Best Casual Dining in Philadelphia: 6 Philly Foods and Where to Find Them

Best Casual Dining in Philadelphia: 6 Philly Foods and Where to Find Them

By: Sarah Dirks

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September 14, 2021

When the topic turns to the best casual dining in Philadelphia, the debate always starts with cheesesteak. But there’s no debating the number of great casual spots to grab a bite to eat throughout the Philly area. 

Beyond the cheesesteak, you’ll find high-quality meats and cheeses on classic hoagies, Philadelphia’s unique specialty—tomato pies, and a refreshing invention that mixes water and ice.

So, if you’re looking for the freshest tomato pie or the softest, chewiest pretzel in town, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for some of our favorite casual dining in Philadelphia and where to find them. (Just make sure you have your stretchy pants on first!)

What Are the Best Philadelphia Foods?

  1. Philly Cheesesteaks
  2. Hoagies
  3. Tomato Pies
  4. Philly Soft Pretzels
  5. Water Ice
  6. Philadelphia-Style Ice Cream

Philly Cheesesteaks

What’s so special about a Philly cheesesteak? Well, it’s more than a sandwich, it’s an art. The ratio of meat to cheese to roll. The drip factor. The balance of flavors and textures. The perfect seasoning. The Philly cheesesteak is a triumph.

While the sauteed ribeye beef and long roll are a given, you get a few options when creating your cheesesteak. You can order it “wit” or “wit’out” onions, and add American, provolone or Cheez Whiz—yep you read that right, Cheez Whiz.

One thing to remember when devouring your Philly cheesesteak—no forks or knives allowed. It may be messy, but it’s delicious.

Did you know, Rim Café broke the world record by making a 510-foot long cheesesteak in 2021? You could probably fit that in a 5x10 storage unit, but we don’t recommend it—just eat it instead!

History of Philly cheesesteaks

The Philly Cheesesteak is probably one of the most important Philly foods. It was invented by Pat Olivieri in 1930, who owned a hot-dog stand. One day he wanted to try something different, so he got some beef, put it on a hot dog roll, and that was it. When a cab driver came by, he saw the steak sandwich and wanted one for himself—safe to say it became a hit.

The cheese came a little later, but this “accidental” masterpiece has become one of the best casual dining options in Philadelphia—no doubt.

Pat’s or Geno’s

When discussing Philly cheesesteaks, the first thing you’ll hear is “Pat’s or Geno’s?” These two steak shops have been rivals since Geno’s opened—across the street from Pat’s—in 1966. Even though there has been talking and some spying, in the end—this competition has kept them alive and motivated them to be the best.   

Who do you think has the best Philly cheesesteak, Pat’s or Geno’s? Drive down to East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia to see for yourself.

Fun Fact: Sylvester Stallone even filmed a scene or two at Pat’s King of Steaks for his film, Rocky.

Other great cheesesteaks

If you don’t want to pick sides, there are plenty of other places to find this iconic Philly food. Check out Jim’s on South Street at 400 South St., Philip’s Steaks at 2234 W. Passyunk, or Sonny’s at 228 Market St. in Old City.

Crunchy, legendary bread from Sarcone’s Bakery. Photo used with permission.

Here’s an honorable mention of Sarcone’s bakery, even though they’ll be mentioned later as well—for making some high-quality bread and holding some of Philly’s best sandwiches together.

Hoagie

Now you may be wondering why we have another sandwich on this list of the best casual dining in Philadelphia. Even though Philly cheesesteaks and hoagies seem to belong in the same family, they deserve to be celebrated individually.

The hoagie is a sandwich (duh), but the bread is what sets it apart—a long Italian roll, normally delivered daily from a bakery. Pile on quality deli meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and oil and vinegar, and you’ve got a classic hoagie.

Tasty hoagie from Antonio’s Deli. Photo used with permission.

History of the hoagie

It was named the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia” in 1992 and has a mysterious past! No one can quite agree on how the Hoagie came to be, but there are four generally accepted myths. Three of them claim the sandwich got its name from an area of Philadelphia called Hog Island. The sandwiches were nicknamed “Hoggies” after the island or “Hogans” after the men working there. Ultimately the name morphed into “Hoagies.”

The fourth story involves a grocery store and a few gamblers on the same street. One of the gamblers came to the grocery store and asked for a sandwich, but he wanted every meat from the counter—plus the peppers the owner was cooking in the back. Eventually, they coined the term Hoagie.

To the hoagies!

Now that your mouth is watering, we should probably tell you where you can find some of these impeccable hoagies. First stop, Cosmi’s Deli—open since 1932, they serve over a dozen different hoagies, including the Godfather and Sicilian. Find them at 1501 S. 8th St.

Or, stop at Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly at 736 S. 9th St., don’t worry, even though “pizza” is the name, their hoagies are off the chain. Antonio’s Deli at 1014 Federal St. is a go-to shop with some non-traditional hoagies, including one with fried tomato and one with baked eggplant.

Middle Child, located at 248 S. 11th St., is a newcomer to the Philadelphia hoagie scene, offering classic sandwiches with a twist, one being the “phoagie.” We can’t forget Primo Hoagies, they have locations spreading from Philadelphia to Florida!

Mouthwatering tomato pie. Photo used with permission from Pizza Shackamaxon.

Tomato Pie

There is more to Philadelphia than just sandwiches (even though the sandwiches are pretty extraordinary). Say hello to the tomato pie—a.k.a. church pie, red pizza, square pizza, and the list goes on. For those who can’t imagine a pizza without a ton of cheese, don’t worry, this is 100% worth it. It’s like a square pizza, but with a thick crust, red gravy (red tomato sauce), and just a touch of parmesan on top. Sound good? We thought so too.

History

You can thank the Southern Italians who immigrated to Philadelphia for the tomato pie. They brought over a distinct crust—thick, spongy, chewy, and just like focaccia bread.

The first bakeries and restaurants to introduce these tomato pies were Iannelli’s Bakery (opened in 1910), Sarcone’s Bakery (opened in 1918), and Tacconelli’s (opened in the early 1920s).

Say hi to tomato pie!

You may not believe it, but Iannelli’s at 1155 E. Passyunk, Sarcone’s at 758 S. 9th St., and Tacconelli’s at 2604 E. Somerset St. are still dishing up these Philly pies after about a hundred years. So, if you’re looking for a classic taste of this Philadelphia special, head on over to one of these spots.

But of course, there are more players in the tomato pie game. Cacia’s Bakery, located at 1526 W. Ritner St. has been around since the 1950s, serving up an especially saucy gravy pie. Pizza Shackamaxon at 115 E. Girard Ave., is relatively new, but they’ve earned a great reputation in a short time. Finally, you have to get the “gravy pie” at La Rosa Pizza at 2106 S. Broad St. Not only is it topped with red sauce, but a generous amount of olive oil.

A Few Must Try Snacks in Philadelphia

There are also a number of Philadelphia foods that may not be considered a full meal but deserve just as much recognition. Who doesn’t love a good snack? Whether you need a small bite on the go, or you don’t have a lot of time to eat, here are some of the best casual dining snacks in Philadelphia.

Philly Soft Pretzels

If you’ve ever had a soft pretzel at a sporting event, the mall, or just a cart on the street, you can thank Philadelphia. These scrumptious salty snacks are on every corner in Philly. Some of the most popular places to get these thick, elongated soft pretzels are Miller’s Twist at Reading Terminal Market, Center City Pretzel Co. at 816 Washington Ave. or any Philly Pretzel Factory location.

Water ice

No, we’re not crazy. “Water ice” may sound like the worst name for a snack but, it’s pretty sweet. It’s a snow cone elevated to a higher level. The ice is combined with fruit and sweeteners and then blended until smooth. Outside of Philly, this treat may be referred to as “Italian Ice,” but you better say “water ice” if you’re in town. Find this snack at D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats at 1928 E. Passyunk Ave., John’s Water Ice at 701 Christian St., or Pop’s Water Ice at 1337 Oregon Ave., for flavors from lemon and cherry to bubble gum and sour apple! 

Philadelphia style ice cream

How could we not include a dessert with “Philadelphia” literally in the name? This style of ice cream is unique in one fashion—no eggs. That’s right, there are no eggs in this frozen dessert, which differs from typical custard-based ice cream. Here are a few places to find Philadelphia’s favorite ice cream: one of the many Bassett’s Ice Cream locations, The Franklin Fountain at 116 Market St. or Somerset Splits 2600 E. Somerset St.

Destinations/Regions

One thing we’ve noticed about some of the best Philadelphia foods—the rival restaurants aren’t always miles and miles apart—sometimes they’re right across the street. But because we’ve just given you a million different restaurants to drool over, we’ll help you figure out where they are. We don’t want you to be lost and hungry! 

South Philadelphia

Bordered by South Street to the north, Schuylkill River to the west, and the Delaware River to the east and south, South Philly is home to diverse neighborhoods and great eats. This area is well known for its Italian American population, plus some of the best Philly cheesesteaks in town. Not to mention, one of those rivalries.   

Some of the Philadelphia foods listed above are in South Philly, including Pizzeria South Philly, Antonio’s Deli, Cosmi’s, Iannelli’s, Sarcone’s, La Rosa Pizza, Cacia’s Bakery, Center City Pretzel Co., D’Emilios Old World Ice Treats, John’s Water Ice and Pop’s Water Ice.

Not to mention, South Philly is home to two restaurants that like to glare at each other from across the street. Don’t forget to stop in Pat’s King of Steaks or Geno’s Steaks to see what all the fuss is about.

Center City and surrounding areas

Center City is Philadelphia’s prime downtown area, with bustling and eclectic South Street, Reading Terminal Market, historical Old City, and even Rittenhouse Square. Not only will you find great entertainment and things to do, but you’ll also find some awesome grub.

Find Sonny’s, Jim’s on South Street, Middle Child, Miller’s Twist, and The Franklin Fountain among many other great eats in the Center City area.

Fishtown

Fishtown is no stranger to change, especially now that the area has become highly recognized for art, music and of course, food. If you’re looking for some tomato pie or Philadelphia-style ice cream, head to the Fishtown area for Pizza Shackamaxon, Tacconelli’s Pizza and Somerset splits.

Northwest Philadelphia

As a special mention, we can’t forget another classic food rivalry on part of the Philadelphia Main Line. Hymie’s, in Merion and Murray’s in Bala Cynwyd, are less than a two-minute walk from each other. Even though these Jewish delis are competitors, they’ll still lend each other creamer every now and then.

Stop by Murray’s at 285 Montgomery Ave. or Hymie’s at 342 Montgomery Ave. to try more of Philly’s “phamous” sandwiches. 

Best Casual Dining in Philadelphia FAQs

Q: What is Philadelphia famous for?

A: Philadelphia is famous for its historical significance, LOVE park, Philly cheesesteaks, and Rocky.

Q: What is the most popular food in Pennsylvania?

A: Philadelphia has some great food, but some of the most popular food items are Philly cheesesteaks, Strombolis, hoagies, roast pork sandwiches, and whoopie pies.

Q: What dessert is Philadelphia known for?

A: Some very common desserts in Philadelphia are cannolis, whoopie pies, sticky buns, and sundaes.

Q: Does Philly have good food?

A: Not only is Philadelphia known for Philly cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and tomato pie, but because of the large size of the city, it is very diverse—which only means one thing. Many, many different cuisines, plus a variety of vegetarian and vegan options. So, everyone can find something they want in Philadelphia.

Q: What food can you only get in Pennsylvania?

A: Philadelphia is known for Philly cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, tomato pie, and hoagies. But there are also a few foods that aren’t common anywhere else—like scrapple and shoofly pie.

Wrapping Up the Best Casual Dining in Philadelphia

Thanks for reviewing our list of the best casual dining in Philadelphia:

1. Philly Cheesesteaks

2. Hoagies

3. Tomato Pies

4. Philly Soft Pretzels

5. Water Ice

6. Philadelphia-Style Ice Cream

In Philadelphia, it’s not a question of if there is anything good to eat, it’s a question of how will you decide what life-changing best casual dining in Philadelphia will you have today?

Will an incredibly fresh, quality hoagie help you make a big decision? Will a Philly cheesesteak convince you to follow your dreams? Will the brain freeze you get from water ice give you a brand-new outlook on life?

Well, no matter where you search for the best casual dining in Philadelphia, Store Space is close by. We have 4 facilities in the Philly area, so you’re never far from convenient storage solutions!

We care about Philadelphians (and cheesesteaks!)

Sarah Dirks content writer

Junior Content Writer for Store Space who enjoys hiking, movies and sports.

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