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Where to Go When You Want Your Meal to Feel Like an Activity
Break the mold of “sit, eat, leave.”
We all need the occasional reminder to change up our routines. That’s where this list comes in. All of the restaurants below break the mold of “sit, eat, leave,” whether that’s by way of an unexpected setting or an interactive dining element. (Though we promise you won’t be forced into communal seating or awkward chitchat.) Check out these restaurants when you’re ready to put your phone down and fully engage with a unique dining experience.
Southampton Spa, Southhampton
Your life — sorry to say this — isn’t as glamorous as it could be. That’s not because you yourself aren’t glamorous. It’s because you don’t live inside this Russian and Turkish bathhouse in Northeast Philly. Change this fact, at least for a day. For $55, you can hang for as long as you’d like in the spa’s various hot and dry saunas, ordering off the menu of Russian specialties in between. It’s possible the idea of wearing a bathrobe and eating blazing hot borscht while overlooking an indoor pool sounds counterintuitive. But the experience is more relaxing than you’d think. (And, besides, the borscht tastes earthy and nourishing in all the ways it should. There’s also a solid Greek salad to cool you down.) Take after one of the stately men reading the newspaper and sipping tea next to you, and spend an afternoon switching between saunas, cold plunges, and soup. 141 Second Street Pike.
Kura Sushi, Center City
Kura Sushi is a chain restaurant that serves a seemingly incalculable number of plates of nigiri and maki via conveyor belt. And, as of January 2023, they now operate a Chestnut Street location. Is this the best sushi you can eat in Philadelphia? Not by a long shot. It’s probably not even the best sushi you can eat in Santa Claus, Indiana. (In terms of quality of fish and rice, consider Kura’s food no better or worse than your average grocery-store sushi.) What Kura offers, instead, is childlike giddiness. There’s something satisfying about the instant gratification of grabbing your own rainbow rolls and salmon nigiri dabbed with garlic-ponzu sauce off of a moving platform. Skip the hot food, which you can order from the screens above the table, and stick with the cold plates that pass by on the belt. Once you’re finished, drop your empties into the shoot in front of your seat, which will count how many dishes you consumed and give you a prize if you hit 15. Make sure to say hello to the robot named Kur-B, who brings drinks and gets in the way of the actual human staff. Sound like your preferred brand of chaos? You’re not alone. Kura Sushi gets extremely busy (and there are no reservations). So put your name down and drink Long Island iced teas at Oscar’s Tavern while you wait. 1721 Chestnut Street.
Tony Burritos at the Foodery, Roxborough
Ever been to a Foodery? Think of them as a kind of library of beer, except that you can buy and drink the bottles you find in the stacks and coolers of beverages. The Roxborough location also has a counter where they’ve recently switched from serving sandwiches to offering exceptional beef birria tacos, all rich and dripping with cheese. Pick your beer while you wait for your food and then grab a seat by the windows where there’s a TV showing a video of a cartoon rendering of the Eiffel tower on loop (your guess is as good as ours). Alternatively, take your food to the nearby Wissahickon Park and have a picnic. 6148 Ridge Avenue.
Libertee Grounds, Fairmount
Even if you loathe mini golf, we’re still willing to bet you’ll love Libertee Grounds. This is partially because of the bar’s curation of hyper-local beer and partially because the quality of food is substantially higher than what you might expect from a bar with a custom mini-golf range. The menu highlights the owners’ South Asian backgrounds, and we’d recommend trying the lamb kheema cheesesteak with juicy and spicy lamb combined with provolone. Another option: Order the spicy chicken sandwich, which gets its heat from Sichuan chili. Once you get some beer and snacks in your system, the place will really feel like a playground for grown-ups. 1600 West Girard Ave, Suite C5.
SEA Market, FDR Park
Imagine the first nice day in spring, when the vitamin D starts to seep back into your bloodstream (is this how vitamin D works?), and you’re so overjoyed that you wonder if you’ve taken ecstasy. Now couple that with the feeling of wandering Philly’s greatest outdoor dining experience. At the Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park, which runs every Saturday and Sunday starting April 1st, you can bounce around vendors selling everything from noodles stir-fried to order on a flat-top grill to freshly pressed sugarcane juice. As a starting point, make a beeline to the woman selling fried bananas (she’s usually situated under a blue tent by the fork in the path next to the folks selling grilled meat skewers) and then build out your snacking collection from there. You’re in for such a treat. 1500 Pattison Avenue.
Octopus Falafel, Center City
Among longtime Philadelphians and Reddit users, Octopus Falafel is kind of like an urban legend. Just one guy inside a halal cart at 20th and Market, cooking up whatever he wants and serving it for less than four hours a day. There’s no menu, only a $15 flat price for what some claim is the best food from a truck in the city. The menu changes daily, so come with an open mind, but expect a hefty rice bowl with vegetables (and maybe a few grapes) and some kind of grilled protein. Bring cash. 8 South 20th Street.
Homemade by Bruno, South Philly
Janine Bruno describes her pasta cooking classes as pasta parties, where guests sip wine and learn to make a handful of pasta shapes. The groups are small enough for a little chatting with your neighbor, which makes this a good choice for dates or groups of friends who want to try something new. If nothing else, once you’ve tried making noodles, you’ll never wonder why your plate of handmade pasta costs $25 again. 1245 South 15th Street.
H Mart, Upper Darby
There are a handful of H Marts in the Philly area, but the Upper Darby location has a food court you’ll want to visit as often as possible. Take the escalator one flight up from the grocery level (which stocks Latin and Caribbean specialty items in addition to the usual selection of Asian groceries), and you’ll see a handful of stalls surrounding a central seating area. Naturally, Korean food makes up the bulk of the options here — you can easily fill up a tray with fried mandu, chilled and slurpy naengmyeon, vats of sundubu-jjigae and more. There are also a few stalls offering menus with Chinese and Japanese influences. The pork katsu omurice from Mong Shil Ton Tong and the jajangmyeon from Joonghwa Roo are both worth going out of your way to try. 7050 Terminal Square.
Queen and Rook, Queen Village
If you haven’t been to Queen and Rook, allow us to introduce you to the board-game bar in Queen Village beloved by nerds and children and nerdy children. What else is there to say here except that games are wonderful? Queen and Rook has a selection of somewhere between 100 and 1 million options, any of which you can rent by the hour while you eat nachos and drink $6 daiquiris during weekday happy hour. Add bourbon to any coffee drink (or butterbeer), and you might suddenly become very bad at the game you’re playing. Queen and Rook takes reservations ahead of time, which we’d suggest making if you’re bringing a group or you’re planning on coming on a weekend. 607 South 2nd Street.
Marrakesh, South Street
Dinner at Marrakesh means an evening spent sitting on couches in a dim, carpet-lined room enjoying seven courses of Moroccan food. For $25 per person, you can eat steaming and fragrant lamb tajine, plus generous portions of things like spiced carrots, eggplant dip, and flatbread. On weekends, a belly dancer floats between tables and sometimes offers lessons to diners. Note that the restaurant is cash only. 517 South Leithgow Street.
Perla, East Passyunk
The antidote to decision fatigue is, obviously, not having to make any decisions. At Perla, the team makes that easy by offering a nightly set menu for $50 per person — their version of a kamayan or traditional Filipino communal feast where eating with your hands is encouraged. Once you’re seated, a server will load the banana leaf-line table with jasmine rice, fried pork, lumpia, fried fish, and vegetables. The whole experience demands joy. There’s no way you can be sad, or even ambivalent, while ripping apart a crispy-skinned, soy-marinated whole chicken with your bare hands. 1535 South 11th Street.
Chubby Cattle, Chinatown
Arguably the ultimate activity meal, hot pot is also great for couples or groups of friends who spend so much time together, they might be running out of things to talk about. At Chubby Cattle in Chinatown, the food is the conversation: You’ll choose your soup base, spice level, and mix-ins, then cook your own meal of proteins, chewy udon noodles, and veggies. Competing to construct the best bite is optional but encouraged. 146 North 10th Street.