Old City is my favorite neighborhood in Philadelphia because of its timeless beauty and antiquated elegance. Bar hopping is like taking a trip in a time machine, as you step into a mid-eighteenth century pub and are greeted with a large pint and a friendly smile (even if it’s behind a mask).
But aside from the Liberty Bell and Elfreth’s Alley, Old City has an array of restaurants, both new and old, that have gained national attention over the years. After strolling the cobblestone streets, take a load off at one of these restaurants in Philadelphia’s historical district.
217-219 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 625-2450
If you like happy hour, then you’re going to love Amada. James Beard award winner and Iron Chef Jose Garces is cooking up a variety of tapas, or Spanish appetizers, in the heart of Old City, such as patatas bravas, olivas, and chorizo pamplona.
From 4-6 pm Tuesday through Saturday, you can get all of these bite-sized snacks, along with red or white sangria, for only $5. Have a happy hour hangover? Get the sangria pancakes every weekend off their $27 3-course brunch menu. Don’t worry, the alcohol is minimal.
306 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 625-9425
Dig into Fork, a contemporary American restaurant and Old City staple for more than 15 years. Serving brunch, lunch, and dinner, Fork covers all the bases.
First base is an orange cardamom bun and porchetta benedict in the morning. Second base is the rosemary and thyme focaccia and grilled skate sandwich in the afternoon. Third base is the chilled melon and tomato soup and golden tilefish in the evening. But every meal is a home run!
401 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 923-2500
All aboard the Moshulu, one of Philadelphia’s most “unique dining experiences.” Enjoy an exquisite brunch inside the hull or happy hour cocktails outside on the deck while exploring this legendary sailing vessel on the Delaware River.
Moshulu is the world’s sole restaurant venue on a Tall Ship, so you know they host a mean boat party on the weekends. Throw on your Sperrys and come to the pier for some yacht rock (if you’re not already down the shore all summer).
Spasso Italian Grill
34 S Front St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 592-7661
Forget about March Madness; Spasso, an Italian eatery in Old City that would rival the best of the best in the Italian Market, has “Dinner Madness” every Tuesday and Wednesday. Forty dollars gets you an appetizer, entree, and dessert, so it’s pretty much Restaurant Week every week!
On top of that deal, you get a complimentary bottle of wine for every two diners. Nothing says “happy hump day” like a bottle of red and a plate of rigatoni alla vodka.
The Olde Bar
125 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 253-3777
The executive chef of Amada, Jose Garces, is back at it again in Old City with the Olde Bar, a seafood restaurant right by the water. Located in the historic Bookbinder’s building, this saloon has an extensive raw menu and (naturally) long alcohol list.
Warning: this may not be the place to take your date if they’re vegetarian. However, pescetarians and seafood lovers can indulge in buck-a-shuck and other happy hour treats, like smoked salmon spread and crab fingers.
14 N Front St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 922-7800
Up, up and away with the wine flights at Panorama, the Guiness World Record holder for the world’s largest winekeeper. Located in the Penn’s View Hotel, this Italian restaurant and wine bar has a monthly wine club that gives you access to wine tastings and sommelier-selected flights. Sign me up!
Pasta and wine is a more iconic pair than peanut butter and jelly, so accompany your “love bubbly” or “rose all day” flight with a half or full-sized plate of cavatelli, tortellini, or buccatelli.
420 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 320-8000
Philadelphia is no New York City or Chicago when it comes to pizza, but Pizzeria Stella puts us on the map.
While one could argue Pizzeria Stella is on the line between Old City and Society Hill, no one is going to argue that their pizza is some of the best, no matter where they’re located geographically. From a classic margherita to tartufo with black truffle, egg, fontina, this Neapolitan pizza is “stella” delicious.
Red Owl Tavern
433 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 923-2267
Across from the Liberty Bell is Red Owl Tavern, another site where tourists and locals alike will visit for casual American fare in the birthplace of the United States.
“Inspired and sourced by Philadelphia,” Red Owl Tavern uses local ingredients to make Philly basics, like the Neshaminy Creek J. A. W. N. or a Philly cheesesteak (granted, with white cheddar, so it’s not the most authentic). Life, “libertea,” and the pursuit of happiness are three guarantees at Red Owl Tavern.
200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 625-4566
If the Sons of Liberty were going to meet anywhere in Philadelphia, I’d like to imagine it would be at Revolution House. Bop to the top, starting at the quirky bar on the first floor and working your way up to the roofdeck restaurant (which has some of the prettiest views in the city, by the way).
The team behind Panorama prove that they can do more than just pasta. Tacos and pizza are just a few of the options at this Mediterranean/Korean/Italian/Mexican (???) inspired restaurant. But they really saved the best for last; cue the oven roasted pineapple for dessert (applause).
52 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (267) 606-6313
Royal Boucherie may have one of the most Instagrammable gardens in Philly, a concrete jungle. On top of that, they may have the only rooftop garden. This hidden greenery is a hidden gem very few people know about, but I’m giving you the inside scoop.
Rain or shine, the dimly lit dining room or second floor parlour is the perfect place for a romantic evening or lively celebration. Sip champagne and splurge on foie gras terrine at this Parisian bistro by Penn’s Landing.
48 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 925-2317
Sassafras is like a cult classic. A lot of people have never seen it, but everyone has heard of it. And you don’t need to know how to spell it or pronounce it to know it’s one of Philly’s most beloved bars.
You know a place means business when they have their drink menu organized by type of liquor, and you know that place is especially dangerous when they have seven tequila cocktails, five variations of champagne (including lavender), and even absinthe.
205 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 238-8862
What’s sleek yet serves sushi and sake? This isn’t a riddle, and excuse the alliteration, but the answer is Tuna Bar.
Tuna Bar pivoted to outdoor dining to meet the needs of the pandemic, but I’m so glad they have indoor dining again because the inside is one of my favorite venues. The only thing better than sitting at the bar is eating their freshly prepared specialty rolls, like the Fishtown, the Rittenhouse and, of course, the Old City.
237 St James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 625-8800
If you’ve never heard of Zahav before, you must be living under a rock. The 2019 James Beard Award winning “Outstanding Restaurant” is so infamous across the country that booking a reservation is almost as difficult as Patrick Bateman trying to get a table at Dorsia.
If by some miracle you do get in, however, you’ll have braggings rights and one of the most memorable meals of your life. From start to finish, every course seems like it’s impossible to beat. Yet, from pomegranate lamb shoulder to malabi custard, every course of the obligatory five-course tasting menu is better than the last.
The Plough And The Stars
123 Chestnut Street Entrance on 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 733-0300
Irish food tends to get a bad rep. I’m 50% Irish and let’s face it, we’re not exactly known for our gourmet cuisine. But the Plough and the Stars might change your opinion.
Philadelphia’s only Celtic pub, the Plough and the Stars would make any Irishman proud. Shepherd’s pie, poached pear salad, and fish and chips are some of the most popular items, but battered sausages, pork ribeye, and Irish style chicken or shrimp curry will have you celebrating St. Patty’s Day year-round.
212 Walnut St 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 238-0499
While it’s my dream to go to the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, Positano Coast in Old City is a close second. Not only does the vibrant blue and white restaurant give off Positano vibes, but their Southern Italian style menu will make you feel like you’re in paradise.
Positano Coast was already capitalizing on al fresco dining, a European tradition, before it became the norm in the States. So, sit outside, soak in the sun, and imbibe on bottomless mimosas and/or sangrias before noon. Because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!
414 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (267) 319-8018
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is furious they missed the Hoagie Dom and Kismet collaboration at Bloomsday last week. Although there doesn’t seem to be any sign of another one in the near future, Bloomsday Cafe’s “fancy wine list” and brunch menu is worth the hype too.
“Do you want it on a pretzel bagel?!?!” the menu asks. When ordering a kickstarter sandwich, a really friggin good mushroom sandwich, or a salmon gravlax, the only respectable response is “Hell yeah!!!”
Red Poke Express
135 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 923-0800
Not going to lie, I’ve never been inside of Red Poke Express, but they’re my go-to delivery spot for three reasons.
They really do “express” delivery. They fill their bowls a ridiculous amount for under $15. And they let you customize your bowl, choose two proteins, and add ~10 other ingredients without charging you extra. But if that’s not enough reasons to try Red Poke, their Hawaiian poke bowls and sushi burritos are one of the healthiest and freshest things you can order in a pinch.
147 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 627-2140
I’m forever jealous of my boyfriend because the second location of this Mediterranean bistro and cafe is located in his hometown. Fortunately for me, there is also one in Old City, so I don’t need to travel to the burbs to get the stuffed banana croissant french toast. Don’t get me wrong though. I’d drive any distance for their hummus shakshuka.
They don’t have a website, so it’s hard to find the menu online, which is very anxiety-inducing for someone like me who studies the menu before I go anywhere like I’m going to be tested on it. Still, take my word for it; you can’t go wrong with anything you order here.
The Twisted Tail
509 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 558-2471
Don’t get it twisted: the Twisted Tail has more than just seafood. Although the crawfish mac and cheese and blue point oysters are some highlights on the menu, the “ham and cheese” section is not to be overlooked. Think of it like an adult Lunchable.
Take advantage of “social hour” every day from 4-6 pm for half priced snacks, wine, and beer. The scenic outdoor seating on the cobblestone sidewalks and live music every weekend are just an added bonus.
233 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19105
Phone: (215) 644-9395
Forsythia is only open five days a week for five hours a night, but that isn’t stopping it from being one of the most lauded restaurants in Old City.
This upscale French bistro may give Royal Boucherie a run for their money. But with a constantly rotating menu starring dishes like corn and black truffle beignets, rohan duck, and basque style cheesesteak, they’re in a league of their own.
Whether you’re going out for brunch with your gal pals, dinner with your significant other, or drinks with your friends, you can count on Old City for great restaurants on every corner that overshadow the Betsy Ross House or Independence Hall.
Live too far from Old City? Spent too much on Ubers this week? Check out my list of the best ramen restaurants in Philadelphia.
Did I leave a restaurant out of this list? Make sure you leave me a comment and I’ll add it to the ever-expanding bucket list in the notes of my phone.