Eating on the go not only saves precious time and money when you are traveling, but can also be the best way to experience what the locals really eat. Stands, counters, carts and markets the world over can provide the very best of what any region has to offer. Philadelphia is a perfect example of this. With so much art, history, sports and shopping to explore, who has time to sit leisurely at every meal?
Of course, Philadelphia has wonderful restaurants and some beautiful places to slow down and sit awhile. Rittenhouse Square, for example, is a lovely park in an upscale part of town. It is seemingly surrounded on all sides by charming restaurants with outdoor seating in good weather. However, to enjoy the best of what Philadelphia has to offer in food, you will want to wear comfortable shoes.
Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks Cast your vote in the cheesesteak wars. In South Philly, where South 9th Street crosses East Passyunk Avenue, you will find one of the most delicious food rivalries in the country. While some locals might claim these are tourist traps, you are likely to see more than a few locals in line at both establishments.
With their famously long lines and their famous proximity to each other, Pat’s and Geno’s serve up classic Philadelphia cheesesteaks from their opposing corners at breakneck speed. Line up, read the instructions for proper ordering, order and pay quickly, and move out of the way. The only seating is outdoors, the parking is horrible, and the service is brusque, to say the least. Yet people come from all over to line up and get snapped at. They do so with good reason. Tourist traps or not, these two establishments know how make sandwiches. These warm, cheesy, savory treats are worth the wait in line. Come hungry.
To conduct your own taste test, come with a friend. Buy one sandwich and share it while you wait in line at the other restaurant. Just be sure you agree on “wit” or “witout” (onions, that is) and your selection of cheese (provolone or “wiz”).
Reading Terminal Market
An indoor temple of food variety, Reading Terminal Market is a place you will not want to miss if you are going to be in Philadelphia and you like to eat. Reading Terminal Market is more conveniently located than Pat’s and Geno’s, making it easier to include while touring the other sights of the city. Just across the street from the convention center, it is blocks from the heart of the shopping district in one direction, and the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in the other.
As you wander up and down the rows of Reading Terminal Market, you will be faced with a new temptation at every counter. There are regional cuisines including Cajun, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek and Chinese, just to name a few. There is a vegetarian eatery, a salad bar wonderland, and even an oyster bar. There are, of course, cheesesteaks here too. The Market still functions as a market also, with butchers, bakers, a fishmonger and produce stands. Leave room for dessert from the cookie company, the ice cream fountain, the chocolatier, or the creperie.
If Philadelphia has another claim to fame in food besides cheesesteaks, it has to be the proximity of Amish country. Check the schedule, because they do not work Sundays, but when the Amish are in the market, there are even more delicious choices, including authentic candy and baked goods. Try the Dutch Eating Place for a friendly counter-service breakfast. The Dutch Eating Place is famous for its apple dumplings.
Philadelphia is a city rich in history, with so much to see and do that you could never have enough time. Hopefully trying some of these options for a meal or two will help keep you on the move, so you have time to take it all in.