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Article published on August 18, 2021

12 Iconic Philadelphia Foods & Must-Have Philly Eats

Where to find essential cheesesteaks, hoagies, soft pretzels, water ice and more...

Max's Steaks Photo by Visit Philadelphia

Travel Responsibly: As the region recovers from COVID-19, safety guidelines have evolved at attractions, restaurants, shops and hotels. Advance tickets or reservations remain recommended or necessary at many spots. Your best bet: Check online or call ahead.

Philadelphia takes food very seriously — especially when it comes to the city’s most iconic offerings.

Best-of-Philly specialties include a juicy cheesesteak smothered with Whiz, a flavor-packed hoagie on a crusty roll, and a slice of freshly baked tomato pie sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Treasured by locals and former residents, the city’s signature foods attract new visitors to Philly, too.

Of course, exploring Philly’s classic foods is a bit different right now. Businesses in Philadelphia require proof of vaccination or mask-wearing at all indoor public spaces. Guidelines for businesses in the four surrounding counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery — vary. Your best bet: Call ahead or check online to get a better sense of what to expect before you go. Get more information about Greater Philadelphia and COVID-19 here.

From the salty (soft pretzels!) to the saucy (red-gravy pasta!) to the sweet (Butterscotch Krimpets!), read on for our list of 12 signature eats.

01

Philly Cheesesteak

Cheesesteak from Jim's Steaks Cheesesteak from Jim's Steaks
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The ultimate iconic Philly food is the cheesesteak. Invented by Pat Olivieri of Pat’s Steaks in 1930 and imitated by many, a true Philly cheesesteak requires thinly sliced beef and a crusty roll. But the choice of cheese — provolone, American or Cheez Whiz — is a matter of great debate. So is the choice of sandwich shop. The age-old feud between Pat’s King of Steaks and its across-the-street rival Geno’s Steaks draws thousands of visitors to Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue for taste-offs. Other spots like Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies, John’s Roast Pork, Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop, Steve’s Prince of Steaks, Tony Luke’s, Jim’s Steaks, Max’s Steaks and Delco Steaks also have impressive numbers of devoted fans. Your next best cheesesteak awaits with our guide on where to find them in Philly.

Where: Various locations including Jim's Steaks, 400 South Street

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02

Roast Pork Sandwich

Roast pork sandwich from John's Roast Pork Roast pork sandwich from John's Roast Pork
John's Roast Pork — Photo by E. Teel for Visit Philadelphia

It may not be quite as well known as the cheesesteak or the hoagie, but the roast pork sandwich — a regional Italian-American standout — is without a doubt a signature Philly sandwich. Tender, oven-roasted pork shoulder, usually shaved or chopped, gets layered with melted sharp provolone cheese and garlicky sautéed broccoli rabe on an Italian roll. John’s Roast Pork, Tony Luke’s, George’s Sandwich Shop and DiNic’s Roast Pork all deliver stellar classic renditions — evident in their long lines of customers. Find more great roast pork sandwiches in our guide.

Where: Various locations including John's Roast Pork, 14 Snyder Avenue

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03

Hoagie

The hoagie, Philly’s signature answer to the sub or hero, comes stuffed with fresh meats, cheeses and veggies — or some variation of these ingredients. The quality of the bread is paramount, with local bakeries like Amoroso’s or Sarcone’s delivering fresh rolls daily to shops all over the city. One local sandwich chain, Primo Hoagies, has built a small empire with dozens of shops across the East Coast. Liberty Kitchen PHL and Pastificio Deli are quality options, and Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly regularly has a line out the door for its sought-after sandwiches and pies. For extreme hoagie fans, nationally lauded Pizzeria Beddia has a secret hoagie room that groups can reserve for a “hoagie omakase” tasting menu experience. Peruse our guide on the best hoagies in Philly for more.

Where: Various locations including Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly, 736 S. 9th Street

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04

Philly Soft Pretzels

Philly Pretzel Factory soft pretzel with mustard Philly Pretzel Factory soft pretzel with mustard
Philly Pretzel Factory — Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia

Introduced to the region by German settlers centuries ago, pretzels have long been a favorite local snack. Philly’s signature variety is the soft pretzel, an everyday treat purchased from a street vendor, corner store or from a bakery such as Center City Pretzel Co. or Philly Pretzel Factory (multiple locations). At Miller’s Twist in historic Reading Terminal Market, customers can watch workers roll and twist a buttery “Amish pretzels.” No matter what form the pretzel takes — braided, sticks, nuggets or even sandwich rolls — they always taste better with mustard.

Where: Various locations including Philly Pretzel Factory, 132 S. 11th Street

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05

Water Ice

A family enjoys water ice. A family enjoys water ice.
— Photo by P. Woosley for Visit Philadelphia

While its name is somewhat confusing, water ice (pronounced “wooder ice” by some locals) is the perfect dessert or snack for hot summer days in the city. Elsewhere known as Italian ice, the combination of fruit or syrup with finely shaved ice is a refreshing treat. John’s Water Ice, Mancuso & Son and Rose’s Real Italian Water Ice are just a few age-old favorites, while charming suburban options such as the Yardley Ice House amaze with a variety of flavors. West Philadelphia-based Siddiq’s Water Ice specializes in creative flavors like strawberry daiquiri, cantaloupe and white grape, while D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats is a gourmet delight on East Passyunk Avenue. Our guide to top water ice in Greater Philadelphia has more on the city’s signature frozen treat.

Where: Various locations including John's Water Ice, 701 Christian Street

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06

Tastykakes

Butterscotch Krimpets made by Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets made by Tastykake
Butterscotch Krimpets — Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia

Visitors would be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphian who doesn’t have nice things to say about Butterscotch Krimpets or Creme Filled Chocolate Cupcakes. Tastykakes have been Philadelphia’s sweet snack of choice for more than a century. Tastykakes can be ordered directly from the bakery or found in any local convenience store, such as the popular chain Wawa.

Where: Various locations including Wawa, 912 Walnut Street

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07

Scrapple

Scrapple at Down Home Diner Scrapple at Down Home Diner
Down Home Diner — Photo by N. Santos for Visit Philadelphia

A mixture of pork, spices and cornmeal, scrapple is a crispy-fried breakfast meat native to the Pennsylvania Dutch (who, in fact, are German — or Deutsch — in origin). Today, scrapple can be found in greasy-spoon diners and breakfast joints like Dutch Eating Place and Down Home Diner, both in the popular Reading Terminal Market. Some of the best-known purveyors of authentic scrapple are Godshall’s Quality Meats, Habbersett and Hatfield, though plenty of restaurants make their own versions in-house.

Where: Various locations including Down Home Diner, 51 N. 12th Street

08

Tomato Pie

Made with thick, focaccia-like dough, fresh tomato sauce and sometimes a hint of grated Romano cheese, Parmesan or oregano, tomato pie is a staple at many Italian bakeries and eateries in Philadelphia. South Philly institutions like Sarcone’s Bakery and Cacia’s Bakery have gained notoriety for their tasty pies, as has Marchiano’s Bakery in Manayunk and Corropolese in Norristown, which has been in operation since 1924.

Where: Various locations including Sarcone's Bakery, 758 S. 9th Street

09

Red Gravy Pasta Dinner

There’s something supremely satisfying about authentic, homemade Italian red gravy served over pasta. Given the rich Italian-American heritage in Philadelphia, it’s no surprise that some of the best red-sauce joints can be found here. In South Philly’s Italian Market, Ralph’s has been around since 1900, and Villa di Roma is another iconic spot. Little Nonna’s in Center City’s Midtown Village is also worth a visit and, if you’ve been wanting your waiters to sing to you, don’t miss The Victor Cafe.

Where: Various locations including Little Nonna's, 1234 Locust Street

10

Tacos

A taco at South Philly Barbacoa in Philadelphia A taco at South Philly Barbacoa in Philadelphia
South Philly Barbacoa — Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

Centered around the Mexican community in South Philly, the taco scene in Philly is definitely worth seeking out for the breadth and diversity of offerings. Chef and immigration activist Cristina Martínez put the city on the national radar with her stellar tortillas and lamb at the James Beard Award-recognized South Philly Barbacoa, which she runs with her husband Ben Miller. Blue Corn, Mole Poblano and North Philadelphia’s Taqueria La Raza are some of the other must-try spots. Fine that next great taco with our guide to the best tacos in Philadelphia.

Where: Various locations including South Philly Barbacoa, 1140 S. 9th Street

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11

Pho

Because of its sizable Vietnamese-American population — the largest on the East Coast — Philadelphia has long been a reliable go-to for excellent pho. One of the best areas to seek out the aromatic noodle soup is along Washington Avenue in South Philly, home to a number of Vietnamese restaurants, including the no-frillls classic Pho 75, and Nam Phuong. Other notable spots include Café Diem, famous for its bún bò Huế soup, and Stock, a BYOB restaurant with locations in Rittenhouse and Fishtown. Thang Long has operated its Kensington storefront since 1995, following a decade as a successful lunch truck. And at Bahn Mi & Bottles on South Street, diners can enjoy not only pho but also (of course) bahn mi and craft beer from the bottle shop.

Where: Various locations including Pho 75, 1122 Washington Avenue

12

Wawa

In and beyond the city, the ever-expanding homegrown convenience store chain Wawa inspires fierce loyalty. Customers can’t go wrong when ordering from the market’s expansive menu of delicious made-to-order food and drinks, which includes hot and cold sandwiches like hoagies and sourdough melts; soups and sides like mac and cheese and mashed potatoes; and specialty coffee drinks and frozen beverages like lattes and milkshakes. A variety of standard convenience store fare is available as well.

Where: Various Wawa locations including 1900 Market Street

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Philly Cheesesteak
Roast Pork Sandwich
Hoagie
Philly Soft Pretzels
Water Ice
Tastykakes
Scrapple
Tomato Pie
Red Gravy Pasta Dinner
Tacos
Pho
Wawa
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