Forty Years Later, Are These Philly Favorites Still the Best?

From Pat's to Ponzios, we revisit some of the most notable Best of Philly winners from 1974.

ponzios deli


7 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill | 856-428-4808

Then: Best Breakfast: “Big, hot, tasty portions. Quick and clean.”

Now: I spent most of my formative years in South Jersey, so believe me, I’ve been to more than my fair share of diners. Whether it was an after-church meal, a quick bite on the way back from the Jersey Shore, or late-night burgers and coffee on weekend dates during high school, a diner was the primary source of sustenance outside the home. Strangely, I never once went to Ponzio’s—easily one of the most popular diners in South Jersey, then and now—until I began working on this story.

The breakfasts are certainly the same as they were when we wrote about them in 1974: big, hot and tasty indeed. And Ponzio’s has been in the same family since one decade before that. Prior to 1964, when the current family bought it, Ponzio’s was known as the Ellisburg Diner.

I also had dinner. The drinks, served from a bar that didn’t exist until more than 10 years after our original Best Of, were stiff and so, so cheap; the prime rib and pan-fried steak ($18.99!) were some of the tastiest pieces of meat I’ve ever tried in a casual restaurant; and the servers were the kind who have been in the business for many years and truly enjoy their jobs. One Ponzio’s waitress, Joan Browning, has been there since the original 1964 opening.

We were also treated to songs by a 12-piece old-guys group. No, they weren’t hired to perform at Ponzio’s. They were just having a dinner meeting at the restaurant and broke into song every 10 minutes or so. Their rendition of “Wonderful World” was very charming. (A table of local blue-hairs swooned.) Something tells me Ponzio’s has had its share of memorable moments like this one.

Ponzio’s co-owner Nick Fifis tells me the biggest thing to change since our 1974 Best Of is the amount of competition out there. “There are just so many chains today,” says Fifis. “And their food has gotten better in recent years, which has really made us stay on our toes.” Fifis says they’ve asked focus groups—yes, a diner with focus groups—whether they should drop the “diner” designation to signal that this is a restaurant with better food than your typical diner. “But in the end,” he says, “we decided to just be the best diner out there.”

They’ve succeeded.