Things to Eat

19th Street is Center City’s new lunchtime hot spot

What to seek out between Walnut and Arch.

Rugelach at K'Far Cafe

Rugelach at K'Far Cafe

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Not like Philly’s Rittenhouse neighborhood was ever lacking in places to eat, but there’s a new strip to visit if you’re seeking a great midday meal in Center City.

Thanks in part to the opening of the Four Seasons hotel, 19th Street between Arch and Walnut is bursting with options for every meal and any budget. During the day, there’s neighborhood pillars like Rachael’s Nosheri and love for the vegans at V Street, plus newcomers like ocean-focused Vernick Fish, Mexican fast-casual El Cafe and Israeli snack destination K’Far.

Here’s our picks for the best lunchtime eats on this unexpected restaurant row.

Have an idea for a dish we should try for a future edition of Things to Eat? Let us know.

Sardines + sourdough at Vernick Fish

1876 Arch St.

Forget everything you learned about sardines when you were a kid — that they’re fishy, or for cats, or packed tightly into a tin — and dig into the luscious snack at this restaurant in the ground floor of the CTC. Chef Greg Vernick’s swank seafood outpost is part of the Four Seasons hotel, and lunch is one of the best times to check it out. Whatever else you order, the sardine toast is a good bet; for $12 you get multiple plump fish layered in like an umami blanket over crunchy house-baked sourdough.

Breakfast tacos y conchas at El Cafe

31 S. 19th St.

Did you hear there’s now breakfast tacos in Center City? That’s thanks to El Cafe, a new counter-service spot in the Pod Philly boutique hotel from the team behind Fishtown’s Suraya. The housemade tortillas (of blue heirloom corn!) play host to fried eggs topped with various veggies or meat. Sweeten the deal with Mexican chocolate and pastries. We couldn’t get enough of the giant guava concha, a puffed-up sweet roll sprinkled in shredded coconut and filled with preserved guava and sugary cream cheese for $4.50.

A Jewish food staple at Rachael’s Nosheri

120 S. 19th St.

With snowball-size dumplings and paper-thin veggies, matzo ball soup at Rachael’s Nosheri is a comfort food in taste, feel and sight. Yes, we’re recommending soup even though it feels like the weather may never cool down — an easy-slurping cup is just $4.05. It’s a Jewish cultural staple, after all, and a favorite at the deli, which has been a go-to for the Rittenhouse community for nearly three decades. When (if?) the first chill of the season descends, stop by for that bowl of hot goodness followed by a corned beef sandwich or a smoked fish platter.

Swap meat for mushrooms at V Street

124 S. 19th St.

Keep an open mind and you might just be surprised about the cheesesteak at the lunch spot from the acclaimed plant-food whizzes of Wash West dining destination Vedge. The $11 sandwich replaces the typical sliced beef with grilled seitan mushrooms — and there’s even a “cheese whiz” made from rutabaga, a root vegetable. If you’re looking for that exact cheesesteak taste, no, you’re not gonna get it. But if you’re down to try a variation on the Philly classic — or have vegan friend — a toasty, sesame seed bun awaits.

‘Jerusalem’ bagel sandwiches at K’Far

110 S. 19th St. 

The folks behind this all-day cafe from the same team as Zahav admit bagels aren’t really a thing in Israel. But a round, seeded roll with a hole in the middle is — and whatever the version here is called, it’s a blessing on a plate. Baked daily in house, the oblong bread covered with sesame seeds comes with various fillings. Try the intensely savory basturma (cured beef) with olive tapenade ($11), or the equally flavorful grilled cheese with roasted tomato and za’atar ($8). Don’t miss chef Camille Cogswells pastries for dessert: her chocolate tahini might be the best cookie in the city.

Want some more? Explore other Things to Eat stories.

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