I have a bit of a reputation: If you’re planning on going to Philadelphia, talk to Nikita. I’m by no means an expert, but I visit our sister city (brother city?) three or four times a year — and I think you should, too!
The mental block that seems to keep many New Yorkers from heading to Philly — besides the sports fandom — is the distance. But by car, bus or train, it’s a surprisingly easy two-hour trip, and an ideal weekend destination for the food-obsessed. This guide is not exhaustive or filled with deep cuts, but it’s a starting point for what I hope will become your own love affair with one of my favorite places.
First Stop, South Philly
You may be inclined to start your day in Center City, the busy downtown area, but I recommend heading to South Philly instead. We’re not going for cheesesteaks or for the heavenly South Philly Barbacoa, but for Mexican at a much newer spot, El Chingon. A few months ago, a friend invited me to lunch at the restaurant, on a quiet corner near Passyunk Square, from the chef Carlos Aparicio, a veteran of the local fine-dining scene.
El Chingon is more diner than fine dining, but it’s no less exciting or delicious. The menu is rooted in the Puebla region, with shrimp and calamari aguachile, cemitas served on housemade bread, and tacos, like the arabes packed with marinated pork. I should mention that the tortillas are of the sourdough variety, which gives every bite a pleasant tang. It’s also B.Y.O.B., so feel free to grab a four-pack from the nearby Cartesian Brewing to take to dinner.
If you’re craving world-altering Vietnamese food, you have no choice but to visit Gabriella’s Vietnam, the two-year-old restaurant from the chef Thanh Nguyen, also in South Philly. It was one of our reporter Priya Krishna’s favorite restaurants of 2022, and for good reason: It has style and substance. Order the catfish hotpot with a tangy, sweet broth, and the artfully arranged water fern dumplings “topped with crackled pork and shrimp.”
And on weekends, if you happen to be there, Gabriella’s serves a Vietnamese-style brunch with dishes like chả lụa pork sausage on a toasty banh mi baguette, and fish-sauce-fried chicken and waffles with coconut syrup.
Fishtown Has Options
Is it time to go to Center City now? Nope, we’re headed to Fishtown. Yes, this is pretty much the equivalent of telling a New York City tourist to spend the afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But like Williamsburg, Fishtown is teeming with options, which makes it a perfect place to hang out between your morning visit to the Barnes Foundation or the Eastern State Penitentiary or the Italian Market, and your evening meal.
Grab a coffee at what, I believe, is the city’s largest La Colombe, or the L.G.B.T.Q.-owned Persimmon Coffee near the corner of Frankford and East Girard. Enjoy an afternoon tipple at the Middle Child Clubhouse, which has been hyped to death but really can’t be beat for that liminal time of day when you have nothing to do but need a break from all the walking. (Beer heads should opt for Bottle Bar East.)
And then go to Kalaya. In a crowded restaurant scene, it stands out. A lot of that can be chalked up to its co-owner Nok Suntaranon, who is as singular as the Thai food she’s known for, like duck larb salad and garlic chive rice cakes. And then you can drive or hop a bus or train home just like that — and start planning your next visit to Philly.
In Other News …
This week Pete Wells reviewed Hav & Mar, the newest restaurant from the chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster fame. The seafood-focused project combines Samuelsson’s Ethiopian heritage with his Swedish upbringing.
Openings: The restaurant and bakery Greywind, from the chef Dan Kluger, of Loring Place, will open near Hudson Yards on Wednesday; as will Knock Knock in Long Island City, with a menu that reflects the Chinese heritage of its owners; and Revelie Luncheonette, from the team behind the SoHo bistro Raoul’s, is now open on Prince Street for lunch.
Tejal Rao wrote about the world that has sprung up around the food at Disney parks, most of which is created in a “flavor lab” at Disney World.
Papaya King, the Upper East Side restaurant specializing in hot dogs and juices, will move across the street from its original location, Christina Morales reports.
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