the dining room. We once ate here on a Tuesday night and did shots of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with the entire restaurant staff. We hope you’re blessed with the same formative experience one day. 2207 South 7th Street

Hardena Waroeng Surabaya
This women-led, queer-owned Indonesian cafe — with its rotating buffet line of halal options like chili eggplant, tempeh goreng, and soft beef rendang stewed in coconut milk — got a James Beard Award nomination in 2018. Our only question is: What took Sir Beard and company so long? In case you needed any more reason to love what Diana Widjojo is doing at Hardena, know that she started a pandemic-era #NotPizza takeout option, comprised of an 18-course banquet concentrated into one box. 1754 Hicks Street

John’s Roast Pork
Sure, South Philly has Pat’s and Geno’s, appropriate almost exclusively for tourists, 5 a.m. cheesesteak needs, and political candidates’ embarrassing approval. But, if you actually live in Philadelphia, John’s is where you really want to be: in addition to having superior cheesesteaks, they also serve Philly’s definitive roast pork sandwich. 14 Snyder Avenue

Birria tacos at Juana Tamale / Photograph by Michael Persico

Juana Tamale
The best birria tacos in the city right now, served by Philly icon Jennifer Zavala, plus specials like a Taco Bell-style Mexican pizza, churros, and more. Good for casual table service featuring what the authors of this guide call “purse beer” or takeout. If you’re somehow not yet sold (or even if you’re already a loyal customer), read about how Zavala and her team are challenging the norms of Philly’s restaurant industry here. 1941 East Passyunk Avenue

Korshak Bagels
Korshak falls into the category of nationally-hyped Philly restaurants. Which is great to brag about, but also perpetually annoying because it means you’ll always find a line here on a Saturday morning. Endure the line and the hype: This particular shop is worth the hassle of getting a bagel leavened with sourdough starter for a tender chew and baked on wooden boards. (Our trick is to order ahead of time a day or so beforehand, by the way.) Although they’re less glam than the bagels themselves, pay special attention to Korshak’s homemade cream cheeses, whipped with the whey from fresh mozzarella, and the whitefish salad. 1700 South 10th Street

Pre-COVID, Musi was a tiny, chef-driven BYO run by chef Ari Miller. When the pandemic hit, Miller pivoted the space to turn out the Frizwit, his much-loved cheesesteak that once was a monthly pop-up. We love the restaurant, we love the sandwiches, and we’re so happy that they’ve both survived. 100 Morris Street

La Canasta
You live in Philly, so of course you already have your favorite taco spot. But it’s possible you may not have had taco de canasta in our city before. These corn tortilla tacos — which La Canasta fills specifically with beans, potatoes, chorizo, and chicharron — get stacked up in a basket, where they steam in hot oil and settle into something that has the textural and layering complexity of a Met Gala outfit. 2341 South 4th Street

Machine Shop
Inside the Bok Building, Machine Shop is baking up some of the most impressive French-inspired pastries in the city. Their croissant is tall and flaky, and their seasonal pastries, like a blueberry tartlet or a spicy kale and smoked mozzarella danish-style pastry, are always worth trying. 1901 South 9th Street

With his short rib kare kare and zippy kinilaw, chef Lou Boquila ignited a mini-boom of Filipino restaurants and food projects in the Philly area. And with his family-style kamayan dinners on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, he made group dining not just cool again, but one of the hottest reservations in town. Each meal costs $48 per person and comes with around seven or eight different dishes spread out on a big banana-leaf covered table. Plates and silverware are available upon request, but the experience is really designed for you to eat with your hands (the best utensil, anyway). 1535 South 11th Street

A spread at Mish Mish / Photograph by Michael Persico

Mish Mish
Mish Mish is run by former Foobooz editor Alex Tewfik. But if his restaurant sucked, we would politely smile the next time we saw him instead of including the place on our South Philly guide. Look for the huge hanging apricot and you’ll know you’re in the right place for broadly Mediterranean small plates like fried Armenian string cheese or some squishy-charred baby octopus that’s sweet and nutty with muhammara. Bring a date when you want to appear cooler than you actually are, and get the “kinda, sorta cheese plate” which describes a mess of L’Amuse gouda curls hiding crunchy hazelnut praline and whole brandied cherries. 1046 Tasker Street

La Llorona
La Llorona is the super-friendly, mezcal- and tequila-soaked Mexican cantina of our dreams, complete with excellent cocktails, a great spirits list, and a menu that includes mole-drenched chicken wings, burrata-topped nachos, scallop aguachile, and much, much more. Bring your friends. Bring your enemies. 1551 West Passyunk Avenue

Fountain Porter
Fountain Porter won’t do much for you if you have a certain fondness for piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. But it’ll probably become your favorite late-night spot if you like drinking Italian reds or pilsners brewed in Maine, and scarfing down $6 burgers. Fountain Porter stays open (and busy) until 2 a.m. every night, which means you can expect some solid people-watching/pal-making opportunities with someone named Sam who just got off their shift. The bar and back tables are always pleasantly full, but not overcrowded. 1601 South 10th Street

Cafe Nhan
In 2018, chef Nhan and her son opened this Vietnamese restaurant in a little storefront on West Passyunk Avenue. Now they’re making our favorite bún bò huế in the city, full of spicy lemongrass broth, egg noodles, and beef brisket. There are two versions of this dish on the menu, but be sure to order the dac biet version that comes with housemade bloodcubes. It adds an irony richness to the soup that’s well worth an extra dollar. 1606 West Passyunk Avenue

best bakeries south philly

Photograph courtesy of Mighty Bread

Mighty Bread
Mighty Bread expanded into a full sit-down cafe in late 2021, and the food menu has expanded alongside it. Now you can eat some of the best breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts in Philly (served only on weekends, plus a ham-and-butter sandwich that haunts our dreams) at one of the 10 or so tables inside. Or take your goodies to go and hang out in Columbus Square. 1211 Gerritt Street 

El Mezcal Cantina
Chef Eladio Soto’s sit-down Mexican restaurant opened in an old pizza shop on Point Breeze Avenue in January of 2022 with neither fanfare nor a Yelp page. Make sure to order at least one dish that comes out of their wood-fired pizza oven, like the whole shrimp with sweet corn. But the tiny al pastor tacos with marinated pork that’s been spinning on the trompo are also excellent — they come in beet-dyed corn tortillas or tortillas made with bright green hoja santa. Add on a margarita plus some punchy-acidic mazatlan aguachile and you’ve got yourself a party on a random Wednesday night.

River Twice
Chef Randy Rucker does Southern-inflected, globally-influenced, chef-y, seasonal food in a way that is somehow not-at-all pretentious despite being actually pretty fancy. If you’re not ready to commit to a tasting menu experience, stop by for their double cheeseburger — one of the best in the city — on the outdoor a la carte menu. 1601 East Passyunk Avenue

Pizza Plus
Pizza Plus is the sister restaurant to Circles and Squares up in Kensington (a fantastic neighborhood shop). Pizza Plus does a similar array of hand-tossed and pan pies, plus very good chicken tenders, buffalo chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and more. It’s takeout only. 1846 South 12th Street

stina philadelphia

Stina interior / Photograph by Society Hill Films

After time spent wandering the wilds of Philly’s restaurant ecosystem, chef Bobby Saritsoglou is in his own place, doing pizza and Mediterranean food for the neighborhood. When there’s wood-fired pizza on the same menu as manti stuffed with lamb, we don’t always trust that they’ll be equally delicious. In this case, you should order from both genres. Remember this spot all kinds of occasions, from a casual date to a family dinner. 1705 Snyder Avenue

Le Virtù
At this point, Le Virtù is almost more like a museum dedicated to the cataloging and preservation of Abruzzese cuisine than it is a restaurant. But, you know, a museum where you can still have a couple drinks and eat all the displays. Think rustic, meaty sauces on handmade pasta, fried olives, plus heart meat and fish mains. 1927 East Passyunk Avenue

Essen Bakery
To know Essen’s Jewish baked goods is to love them: the bagels are great, the black and white cookies are even better, and the rugelach bring people from all over the city. Order from the window and then walk your treat down to sit near the Singing Fountain. 1437 East Passyunk Avenue

Nick Elmi’s first restaurant is still his best — his fanciest, most focused, most clearly defined French and New American menu, his most polished service experience. This is a kitchen that leaves it all on the plate, every night. You’ll pay the price for the tasting menu-only experience (six courses for $142, with optional wine pairings for $85 or $115) but the food is hyper-seasonal and always surprising. 1617 East Passyunk Avenue

We often find ourselves daydreaming about the sausage rolls and the banoffee tart at this British pie shop. And frankly, neither of those things is even what Stargazy does best. Order ahead for fish and chips on Friday, or get a full plate with a savory pie, mash, and parsley liquor, a bright green, herbaceous gravy that will leave you — not to get too graphic — making out with your plate. 1838 East Passyunk Avenue

Little Sicily II
Forget everything you see the minute you walk into this random-seeming slice shop. You’re not here for the run-of-the-mill pizzas, cheesesteaks, and hoagies on offer. No — what you want is the “Spicy Food Menu,” which will bring you the joys of Indo-Philadelphia cuisine. Get the Indian-spiced chicken cheesesteak with a side of masala fries and you’ll see what we mean. 1600 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard

Messina Social Club
This century-old members-only club is thriving thanks to its 2019 revamp. Now, chef and operating partner Eddie Konrad — formerly of Laurel and Top Chef — offers a $95, six-course tasting menu as well as inventive a la carte dishes like a blueberry cheesecake deconstructed on a plate so it looks like edible abstract expressionism. Come for a well-made cocktail and some snacks at the bar (which stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends). 1533 South 10th Street

New Phnom Penh
Another anchor in South Philly’s thriving Cambodian food scene — which runs the gamut from street hawkers to mom-and-pop shops. This small spot serves a combination of Vietnamese and Cambodian soups and noodle dishes, including flat hu tieu rice noodles that are popular in southern Vietnam (you can order yours in soup form or dry). Whatever you do, get the crispy fried pork rolls to start. 2301 South 7th Street

Ember & Ash
Ember & Ash uses their produce to the fullest extent possible to cut down on waste, which means every dish includes house-made ingredients even when you weren’t necessarily anticipating it: sweet potato miso and housemade gochugaru fermenting in big jars in the kitchen, a dish with fresh fettuccine ribbons sliding around a butter, squash shoots, and squash blossom bath, or roasted broccoli in a chimichurri sauce made with the vegetable’s stems. Sure, the place might look like a run-of-the-mill gastropub that serves burgers and beer. Don’t let that fool you: It’s fundamentally so much more. 1520 East Passyunk Avenue

American Sardine Bar / Photograph by Neal Santos

American Sardine Bar
ASB’s menu goes through shifts and changes every now and again — but at its core, it exists as a kind of vegetarian-friendly American restaurant with a well-curated tap list, neighborhood brunch, and a gastropub vibe that’s odd for traditional South Philly, but completely appropriate for South Philly in 2022. Their salt-and-pepper fries with pickle dip taste like McDonald’s fries got a makeover. You should get at least two orders for the table. 1800 Federal Street

There’s something so Philly about a former auto shop with roll-up garage doors morphing into a neighborhood coffee shop that roasts its own beans. They also have an exceptional collection of tinned fish and other high-end grocery, plus a takeout cart that plays regular host to very cool pop-ups. Follow them on Instagram for more details about their schedule. 1313 South 3rd Street

It’s possible that the best breakfast sandwich in South Philly is Vanilya’s za’atar bagel with cucumber dill cream cheese and an egg. If anything, though, Vanilya’s bagels are some of the best in the whole dang city, served out an adorable takeout window. 1611 East Passyunk Avenue

Just off the Avenue, the tamales verdes and mojos, made with chicken and pork, from this Mexican, Honduran, and Salvadoran spot often sell out before 10 a.m. on Saturdays — they’re that good. 1163 South 7th Street

L’Angolo Ristorante
Davide and Kathryn Faenza have been running L’Angolo in this location for nearly 20 years, doing Italian cuisine from Puglia. The place is a neighborhood favorite, so reservations are a must — but it’s worth it. The space is comfortable, the service is excellent, and the menu is full of littleneck clams with spicy sausage, fresh rigatoni with shrimp, and radicchio and ravioli stuffed with broccoli rabe and ricotta. 1415 West Porter Street

Another classic, long-lived, neighborhood BYO, serving everything from gnocchi and lobster ravioli to veal parm and steaks topped with scallops, shrimp, and mozzarella, plus prix fixe, family-style menus for big groups. 2500 South Broad Street

Bing Bing Dim Sum
Bing Bing is a reliable place to go for Monday night dinner when a lot of other places in South Philly are closed. The menu mixes all sorts of Cantonese, Sichuan, and Shanghainese classics with unexpected combos like Jewish chicken wonton noodle soup house and cheesesteak bao made with Cooper sharp and long hots. Come for daily happy hour (4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays) for the $10 Bing City-Wide, which comes with a shot of sake and a Miller High Life. 1648 East Passyunk Avenue