Overview: Philadelphia has always been a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Proof of this is in the pudding - or in the ovens and... more »
Philadelphia has always been a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Proof of this is in the pudding - or in the ovens and... more » stove tops of the area. There's no better way to explore the history and cultural mix of the city than by sampling the food it made famous.
Of course, we're talking cheese steaks and pretzels, which are iconic to the area. But we're also talking fresh produce markets and butcher shops, diners and five star restaurants. The city that offered the world the Automat (may it rest in peace) now offers a great mix of traditional foodstuff and cutting edge cuisine. less «
Top tip - this tour features a lot of tempting food offerings, but no standard breakfast fare. If you're going to eat as you go (and... more » it's encouraged), this may be a good afternoon or evening tour - unless you're one who wakes up craving a good cheese steak (which are available 24 hours a day in Philly).
Though this can be a combo walking-driving tour, remember that sampling the food does cost in calories. Walking the entire route - less than three miles - may help balance that scale.
The city's best bargain may be the Italian Market parking lot. Located on Carpenter Street between 9th and 10th, the lot charges just $5 a day.
As with any walking tour, hydration is important. Pack the water bottles in your back pack to avoid the hefty markup at the various locations. less «
Any food tour of the city of Brotherly Love should start with the food that Philly is famous for: the cheese steak. And where better to start than at the birthplace of the cheese steak, Pat's King of Steaks?
Well, the fans of Geno's Steaks, right across the street, would disagree. And that's why this Food Tour starts with a warning. There's a war... More - albeit a friendly one - going on at this intersection. And to choose sides, you're going to have to sample a cheese steak at both corners (Pat's and Geno's). So order a cheese steak here at Pat's, but share it with the rest of your party. Then be prepared to do the same with the cheese steak you'll be ordering across the street at Geno's.
A little history - Pat's has been serving up steak sandwiches 'wit or wit'out' (more on that later) since 1930, when owner Pat Oliveri decided he wanted something different for lunch than the hot dogs he was selling. He chopped up some meat, scooped it into a fresh Italian roll, and added some fried onions. A cabbie asked for a bite of the sandwich, Oliveri obliged, and a legend was born.
Cheese was added later at the customers' demand. Which leads to the "wit or wit'out" question. There's an art to ordering a Philly cheese steak in its hometown. You order "wit" - as in "wit American," "wit provolone," or "wit Whiz" (as in Cheez Whiz, the bright yellow cheesy sauce made by Kraft Foods that some locals swears by).
"Wit or wit'out" also goes for onions. "American wit'out" will get you a steak sandwich with American cheese, hold the onion.
And to avoid a misstep, remember that American, provolone and Whiz are the cheeses of choice. Presidential candidate John Kerry ordered one "wit Swiss" back in 2003, and lost the election. Coincidence? You decide.
Hours of Operation:
Open 24/7, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
1237 East Passyunk Ave
For 36 years, Pat's King of Steaks ruled the cheese steak world - or at least its corner in South Philly. Then in 1966 Geno's moved in across the street. Legend has it that founder Joe Vento decided that if he wanted to sell cheese steaks, he may as well go where they're already being eaten. Thus began the Philly Cheese Steak wars.
Cross the... More street after leaving Pat's to check out the competition. You'll see that Geno's is similar to Pat's - same quick-paced operation, same rather limited (but delicious) menu, same lines out the door at all hours of the day and night.
The two have had a friendly competition going on for more than 40 years. For what it's worth, Pat Oliveri invented the cheese steak - but Joe Vento claims to be the first to add cheese. No matter. The outcome - on either side of the street - is meaty, cheesy, and deliciously Philadelphian.
The building itself is also something of legend. The exterior is an explosion of neon, while the interior is lined with signed photos of the celebs who visited for a "steak wit Whiz" over the decades.
Hours of Operation:
24/7 It never closes!
1219 S. 9th Street
Continue down 9th Street until you hit the area known to tourists as "The Italian Market." Most locals just refer to this as 9th Stret, as in "They had fresh strawberries on 9th Street today." Whatever you call it, the Italian Market is a wonderful mix of grocery stores, bakeries, butcher shops and the like.
Despite its name, the Italian Market ... Morehas always been a mix of ethnic food shops and restaurants. And "always" is a long time, as this is America's oldest outdoor market. It's the heart of Italian society in the city, but still an excellent blend of ethnicities and cultures.
A little history: This area of South Philly was outside the original "squares" designed by founder William Penn. It was where immigrants settled. Antonio Palumbo established a boarding house for Italian immigrants, and shops began springing up on 9th Street to cater to this clientele. Thus the market was born.
Today, we think of it as small-town farm markets on a grand scale, as there are more than 100 vendors in the area. Plan to spend some time sorting through the fresh produce, sipping a cappuccino, or gaping at the butcher as he cuts meat to order.
The city on film: the Italian Market was featured prominently in the Academy Award winning "Rocky." This is where the down-and-out boxer trained by punching sides of beef.
Hours of Operation:
Most vendors are open seven days a week, though a few of the smaller shops close on Monday. Individual stores and their hours of operation can be found on the website.
Parking for the Italian Market is located on Carpenter Street between 9th and 10th. Parking is available from 7 am to 7 pm at the bargain basement price of $5 a day.
9th Street from Wharton to Fitzwater streets
Phone: 215-922-1766 (recorded message only)Less
If the cheese steak is Philly's choice of fast food sandwiches, the soft pretzel is our pick when it comes to snacks.
Unlike the cheese steak, the soft pretzel wasn't a Philly first. Instead, it can be directly traced back to the Germans who settled the area (and became known as "Pennsylvania Dutch." Philadelphians of all backgrounds quickly... More fell in love with the soft and chewy pretzels sprinkled liberally with coarse salt. In fact, according to stats from The Pretzel Museum, the average Philadelphian today consumes about 12 times as many pretzels as the average American.
When walking through the Italian Market, continue down 9th Street to Washington Avenue and walk half a block to the Center City Pretzel Company, one of many pretzel bakeries in the city. Although you can buy a pretzel on almost every street corner, this is the only place you can find an all-natural soft pretzel, made with just flour, yeast and water. This tour's representative of pretzel-making in the city, the Center City Pretzel Company is a stand-alone bakery, not a chain store or factory.
Some pretzel trivia:
The average soft pretzel has 260 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.
Pretzels without salt are called baldies.
National Pretzel Day is April 26. Many vendors offer free samples, two-for-one deals or other bargains that day.
Grab a snack at the Center City Pretzel Company for the next part of the tour, which will include a 1.2 mile walk to burn off your noshing. (Or grab your car keys and head to 5th St. north to Chestnut, for those who have nibbled too much along the way.)
Monday-Friday: Midnight to Noon
Saturday: 4am to Noon
Sunday: 6:30am to 10:30am
816 Washington Ave
Continue west on Washington St. Turn right on 11th. Walk (or drive) approximately 1.25 miles to Arch and turn left. Your next stop, the Reading Terminal Market, is located at 12th and Arch.
The Reading Terminal Market first opened in 1892. A direct response to complaints that outdoor markets were unsanitary and a traffic hazard, Reading Terminal ... MoreMarket was an indoor market. Instead of vendors on each corner, you could find merchants in six-foot stalls shucking their wares to housewives and restaurant owners alike.
More than 100,000 people pass through the Market every week, seeking the freshest foods, handmade crafts and one-of-a-kind items from the more than 80 merchants on site. The pace is quick, the aisles busy, and the atmosphere inviting. Wander the rows to find the perfect piece of fruit in season, a vase full of freshly cut mums, or a paper-wrapped package of sticky buns for the ride home.
Note: Some of the Market’s restaurants close after 5pm.
NOTE: Not all merchants are open on Sundays. In general, about two-thirds of Market vendors open on Sundays, representing a good cross-section of merchandise categories. Pennsylvania Dutch vendors are not open on Sundays.
Pennsylvania Dutch Vendors
CLOSED on the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day
12th and Arch streets
Head south on 12th, turning left onto Chestnut St. Arrive by foot or car at 325 Chestnut, the home of Buddakan. This restaurant is the modern-day representative on this tour, and is also representative of the numerous Stephen Starr restaurants in the city (more on that later).
In its own right, Buddakan tops all other restaurants in Philadelphia ... Morewhen it comes to reservations booked, according to the online reservation system Open Table. Located in the Old City neighborhood, Buddakan is a Zen temple among the historic Colonial row homes. The mood is calming and elegant, as defined by the gilded Buddha overlooking the dining room.
Buddakan is just one of the 19 (and counting) restaurants owned by Stephen Starr in the city. Others include the high-end steak house Butcher & Singer, Morimoto (co-owned by the Iron Chef of the same name), and the Continental, a restored 1960s diner.
If you plan to eat a meal at Buddakan, remember that reservations are encouraged and even required on weekends.
Mon-Fri 11:30am - 2:30pm
325 Chestnut Street