12 Philadelphia restaurants that our local editor loves

Photo credit: EMei
A bowl of mapo tofu at EMei in Philadelphia

To love Philadelphia is to fall hard for its food. That means its signature cheesesteaks, sure—but also a buffet of global options. Philly is a hub for creative cooking, allowing young chefs to flex their muscles in inspiring ways. It’s also a city filled with deeply loyal diners that relish returning to the same spots, resulting in powerful neighborhood institutions.

Since moving here almost five years ago, eating my way through Philadelphia—and covering its restaurants for Bon Appétit, Food and Wine, Thrillist, and others—has become an obsession. The city’s dining scene contains multitudes, whether I’m looking to be surprised by a transportive French meal or comforted by a fried-chicken sandwich I’ve devoured time and time again. 

These 12 restaurants are my go-tos, the places that I return to over and over and with as much enthusiasm today as I did the day I moved to Philadelphia.

Parc (Rittenhouse Square)

The brasserie-inspired dining room at Parc is always bustling. | Credit: Parc

Parc is one of Philadelphia’s most popular hangout spots, no matter the time or day. Go on a weekday morning for eggs or buttermilk pancakes, mid-afternoon for oysters and a cocktail, or in the evening for steak frites and a glass of wine. My favorite time is mid-afternoon, when the relative quiet allows for a lengthy, luxurious lunch at the beloved Parisian brasserie. When it’s sunny, Philadelphians know to grab a table outside for some of the city’s best people-watching.

SouthGate (Rittenhouse Square)

No list of my go-to Philly restaurants is complete without a faithful neighborhood bar. SouthGate is where I go to sip on sake and soju. I also can’t get enough of the fried chicken sandwich, part of a creative Korean-inspired gastropub menu featuring fries with gochugaru aioli and ssam platters piled with rice, pickled vegetables, and dipping sauces. It’s the kind of food that is extra-irresistible after a few rounds of drinks—and perfect for sharing with friends.

Amina (Old City)

The Southern-inspired dishes at Amina include cheesesteak beignets with cheese fondue. | Credit: Amina

Named for a Nigerian warrior queen, Amina serves a Southern-inspired menu of deviled eggs with crispy shallots, catfish-stuffed hush puppies with spicy remoulade, and more. As a North Carolinian who has adopted Philadelphia as my home, I’m picky about where I’ll eat Southern dishes, but Amina always delivers. At weekend brunch, popular items from the main menu, like crab cakes, appear in omelet form. Bonus points for the gold-accented interiors, inspired the restaurant’s royal namesake.

Saloon (South Philly)

Saloon is one of the city’s best red-sauce joints, and on any given night, you’ll see it packed with families celebrating birthdays and regulars striking up conversations with servers. The Caesar salad is one of the best in the city, and so are the well-seared steaks. I love coming for group dinners in the upstairs dining room, which has plenty of large round tables. Ask to see the dessert tray for your grand finale, featuring an ever-changing selection from family-run bakeshop Isgro Pastries.

Vernick Fish (Center City)

James Beard Award winner Greg Vernick dishes up innovative yet nostalgic hits at Vernick Fish. | Credit: Vernick Fish

Sleek interiors meet thoughtful service at this splurgy Logan Square spot. The food by James Beard Award winner Greg Vernick walks the line between innovative and nostalgic. Dishes like sardines on sourdough toast and grilled scallops are masterclasses in careful sourcing and precise preparation, but are also wipe-your-plate-clean delicious. If you’re toasting to something special, get one of the hard-to-find spirits or wines—lead bartender Jon Bamonte runs a top-notch drinks program.

L’Angolo (South Philly)

L’Angolo is one of South Philly’s best secrets. The tiny dining room is crammed with regulars tearing into gigantic plates of penne melanzane, grilled pork chops, and whatever the special of the day might be. Plus, the casual Italian gem is BYOB, and diners often pair their best bottles from home collections for this meal. If you get lucky, you’ll score one of the two outdoor tables when the weather is especially nice.

Seorabol Center City (Center City)

Chef Chris Cho’s family runs the original Seorabol—a Northeast Philly standby—so he grew up cooking and eating Korean classics. As an adult, he brought his talents to Center City, and his version of Seorabol mixes traditional dishes with a more experimental American approach. Cho’s signatures include General Cho chicken, a gochujang-forward version of the deep-fried Chinese dish, and fried rice cakes in a tangy fermented chile sauce. Go with a group to do justice—the plates are generous.

EMei (Chinatown)

 Philadelphians can’t get enough of the spicy Sichuan delicacies at EMei. | Credit: EMei

EMei’s Sichuan cooking is some of the best Chinese food in the city. There’s a very brisk takeout business, but it’s worth a sitdown meal for the crispiest Chongqing spicy chicken, plump dumplings in chile oil, and fiery dry-fried string beans. Thanks to its proximity to Old City, it’s my go-to for recovering from a morning or afternoon of sightseeing and the kind of spot I can always impress out-of-towners with. 

Pumpkin BYOB (Rittenhouse Square)

Pumpkin is a small chef-driven restaurant with an ever-changing three-course menu, depending on the whims of chef Ian Moroney and what’s seasonal. It has the intimacy of a neighborhood restaurant, but I travel across town for an affordable, generous meal, ideal for catching up with friends or date night. There’s usually pasta, a well-cooked piece of beef, creamy soup, and a solid salad. Chocolate cake is part of the set menu, and you’ll be happy that decision was made for you.

La Llorona Cantina Mexicana (South Philly)

La Llorona can be many things: a date-friendly cocktail bar serving frozen, salt-rimmed margs and generous pours of hard-to-find mezcals; a seafood-forward Mexican star known for next-level ceviches and agua chiles; and a family-friendly taco spot. I’ve lost more than one beautiful afternoon to platters of nachos and pitchers of margaritas on one of the restaurant’s sunny sidewalk tables, and I plan on losing many more.

Honeysuckle Provisions (West Philly)

The Black diaspora inspires the menu at this lovable grocery and cafe mashup. During the day, there’s a takeout menu of Afro-centric dishes like grits (made with heirloom South Carolina corn), coconut parfaits with puffed-rice granola, and collard-and-egg hot pockets. But the real magic unfolds at dinnertime, when the restaurant serves a five-course tasting menu by chef-owners Omar Tate and Cybille St. Aude-Tate, two of the most innovative people working in Philly right now.

Fork (Old City)

Twenty-seven-year-old Fork is practically a Philadelphia landmark. It might be best known for a local ingredient-heavy New American dinner menu, but I especially love that it’s open starting at 11 am, which makes it an amazing place to sip an afternoon martini on a random day off. Owner Ellen Yin also runs High Street Bakery, one of the city’s best, which is why Fork’s bread program, which includes a traditional Austrian loaf with freshly whipped chevre, will knock your socks off. 

Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is a Philadelphia-based freelance food, beverage and travel writer and editor.

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