A Guide to Philadelphia: The Northeast US City Stepping Out of NYC's Shadow

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 21, 2024 00:30 AMNews
Aerial photo of Philadelphia buildings
Aerial photo of Philadelphia buildings. Source: unsplash

Philadelphia, the birthplace of American independence and the nation’s first capital, has often been overshadowed by nearby New York City. However, this historic city is now taking center stage, particularly noted for its burgeoning food scene. In the 2023 James Beard Foundation Awards, Philadelphia garnered more accolades than any other US city, highlighting its culinary prowess.

Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand boulevard lined with galleries, the international communities of Philadelphia are celebrated with countless flags. Many of these residents are former New Yorkers, drawn to Philly’s welcoming atmosphere. Local chef Peter McAndrews of Paesano’s sandwich shop in South Philadelphia notes, "In Philly, you can be comfortable — it’s the place to find out who you really are."

Philadelphia’s diverse food scene is a testament to its rich cultural heritage. At Paesano’s, the arista sandwich, stuffed with roast suckling pig, broccoli rabe, long hot peppers, and provolone cheese, reflects the strong Italian roots of the neighborhood. This area, with its outdoor Italian Market established in the 1880s, features businesses owned by third- or fourth-generation Italians, alongside Jewish and Asian shops.

A stroll through the Italian Market reveals a vibrant mix of cultures, with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to frilly dresses for quinceañeras. Nearby, at Casa Mexico, owner Cristina Martinez emphasizes the unifying power of shared meals, offering homemade tortilla chips, guacamole, and chicken in peanut mole sauce. Martinez’s journey from selling tacos as an undocumented immigrant to owning a successful restaurant underscores her dedication to both culinary excellence and social justice.

The Reading Terminal Market in the Center City District is another culinary landmark, housing 75 stalls with offerings ranging from Cantonese cuisine to Pennsylvania Dutch specialties. At Dutch Eating Place, proprietor Javan Esh shares insights into the Pennsylvania Dutch community, serving hearty, farm-fresh dishes like apple dumplings with thick cream.

Philadelphia’s neighborhoods each have their own unique charm. Rittenhouse Square, with its upmarket ambiance, comes alive in spring with outdoor picnics and dining. Her Place Supper Club, run by chef-owner Amanda Shulman, offers a cozy, communal dining experience with French-Italian cuisine influenced by Shulman’s Jewish heritage.

South Street is known for its eclectic and alternative scene, exemplified by Tattooed Mom, a bar and creative space adorned with 25 years of graffiti and stickers. Owner Robert Perry ensures everyone feels at home, fostering an inclusive environment with events like drag brunches and theatrical cocktails.

West Philadelphia, immortalized in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, maintains a relaxed vibe with porched houses and occasional streetcars. Here, Honeysuckle Provisions, founded by chef-couple Omar Tate and Cybille St Aude-Tate, celebrates Black culinary traditions with dishes like fried fish hoagies and Haitian spiced buns.

Philadelphia’s food scene, cultural diversity, and inclusive neighborhoods make it a city worth exploring, offering nourishment for both body and soul.

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