What can you get for $15 these days? A damn good meal, if you make wise picks. Next up in our series on how to get a great lunch or dinner for a sawbuck and a half is the Ninth Street Italian Market.
The busy strip that runs from Wharton to Christian is celebrating its centennial this year — it’s home to one of America’s oldest open-air bazaars, with vendors hawking fruit, fish, meat and spices. These days, shops selling prepared food outnumber the groceries, offering everything from hoagies to tacos to chocolate to booze.
The Breakfast Hound
Morning is really the best time to visit, when the vendors are still setting up — moods haven’t had the chance to spiral into gruffness, nor have warming fruit and seafood had the chance to scent the air.
Sausage, Egg and Cheese at George’s Roast Beef ($3.75)
Not to be confused with its window-service cousin up the block (George’s Sandwich Shop), this tiny luncheonette has four sit-down tables and a full grill menu. Everything is a good deal — cheesesteaks and hoagies are at least $3 less than at famous nearby establishments — but the cooks have the art of the breakfast sandwich down pat. (NB: Doors close at noon.)
1000 S. 9th St., 215-574-9878
Hawaiian Empanadas at Los Amigos Market ($5)
From the outside, this corner shop looks like a grocery store, but inside there’s a deli counter offering meats, cold cuts and sandwiches. Disregard those — although you could take a few links of the house chorizo home for later — and ask for a pair of empanadas, which are fried to order and come out sheathed in crackling golden shells. Of the various fillings, the combo of ham, cheese and pineapple is surprisingly good.
927 S. Ninth St., 215-625-0528
Espresso at Fante’s ($2)
Another comestible find inside a retail store comes from the coffee counter at this mecca of kitchenware. Across from rows of china cups and teapots are beans you can buy to make coffee at home (you can even buy green coffee, if you want to try your hand at roasting your own). But for on-the-spot caffeination, the pulled shots from the espresso machine are some of the best around.
1006 S. 9th St., 215-922-5557
Sfogliatelle at Anthony’s Italian Coffee House ($2.25)
For dessert, swing up to the maroon-walled cafe at the top of the market for one of these extremely flaky Italian pastries, which come filled with sweet ricotta. You’re gonna end up with a mess of powdered sugar and crumbs, but it’s worth it.
903 S. 9th St., 215-627-2586
The Lunch Buff
Mid-day is when the market is most robust, with butchers busily chopping meat behind windows and customers filling the streets as they shop for inexpensive goods — the people-watching this time of day is more interesting than whatever’s on your phone.
Arista at Paesano’s ($9)
Anyone who’s ordered at Peter McAndrews and Nathan Baynes’ counter knows: There are hoagies, and then there are Paesano’s hoagies. Ingredients are matched in perfect ratios and are of super-high quality — like the whole-roasted suckling pig in this version of a roast pork. The meat comes layered with classic partners broccoli rabe, sharp provolone and long hots, and the whole thing is really too huge and bold for one person to finish alone.
1017 S. 9th St., 215-440-0371
Tlacoyos at Tortilleria San Roman ($4.50)
Assuming you wrap up half the hoagie for later, you’ll have room for a stop at Philly’s best tortilleria, which supplies a large number of taquerias’ daily-made corn wrappers. Pick up a bag of freshly-fried chips to take home, but for immediate satisfaction, ask for a half dozen of these mini masa cakes filled with beans, cheese and spices.
951 S. 9th St., 267-507-9161
If you’re hitting the market at night, and booze is what you’re after, there are several bars tucked into the strip, and all of them offer drinks on the cheap.
Margarita at Blue Corn ($7.50)
This taqueria distinguishes itself from all others on the street in two ways: The tortillas are all colored green, since they’re made with cilantro, and there’s a full bar. Take advantage of both if you want, but don’t miss the chance to get a large, strong, fresh juice margarita for a steal of a price.
940 S. 9th St., 215-925-1010
Neshaminy Creek Churchville at 12 Steps Down ($4.50)
In summer, you don’t even have to be willing to deal with the cigarette smoke that fills this underground tavern, since there are a set of patio tables right out on the Christian Street sidewalk. The beer list is impressive, including lots of local crafts like this super-solid lager.
831 Christian St., 215-238-0379
Jameson Shot at Connie’s Ric Rac ($3)
Grungy and loud, this bar is more throwback than hip, with different live music bands setting up on the small stage every night. It’s the perfect place to toss back a pour of whiskey, let it clear your nose and throat so you can fully appreciate the scene, and then step back out on the street.
1132 S. 9th St., 267-908-4311
The Late Night Traveler
Though the north section closes up shop before the sun sets, the south side of the market, anchored by the glowing 24-hour cheesesteak locus, doesn’t go to bed early.
Carnitas Tacos at Prima Pizza Taqueria ($6)
Many of the taquerias along the strip stay open late, but this one has become a favorite stop for post-shift chefs and bartenders because of its ultra-long hours — doors don’t close until 5 AM. Formerly a pizzeria, it’s now run by Mexicans and the tacos are worthy of eating even when they’re not satisfying munchies.
1104 S. 9th St., 215-339-5000
Volcano at Rim Cafe ($7)
If it’s pre-midnight and you’re planning to stay out a while, this cafe is the place for a pick-me-up with wheels. Owner Réné Kobeitri is a native of France, and his work is punctuated with multiple excited shouts of “Make it ‘appen!” that perk you up as much as the sugar and chocolate in his frothy hot chocolate creations (ask for the one with bruleed marshmallows on top).
1172 S. 9th St., 215-465-3515