12 must-try neighborhood restaurants in Philadelphia

A smoked beet Reuben at Bud & Marilyn’s, a retro-chic Midwestern spot in Midtown Village. | Credit: Bondfire Media

Philadelphia’s food scene reflects its diverse diner population and the agricultural bounty that surrounds it. Nowhere do you see this better than at the many neighborhood restaurants where chefs showcase their personal culinary visions. All over the city, inspired chefs work with the ingredients they’re passionate about, whether they are grown on the property or imported from around the world.

In Center City, a BYOB Italian icon has served red sauce classics since 1999. A family-owned Baltimore Avenue stalwart is the go-to place for Eritrean and Ethiopian food. An eclectic Southern-inspired restaurant in West Philadelphia doubles as a vibrant neighborhood gathering place.

These local favorites provide a taste of what the food culture of Philadelphia is all about. Read on to make a reservation at 12 neighborhood favorites right now.

Booker’s Restaurant and Bar (Cedar Park)

Booker’s owner Saba Tedla says she opened her restaurant in 2017 in part because there just weren’t enough options for dining out in the neighborhood, particularly the kind of eclectic American cuisine she found her West Philadelphia community craved. That means you’ll find dishes such as fried calamari, fish and chips, and black bean burgers. There’s a Southern-inspired side of the menu, too, with fried chicken and blackened catfish. Booker’s is a great place to meet for beer, mocktails, or jazz-themed cocktails, such as the Ella Fitzgerald, made with bourbon, strawberry nectar, and lemon, in honor of its sweet and sultry namesake.

Book now

EMei (Chinese, Chinatown)

The dining room at EMei, a Sichuan spot that’s earned praise from The Philadelphia Inquirer. | Credit: EMei

For a true, tongue-tingling taste of Sichuan, Philadelphians seek out EMei, a restaurant known for expertly replicating the spicy flavors of the southwestern Chinese province. A favorite of Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig LaBan, the restaurant renovated its dining room in late 2019. Must-orders include the mapo tofu, Chongqing spicy chicken, and an order of cold sesame noodles to counter some of the heat.

Book now

Bar Bombón (Center City)

The vibrant green building that houses Bar Bombón is fitting. Known for its plant-based, Latin-inspired menu, the restaurant is loved for a wide variety of flavorful vegan options. Owner and veteran vegan chef Nicole Marquis draws on her Puerto Rican heritage to create vegetable-forward dishes that include Philly “steak” empanadas, Latin chop salad with blackened chick’n and cilantro dressing, and tostones.

Book now

Bistro La Baia (Center City)

Fontina cheese stuffed beef and pork meatballs in marinara sauce at Bistro La Baia. | Credit: Bistro La Baia

This longstanding Italian restaurant epitomizes what Philadelphians love about their BYOBs. Menu favorites, such as the PEI mussels in red or white sauce, gnocchi pesto, and lobster ravioli, persist year after year. Bistro La Baia offers great hospitality at an affordable price point in an intimate and cozy dining room, with most of the generously sized entrees priced under $30. At lunch time, look for the chicken parmigiana with linguine in marinara for a hearty Philly meal.

Book now

Bud & Marylin’s (Midtown Village)

Retro chic interiors at Bud & Marilyn’s. | Credit: Ryan Scott

Named for chef and co-owner Marcie Turney’s grandparents, Bud & Marylin’s pays tribute to Turney’s Midwestern upbringing in Ripon, Wisconsin. The American restaurant in Midtown Village attracts its fair share of visitors, but happy hour is packed with regulars who live and work nearby. Expect generous portions of comforting dishes such as short rib stroganoff and fontina-stuffed meatloaf. The whimsical, retro dining room is a welcoming place to linger over classic cocktails, craft beer, and a thick wedge of funfetti cake.

Book now

Effie’s Restaurant (Center City)

This low-key spot on Antiques Row has drawn Greek food lovers for decades. Start a visit with the hummus trio to sample three excellent versions of the classic chickpea spread: spicy olive, red pepper, and garlic lemon. A comforting bowl of avgolemono, a chicken broth-based soup with lemon, rice, and egg, is also a flavorful way to start. As you’d expect, the Greek salad is on point. And the moussaka, a casserole layered with grilled eggplant, potato, spiced ground beef, bechamel, and tomato sauce, should not be missed. Weather permitting, Effie’s patio is among the most charming places in Center City to dine outdoors.

Book now

Tomo Sushi & Ramen (Old City)

A dual specialist in sushi and ramen, this intimate Old City gem attracts superfans of raw fish and brothy bowls. But the dumplings, shrimp shumai, and buns on the menu are another good reason to go. In addition to stellar meat and fish dishes, every section of the menu boasts many creative plant-based options, such as a vegan red dragon roll topped with eggplant and a veggie poke bowl. There’s no better place in town to feast on a vegan sushi platter. Chefs turn tomatoes into tuna and eggplant into eel. Get a seat at the sushi bar to watch the masters at work close up.

Book now

Pumpkin BYOB (Rittenhouse Square)

Pumpkin BYOB’s seasonal American menu changes every day. | Credit: Pumpkin BYOB

An iconic mom-and-pop neighborhood BYOB, Pumpkin’s three-course American menu changes daily. Diners can choose from among three or four options for each course. Count on dishes that reflect the best of the season and the chef’s creative inspiration. Think chicory salad with grilled beets and avocado; pork loin with Napa cabbage, pear, hazelnut, and brown butter; and apple cake with cider caramel and ginger cream. The restaurant’s cozy interiors limit the number of seats, but a covered and heated parklet helps accommodate more people.

Book now

In Riva (East Falls)

This family-friendly riverside restaurant wows with its menu of Neapolitan-style pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven. Keep it classic with a pepperoni pie, or sample something a little different with the burrata pizza with garlic spinach and balsamic onions. Housemade pastas are also exceptional. Try the tagliatelle with roast pork, broccoli, and white beans. There’s a food-friendly wine list with new and old world options, plus craft beers from Italy and cocktails, too. The sprawling, heated patio offers almost 100 seats and a spectacular view of the river as well as cyclists speeding past.

Book now

Thanal Indian Tavern (Center City)

The completion of the Comcast Technology Center in 2018 brought thousands of new tech workers and residents to the Logan Square section in Center City. Thanal co-owner Hariharan Karmegam meets this new demand with an expansive menu of Indian dishes and a bustling lunch service. Indian railway peppers (battered and fried chiles) and the Thanal special goat curry are a couple of menu standouts. Equipped with a full bar, Thanal is also a busy happy hour hangout.

Book now

SouthGate (Rittenhouse Square)

SouthGate’s kimchi burger. | Credit: Bondfire Media

A Korean-inspired gastro pub in the Graduate Hospital area, Southgate offers a crowd-pleasing selection of inventive fusion plates. Neighbors frequent the spot for a drink from the great selection of craft beer, wine, and spirits. Crowds also flock here for the beloved Korean fried chicken, which is available in sweet or spicy versions (or both). Bao buns, filled with bulgogi beef, spicy pork, tofu, or mushrooms, are another can’t-miss snack. Whatever you order, don’t forget to add on one or all of the fresh and flavor-packed banchan, or small side dishes. If you must pick one, make it the spicy cucumber.

Book now

Dahlak (West Philly)

This family-owned Baltimore Avenue stalwart is a go-to place for Eritrean and Ethiopian food. Dahlak has been a staple since 1987, and now it’s in the capable hands of the founders’ son, Ephream Amare Seyoum. The menu’s stews fill the calm dining room with the scents of ginger, cinnamon, and garlic (ingredients that are part of the family’s trademark berbere spice blend). The spongy, tangy injera is made in-house and not to be missed. Try the gomen wat, collard greens and kale cooked with potatoes, or the beef stewed with okra. To sample various dishes in a single platter, order the traditional mesobs, available in meat or vegetarian versions.

Joy Manning is a food writer, recipe developer, and podcaster based in Philadelphia.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.