“We are all about food these days,” says Donna Schorr of Visit Philadelphia.
The city’s culinary scene is exploding, from the eclectic merchants at the historic Reading Terminal Market to the something-for-everyone food tour offerings to some of the most highly-acclaimed restaurants in the country.
Here's a sampling of the dishes quickly joining the iconic cheesesteak as Philly favorites. Better make your reservations now.
Farmer Sue’s cheese dumpling | High Street on Market
Farmer Sue's cheese dumpling at High Street on Market — Photo courtesy of Chaucee Stillman
The artisanal bakery side of this popular eatery creates breads like buckwheat cherry and roasted potato that make you doubt the validity of the statement, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Just in case, though, High Street on Market also has a full menu of fresh and beautifully presented farm-to-table creations like Farmer Sue’s cheese dumpling with veal ragu and spring vegetables, which gets tweaked seasonally but is always in high demand.
Montreal style smoked short ribs | Abe Fisher
Montreal style smoked short ribs at Abe Fisher — Photo courtesy of Mike Persico
The owners of the wildly successful Zahav expanded their homage to Jewish food with the intimate Abe Fisher, where tradition mixes with cultural influences in an amazing smorgasbord of unexpected flavors and delights.
The signature Montreal style smoked short ribs are a religious experience in themselves, so tender that you can always tell when guests are eating them because the table goes quiet for a few moments of deeply respectful silence.
Rutabaga fondue | Vedge
Rutabaga fondue at Vedge — Photo courtesy of Yoni Nimroad
You don’t have to be vegan to love Vedge – but you might become one once you realize you can actually dine like this. In fact, Vedge is considered to be one of Philadelphia's best restaurants, not just one of its best vegan restaurants, which is deliciously ironic considering the city’s carnivorous cheesesteak reputation.
Vegetables take on a starring role here but they’re raised to a whole different level. The rutabaga fondue, super-rich and spiced with charred onion, is a crowd favorite. Although you may have once laughed at the idea of calling veggies “decadent," just wait until you dip in a chunk of warm pretzel and chase it with a tangy pickle.
Doughnuts | Beiler’s Doughnuts
Doughnuts at Beiler's — Photo courtesy of Beiler's Doughnuts
It isn't humanly possible to choose just one doughnut from the tempting cases at Reading Terminal Market, where you can easily find Beiler’s by looking for the line winding around the corner.
You won’t mind waiting because it gives you time to watch the doughnuts being hand-rolled and popped in the oven, and to figure out which flavors to order. Salted caramel? Peanut butter and jelly? Maybe an apple fritter? Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these Pennsylvania Dutch pastries.
Edamame dumplings | Buddakan
Edamame dumplings at Buddakan — Photo courtesy of Starr Restaurants
James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr owns a dozen innovative restaurants in Philly, and you should really try them all.
Start with Buddakan, which serves superior Pan Asian fare in a sleek, modern space, and start your meal with the edamame dumplings, which should be required eating. You won’t feel like rubbing the belly of the giant Buddha dramatically holding court over the restaurant because you’ll be happily rubbing your own.
Soft pretzels | Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Company
Soft pretzels at Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Company — Photo courtesy of Jason Varney
Philadelphians eat 12 times more pretzels annually than the average American. That may sound surprising until you taste the soft pretzels that are a local staple.
Real Philly soft pretzels come in a distinctive figure-eight shape. They’re chewy rather than crunchy, and they’re sprinkled with salt although you can opt for a “baldy” if you must. Just don’t skip the yellow stuff. Mustard is such an integral part of the tradition that, in honor of his Philadelphia roots, comedian David Brenner even named his memoir Soft Pretzels with Mustard.
Roast pork | Tommy DiNic’s
Roast pork at Tommy DiNic's — Photo courtesy of G. Widman
Considered “the other cheesesteak,” the roast pork Italiano sandwich is a local favorite, and DiNic’s is the number one place to get it.
The Nicolosi family has been a part of Philadelphia’s culinary scene since 1918, sourcing local ingredients and cooking everything from scratch. Crowds gather daily for their signature sandwich, which pairs sharp provolone and garlicky broccoli rabe with the three-day-prepared pork.
Pizza | Pizzeria Vetri
Pizza at Pizzeria Vetri — Photo courtesy of M. Edlow
Chef Marc Vetri and his four Philadelphia restaurants have won some of the culinary world's most prestigious awards, and he puts the same care into pizza as he does the finest Italian cuisine.
Take a seat at the open kitchen pizza bar to see for yourself. The signature margherita, made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil and a whole grain flour crust, is deliciously simple and simply delicious.
Fried chicken | Federal Donuts
Fried chicken at Federal Donuts — Photo courtesy of Mike Persico
I struggled with which industry-changing treat to focus on here – the donuts or the fried chicken – but chose the chicken since every order comes with a honey donut anyway, making it a win-win.
The double-fried Korean-style chicken is super crispy and super tasty, and the accompanying donut is better than a biscuit. In fact, you may want to skip the bun altogether and simply slip the chicken inside the donut. (But don’t forget to bring home a box of Fancy donuts, especially the banana cream pie, blueberry pancake and hot cocoa.)
Green Circle Chicken a la King | XIX Nineteen
Green Circle Chicken a la King — Photo courtesy of Hyatt at The Bellevue
The iconic Chicken a la King was actually created by William “Bill” King, a cook at the Bellevue Hotel, more than a century ago. According to legend, a waiter asked him to prepare a dish for a grumpy patron. He combined chicken, mushrooms, truffles, red and green peppers and cream to the guest's delight. In return, the man affectionately named the dish after its creator.
Today, Executive Chef Tim Paroulek has reinvented the dish at XIX Nineteen, the gorgeous restaurant at the top of the historic Hyatt at The Bellevue. His elegant twist on the classic dish is likely to become a classic itself.