Coming to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis (on a Jumbotron)? Make the most of your visit to the city by making sure you snag these 10 iconic dishes. From old-school Philly classics to the hottest new eats, this list will score enough bragging rights to last through the end of the year.
Upside-down pizza at Santucci’s
Pizza is pizza, right? Not necessarily, at least not in Philadelphia (and that’s before you even raise the specter of its cheese-less cousin known as “tomato pie”). At this family-run South Philly joint, the pies are rectangular and are baked with the sauce on top — a situation that lets the cheese melt right into the crust. It’s a totally different experience than your regular slice, in the very best way ($7-$15; 901 S. 10th St., 215-825-5304).
Pepper pot soup at Whetstone Tavern
This stew is a Philadelphia classic that originated during the Revolutionary war. It was once sold by street vendors all over the city, but had mostly dropped off the dining radar — until chef Jeremy Nolen resurrected it at his new Queen Village bistro. Braised brisket and tripe provide the rich flavor, along with mustard greens, potatoes and yes, pepper ($10; 700 S. 5th St., 267-239-0906).
Best grilled cheese ever at High Street on Market
Whatever you decide to order at this Old City cafe, you’re going to end up talking about head baker Alex Bois’ bread, so you might as well just make a meal of it. His roasted potato bread is so flavorful you could eat half a loaf on its own in one sitting, but it’s even better slathered with cultured butter, stuffed with PA noble cheddar and grilled golden brown ($12; 308 Market St., 215-625-0988).
Soft pretzel at Wawa
It might seem plain, but Philadelphia pretzels are also unlike what’s made in other cities. Instead of being giant, round and mostly crunchy, the ones here are much smaller and chewier — the more squashed the shape, the better, because where the knots overlap is the best part. For a paradigmatic rendition, hit up the region’s beloved convenience store, which just launched a new flagship at Walnut and Broad (2 for 99 cents; multiple locations).
Fried chicken at Federal Donuts
If you get your mitts on some bird at FedNuts, it’s truly something to brag about, since it doesn’t become available until 11 AM daily, and often sells out much earlier than the stores’ 7 PM closing time. The reason it’s so sought-after? Not as much the perfect crackle-to-juiciness ratio (which it has), but the sauces and seasonings that get put on top. Pick za’atar, coconut curry, buttermilk ranch or honey ginger — it’s hard to go wrong ($9.25; multiple locations).
Italian hoagie at Sarcone’s Deli
Achieve instant hoagiemouth with a sandwich from this Italian Market deli — it’s right next to the bakery owned by the family of the same name, which has been operating for five generations and delivers its signature seeded hoagie rolls all over town. They’re best stuffed with thinly-sliced prosciutto, capicola, salami and provolone, doused in olive oil and vinegar, and rolled up tight in wax paper. If you let the sandwich sit for an hour or two before diving in, so much the better ($6.50; 743 S. 9th St., 215-922-1717)
Roast pork bao buns at Bing Bing Dim Sum
The other important sandwich in town is a roast pork. You can find them all over, but guaranteed there’s nowhere else you’ll find a version masquerading as a bao bun — and playing the role with style. It’s just another in a long line of brilliant mashups from the dudes behind this Asian-meets-whatever we want hotspot on East Passyunk Avenue ($9; 1648 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-279-7702)
Fried oysters and chicken salad at Oyster House
Once upon a time, oysters ran this town (not literally, we’re probably closer to that nowadays) — the mollusks were so plentiful that they were part of almost every meal. That’s the explanation behind this Philadelphia classic, which pairs cold chicken salad (it was once a delicacy) with a handful of fried oysters. Get it at Sam Mink’s restaurant on Sansom — his family has been running oyster houses here for more than 60 years (NB: closed on Sundays; $13; 1516 Sansom St., 215-567-7683).
Fried PB&J at South Philadelphia Tap Room
Maybe you’ve tried to do this at home, but once you see how well chef Scott Schroeder does it, you might never attempt it again. Bread, peanut butter, jelly — that’s the easy part. Then there’s a coating of crushed Frosted Flakes and a perfect pan fry, so it comes out crunchy and gooey and messy and pretty much perfect ($6; 1509 Mifflin St., 215-271-7787).
Nevermore at Hop Sing Laundromat
Coffee and cream, sure. Coffee and cream and gin? Yes, topped with a rosebud, and it’s fantastic. Plus, the only place to get it is unique in its own right, with more bottles of top-shelf liquor than you’ve probably ever seen at a bar, plus luxurious chairs that make you feel like royalty while you sip. Fair warning: no shorts and no sneakers — zero exceptions ($12; 1029 Race St., no phone).