We know you’ve felt trolled by one of those lists telling you the best places to eat in Philadelphia. Even when they’re done by locals, not people who have no clue — like when the New York Times made up a Little Italy and told people to visit a chain restaurant there — one thing that gets to us is how they focus only on certain areas. You generally don’t see spots from the Northeast, the Northwest, Southwest, or hell, anywhere beyond the Riverwards, Center City, South Philly and the University City metropolitan area.
The Northeast is particularly rich in dining options, thanks to its varied demographics. It’s home to many Irish and Jewish families, but also has a booming immigrant population. That provides an A1 combo: Cuisines that you can’t really find affordably anywhere else in the city, plus lots of mid-Atlantic faves.
Ready to go beyond the regular lists and explore? Here are seven don’t-miss gems to get you started.
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Come here with a crew of folks ready to go HAM. This is key. Because on this menu, which isn’t Uzbek exclusive, there’s Russian flavors too. Aside from the entrees, you’d ideally need room for soups, kebabs and vareniki (dumplings). Those are all superb here. The vareniki come filled with cherries, cheese or potatoes; the veal kebabs are especially delicious. They also offer compot, a Russian fruit punch that tastes like a fancier-spin on red Kool Aid.
Fink’s is absolutely a contender for best hoagies in the city. It’s all about the meat to veggie ratio. We’re not ashamed to say that certain Wawas actually make good hoagies. We’re also not ashamed to say we don’t need asparagus on a hoagie for it to be great. What we do need is the surfeit of meat, cheese and oil that only a proper Philly roll can handle, okay? Fink’s strikes the balance between the meaty and the vegetal (meat wins, as it should), while staying fresh all the way.
We regularly find ourselves eating at one Thai place or another in the city. Is this a generational thing? We don’t know. We do know, deep down in our hearts, that most of Philly’s Thai restaurants are adequate and nothing more.
This is not one of those! It’s actually good, not ‘we like curry so we’re here’ good. Pro-tip: if you like salmon, order the Salmon Penaeng Curry. Trust us on this.
This hole in the wall has a focus Keralite cuisine. Many Desi-Philadelphians have roots in Kerala, the Southern Indian state. Mallu Cafe serves its entrees in takeout containers, even when you eat in. Leave snobbery at the door; this can be seen as a suggestion; the flavors in their sauces appreciate with time. Our entrees started off average but ended fantastic. We brought along an intern who’s a naan expert. She found theirs a touch greasy, but solid.
We’ve visited Picanha. Of course, the major appeal of Picanha, not to mention its nearby rival Taste of Brazil, is that it offers Brazilian barbecue rodizio-style (that’s to say they’ll bring it to you, in rounds, on skewers) with an all-you-can-eat buffet of meats, sides and salads. At Picanha, you can order by the kilo as well, but the buffet option will set you back about $25. At Fogo de Chao, you can expect to drop more than double that. Now, Taste of Brazil is also great, but we think Picanha is slightly better stocked. For those who’d like a harder drink than Guaraná, it’s BYOB.
Certain parts of the Delaware Valley just don’t play when it comes to diners. In Roxborough, in MontCo, in South Jersey especially, and yes, in the Northeast too. You may have seen the Dining Car on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Mile-long menu ✅. Fun specials ✅. Personable waitresses ✅. Desserts for days ✅.
Down the street from Picanha is Tio Pepe, a Portuguese spot. First floor is a bar, top floor is the restaurant. Among its deep seafood offerings are two paelhas (the portuguese spelling of paella), both in the $24-$29 range. The one pictured above is the valenciana, not high on spices, but very high on freshness. It feeds four, easily.
Boulevard and Grant (Far Northeast)
Zaika serves top-notch Indian and Pakistani food. The chicken tikka masala is awesomely neon red, beyond that the restaurant’s offerings are a lot like the Indian you may eating in other parts of the city.