Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Philadelphia Greats.
It’s no secret that Philadelphia is a city that loves to eat. The vibrant restaurant scene is right up there with historical sites on the list of qualities that draw visitors to town—food is a strand of culture just as important as the museums and concert halls, and chefs are the city’s big celebrities.
Ask any Philadelphian to pinpoint a favorite thing about where they live, and you will invariably get a restaurant for an answer. The city’s matrix of outstanding eateries is as diverse as the people who live here, ranging from chef-driven, fine-dining spots to laid-back sports bars and cafes. The food culture in the City of Brotherly Love is a huge part of what gives it a sense of place unlike any other.
Without these iconic restaurants, Philly’s neighborhoods are just a collection of high rises and brick row homes. Restaurants infuse the entire streetscape with personality that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
These are the restaurants that make Philly great.
Prolific restaurateur Stephen Starr—known for hits such as Buddakan and Le Coucou around the country—got his start in Philadelphia. His flair for designing the full dining experience might be best showcased at Parc, a French restaurant literally built from pieces of restaurants imported from France. The atmosphere, both inside and outside, is spectacular: Parc’s bustling sidewalk tables sit across the street from Rittenhouse Square Park, and the restaurant takes full advantage of its setting. There’s no better place to enjoy a flawlessly cooked French omelet or steak frites while getting in some people watching. Be sure to grab a baguette on the way out; Parc’s bakery is one of the best in the city.
Dining at the restaurant: Parc is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Parc offers takeout and delivery.
White Dog Cafe (University City)
Since opening the doors to the original West Philly location in 1983, the White Dog Cafe has been an icon of the local food movement in Philadelphia. Founded by farm-to-table pioneer Judy Wicks—who sold the business in 2009 in such a way that it preserved the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability—White Dog was among the first restaurants to celebrate seasonal ingredients from the region’s farms. An unofficial hub for the college campuses of University City, it’s always attracted a diverse range of diners, from students to West Philly elders. Salads really showcase the farm-fresh produce and local cheeses, and the mushroom soup, made with produce from nearby Kennett Square (the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world) is a must.
Dining at the restaurant: White Dog Cafe is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: White Dog Cafe offers takeout and delivery.
Booker’s Restaurant and Bar (Cedar Park)
A restaurant, hangout, and area hub, Booker’s is more than just a place for great soul food—it’s a true third place that reflects its West Philly neighborhood, named for Booker Wright, a server at a whites-only restaurant in 1960s Mississippi (the subject of a 2012 documentary). It’s also an ideal place to relax with friends over a craft beer or signature cocktail, such as the Philly-inspired take on a Moscow mule which swaps the vodka for house whiskey. The community vibes are just as enticing as the locally famous fried chicken and blackened catfish.
Dining at the restaurant: Booker’s is accepting reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Booker’s offers takeout.
Morimoto PA (Old City)
Philly doesn’t tolerate celebrity chef outposts unless they can back up their name with serious game, and Morimoto has been impressing sushi connoisseurs from its early days, when the Iron Chef himself sometimes appeared behind the sushi bar in Old City. Thankfully, the kitchen is on point whether or not the headlining chef is in the house. That means Morimoto’s omakase—the chef’s choice menu, known to feature dishes such as whitefish carpaccio and black cod miso—is worth the splurge.
Dining at the restaurant: Morimoto is taking reservations for indoor dining.
Takeout: Morimoto offers takeout and delivery.
Estia (Center City)
It can be hard to pick a restaurant for dinner before a show on the Avenue of the Arts, but you cannot go wrong with Estia. There’s a homey, Mediterranean feel to the place, and Estia specializes in Greek cuisine, especially grilled whole fish, many of which are flown in from the Greek islands. To start, try the avgolemono, a Greek chicken and rice soup brightened with fresh lemon, and some of the spreads served with grilled pita—the htipiti, with roasted red peppers and feta, is a fan favorite. When you do have tickets to a show, order the prix fixe so you can taste a little bit of everything without missing your curtain.
Dining at the restaurant: Estia is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Estia offers takeout and delivery.
Chickie’s and Pete’s (South Philly)
In the shadow of South Philly’s sports stadiums, Chickie’s and Pete’s is a classic pre- or post- game stop for beers, cheesesteaks, mozzarella sticks, and tomato pie. The sprawling menu of classic bar food offers something for everyone, but no visit here is complete without the restaurant’s famous crab fries. Counterintuitively, there’s no actual crab on these crinkle-cut cheese fries—instead, the irresistible American cheese-based sauce on top is seasoned generously with Old Bay. For another quirky Chickie’s and Pete’s favorite, try the meatball salad, a Caesar crowned with—you guessed it—a pair of meatballs in red sauce.
Dining at the restaurant: Chickie’s and Pete’s is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Chickie’s and Pete’s offers takeout and delivery.
Le Virtu (East Passyunk)
Co-owners Francis Cratil-Cretarola and Cathy Lee bring the traditional dishes of Abruzzo, Italy to a neighborhood renowned for its Italian American red gravy restaurants. Platters of antipasto, handmade pasta, and rustic braised ragus have been menu hallmarks through several chef changes over the years. Warm colors and wood tables make both the dining room and bar comfortable places to linger over a meal, and the large, garden-clad patio is one of the prettiest places around to enjoy a meal al fresco.
Dining at the restaurant: Le Virtu is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Le Virtu offers takeout and delivery.
Laurel (East Passyunk)
Philly has seen more than its fair share of Top Chef talent, with both winners and fan favorites from the Bravo reality series making their restaurants home here over the years. But Season 11 winner Nick Elmi’s jewel box, Laurel, is extraordinarily special. The small dining room is comfortable and intimate, with Elmi himself often circulating among the tables. The modern French American menu set high expectations for Laurel soon after opening, and the restaurant continues to set the standard for fine dining on East Passyunk’s restaurant row and beyond. The six-course tasting menu (there are no a la carte options) changes seasonally—plates could include brown butter-roasted monkfish with fermented chanterelle mushrooms or braised lamb coppa—and is always full of surprises.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are both available at Laurel.
Takeout: Laurel offers takeout and delivery.
JG SkyHigh (Logan Square)
JG SkyHigh, one of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Philadelphia outposts, is among the most dramatic restaurant spaces to open in Philadelphia in years. Diners are whisked up from the street to the top of the new Four Seasons Hotel in Center City in a glass elevator that offers panoramic city views. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide an unforgettable backdrop for celebratory cocktails or a special occasion meal. It’s a fitting atmosphere to splurge on Osetra caviar, or you could go for something more casual but equally good, such as broccoli rabe and pepperoni pizza.
Dining at the restaurant: JG SkyHigh is taking reservations for indoor dining.
Takeout: JG SkyHigh is dine in only.
Charlie Was A Sinner. (Midtown Village)
Charlie was a sinner. is the creation of plant-based chef and restaurateur Nicole Marquis. Her dark and cozy vegan cocktail lounge serves up some of the freshest drinks, thanks to ingredients such as lemongrass and rhubarb, and most inventive dishes in Philadelphia. The zucchini “crab cake” sliders are a menu mainstay, along with a “ricotta” toast that could charm even the most ardent dairy lover. Enjoy it all against the backdrop of black-and-white movies, which flicker on the walls.
Dining at the restaurant: Charlie was a sinner. is currently taking reservations for indoor dining.
Takeout: Charlie was a sinner. offers takeout and delivery.
Kalaya (Bella Vista)
Chef Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon takes inspiration from her mother’s home cooking, rooted in southern Thailand, and turns it into one of the most dazzling menus in Philadelphia. Expect scratch-made curries that simmer for hours, soups fragrant with aromatics, and stir fries layered with complex flavors such as toasted coconut and shrimp paste. It’s worth noting that the kitchen doesn’t adjust recipes, especially spice levels, upon request.
Dining at the restaurant: Kalaya is currently taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Kalaya offers takeout and delivery.
Zahav (Old City)
This Israel-inspired restaurant helmed by star chef Michael Solomonov has been showered with critical acclaim, including a James Beard Award, since it opened doors in 2008. The famous hummus—satiny smooth, airy, and rich—is somehow even better than you’ve heard, but that’s just the start of what you’ll experience. The menu changes often, and it remains as inventive today as it was at the start. The salatim, an assortment of vibrant vegetable dishes, sets a high bar at the beginning of the meal, though the courses that follow, which include the exceedingly popular pomegranate lamb shoulder, always exceed expectations.
Dining at the restaurant: Zahav is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining
Takeout: Zahav is dine-in only.
With a dining room full of large round tables topped with lazy Susans, Emei resembles other Chinatown restaurants, but its bold, regional flavors make it stand out from its neighbors. Emei has been serving some of the Philadelphia area’s spiciest and best Sichuan food since 2011. Chef Yongcheng Zhao has focused on the food of this Chinese province for his entire career, spanning 40 years. Whether your tastes run in the direction of pork intestine or Chongqing spicy chicken, a stir-fried dish spiked with dried Sichuan chile peppers, you’ll find appealing options on the sprawling menu. Emei is at its most fun when you can order lots of dishes to share, so think about bringing friends.
Dining at the restaurant: Emei is taking reservations for indoor dining.
Takeout: Emei offers takeout and delivery.
Amada PHL (Old City)
When James Beard Award winner Jose Garces left Stephen Starr’s nest in 2005 to launch his own splashy restaurant in Old City, it was a seismic event in the Philadelphia food world. For years, Amada was the buzziest, most sought-after reservation in town, a must for visitors and locals alike. And though newer, shinier restaurants have since arrived, the fun of a Spanish tapas night at Amada hasn’t faded. The restaurant still offers excellent food and a great time. Start with a spread of charcuterie and cheeses before moving on to small plates such as garlic shrimp, albondigas (meatballs), and “Amada’s empanadas,” which are inspired by Garces’s grandmother’s recipe and have been on the menu from the beginning. The Garces restaurant group has grown quite a bit since 2005, but Amada still holds up as his flagship.
Dining at the restaurant: Amada is taking reservations for indoor dining. Outdoor dining will resume early spring.
Takeout: Amada offers takeout and delivery.
The Olde Bar (Old City)
Set in the space that once occupied fish house Old Original Bookbinder’s, the Olde Bar melds flavors of the moment with longstanding tradition. Bookbinder’s, a Philadelphia stalwart that dated back to the late 1800s, was one of the first Philadelphia fish houses, making it one of the most historically significant restaurants to ever operate in the city. The Olde Bar’s drinks menu channels that past, focusing on classic cocktails such as mai tais and penicillins, and reliably ranks on any list of best happy hours in town. The raw bar, especially oysters on the half shell, are a menu highlight. There’s also an entire section dedicated to lobster dishes; Bookbinders was said to have the largest indoor lobster tank in the world, so don’t miss the lobster pot pie.
Dining at the restaurant: The Olde Bar is taking reservations for indoor dining.
Takeout: The Olde Bar offers takeout and delivery.
Pumpkin (Graduate Hospital)
Every neighborhood in Philadelphia has its long-treasured, mom-and-pop-run BYOB. Helmed by owners chef Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor, Pumpkin embodies the spirit of this distinctively Philly-ish restaurant. The 26-seat dining room is small, but the addition of a covered and heated outdoor has expanded options. Pumpkin serves a three-course menu based on local ingredients that changes every day. Expect fresh salads, handmade pastas, plenty of seafood, and homey desserts, such as goat cheese cake or chocolate torte with passion fruit.
Dining at the restaurant: Pumpkin is accepting reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Pumpkin offers takeout.
South Philly Barbacoa (South Philly)
Chef Cristina Martínez is almost as well known for activism as she is for her peerless tacos. (She came to the United States from Capulhuac, Mexico, as an undocumented immigrant herself and uses her platform to advocate for workers’ rights.) At her South Philly Barbacoa, the tortillas are made fresh from local corn grown and nixtamalized to her specifications and folded around Martínez’s slow-cooked lamb barbacoa or pancit (made from tripe). Freshly made salads and traditional garnishes complete this simple but sensational meal. South Philly Barbacoa is set up in a storefront on Philadelphia’s 9th Street Market with a few tables. There are no reservations and lines can get long, especially on the weekends. Plan to go early for the thinnest crowd.
Dining at the restaurant: South Philly Barbacoa doesn’t take reservations.
Takeout: South Philly Barbacoa offers takeout.
Bud & Marilyn’s (Midtown Village)
Chef Marcie Turney descends from restaurant people; her grandparents (the titular Bud and Marylin) owned a restaurant in Ripon, Wisconsin, where Turney grew up. This restaurant celebrates them, Midwestern hospitality, and classic American comfort foods, seen through vinyl booths, vintage-inspired tableware, and retro TVs that all add to the throwback theme. Crispy cheese curds made from Wisconsin cheddar and the house-made funfetti cake are the must-order menu items for a classic American experience.
Dining at the restaurant: Bud & Marylin’s is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Bud & Marilyn’s offers takeout and delivery.
The Victor Cafe (Italian)
If the setting of this long-running restaurant looks familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it in the Rocky movies: The Victor Cafe transforms slightly for the screen into a fictional Italian restaurant named Adrian’s. Locally, it’s best known for its aria-belting servers, all professional performers on the Philadelphia opera scene who put on frequent vocal performances between courses. Fittingly, the food consists of Italian American classics such as clams casino, chicken piccata, or linguine fra diavolo.
Dining at the restaurant: The Victor Cafe is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: The Victor Cafe is dine in only.
Fork (Old City)
For nearly 25 years, Fork restaurant has set the standards in Philadelphia. Visonionary restaurateur Ellen Yin has guided the restaurant through numerous incarnations, anticipating ever-shifting moods and trends. One thing unites all of Fork’s eras: From the beginning, there’s been a focus on working with local farmers and doing business sustainably. The current menu offers a mix of creative and familiar plates from chef George Madosky. Look for Brussels sprouts topped with smoked cranberries, feta, and hazelnut dukkah as well as a leveled-up cheeseburger (topped with raclette and caramelized onions) with fries. It’s a chameleon of a place that’s somehow perfect for both celebrating an occasion or grabbing a bite at the bar on a random weeknight.
Dining at the restaurant: Fork is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Fork offers takeout and delivery.
Tria Rittenhouse (Rittenhouse)
This laidback wine bar was built as a place to celebrate all things fermented—especially the trio of wine, beer, and cheese. Since its inception, Tria has been the place to discover the most compelling vintages and unusual cheeses in town. Cheese boards are created by Tenaya Darlington, aka “Madame Fromage,” a local cheese expert, author, and educator. There are also ample soups, snacks, salads, and sandwiches to choose from. The bustling scene and people watching opportunities—the restaurant and sidewalk seats are perched on one of the neighborhood’s liveliest corners—are almost as big of a draw as the food and drink.
Dining at the restaurant: Tria is taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Tria offers takeout and delivery.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.