So, Maria asked me to write something on the blog about our favorite bars and restaurants. Well, that’s kind of a “loaded” assignment for me. First, when it comes to bars, what I consider a “really good bar” usually involves a mechanical bull and/or acrobatics performed on a brass pole. Second, when it comes to restaurants, well… you’re talking about a guy who eats about 70% of his meals standing over the sink. But, despite these shortcomings, I will strive to come up with good recommendations for some good clean Philly entertainment, which will not involve physical danger, lewd conduct, nor food poisoning.
So if you’re in Center City, and looking for some good eats, the good news is that Philadelphia is definitely a food-friendly town. The bad news is that, like any other major city, the hottest restaurants, like Morimoto (Asian Fusion, 723 Chestnut), Buddakan (Asian Fusion, 325 Chestnut), and Alma de Cuba (Cuban, 1623 Walnut) fill up pretty fast. So, without a reservation, you can expect to be eating dinner either at 4:00 or at 10:30. Although, because it’s going to be summer, Philly’s exodus to the South Jersey shore means that things will be slightly less dense, so you might get lucky.
If you like Mexican, one of Maria and my favorite places is El Vez (121 S. 13th St.). It’s not a traditional Mexican place, but it definitely has a fun and lively atmosphere with some quirky décor. It’s a smart casual kind of place, and has a “younger” crowd. Expect to wait around 45 minutes for a table. While you’re waiting, a nice little distraction down the street is a German biergarten called Ludwig’s (1315 Sansom). It’s a traditional German place, so if you’ve been hankering for wienerschnitzel, now’s your chance. If you just want to sample some great German beer, you can get a “flight” that gives you five sampler size glasses of the featured beers on tap.
One Philly food landmark that’s work a walkthrough is Philadelphia’s historic farmers market, the Reading Terminal Market (12th & Arch). It’s open from 8am-6pm Monday thru Saturday, and has dozens of different food vendors, shops, and a lot of Amish specialties. Also, speaking of Philly specialties, you’re probably wondering, “where do I get the best cheesesteak?” Well, the honest answer is pretty much anywhere in the City. The real cheesesteak landmarks are Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks in South Philly. I won’t even bother writing the street address because you’ll have to take a cab there. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Jim’s Steaks (4th & South) and Sonny’s (216 Market St.) both make a mean cheesesteak.
If you feel like Italian, Ava (518 S. 3rd Street) is a little known gem. It’s a great little place, the food is excellent and surprisingly inexpensive, and the best part, you can bring your own wine and not pay a corkage fee. Definitely one of the best deals in the city.
For a really good sports bar, the Fox and the Hound on 1501 Spruce is a sure thing. It seems like a bit of a cop out recommending a place that’s part of a chain, but the dozens of TV’s, and kick-ass cheese fries, have made me a believer.
Now, when it comes specifically to bars, most of the restaurants I’ve listed above are also great places to have a drink. One thing Philly has in abundance is Irish Pubs. Two of my Favorites are the Dark Horse Pub (421 S. 2nd St.) and Fergie’s Pub (1214 Sansom). Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant (2nd Floor, 1516 Sansom) is also a great place for the beer drinker, with the added bonus of seeing the biggest collection of bobble-head dolls you’re ever likely to lay eyes on. If you’re looking for something a little more hoity-toity, the Continental (134 Market St.) and the Continental Midtown (1801 Chestnut) are definitely see-and-be seen kind of places.
I’m making my final recommendation despite Maria’s disapproval, and that’s for the best/worst dive bar in the city: Dirty Franks. Located on the corner of 13th and Pine, it’s so low-key/low-class it doesn’t even have sign outside, nor any windows. Also, Dirty Franks is to second-hand smoke what wetness is to water. Further, last time I was there, the bathroom didn’t even have a working lock on the door. So why would I recommend this place? Well, wouldn’t you like to say you had drink in a place called Dirty Franks? Plus, think about the new point of comparison you’ll have now! If go to another nasty place outside of Philly and someone says, “That bar was gross!” You can now say, “Yeah, but it was no Dirty Franks.”