LOL at British GQ calling the neighborhood ‘Old and Center Cities’ in this guide of where to eat in Philly

The cultural touchstones you are aware of already (Rocky Balboa, the Fresh Prince, Silver Linings Playbook) and the history too (the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, the first US Congress). You might even know a bit about the sports teams – local NFL team the Eagles are, at time of writing, the reigning Super Bowl champions for the first time in their 85 years in the league. But what do you know about the food? Go on. You can say it. Cheesesteaks. Well, notwithstanding that, we’re here to tell you Philadelphia is a culinary destination of note.

So, what to do in Philadelphia? From must-book Israeli small plates to barbecued meats by the pound – and swerving the tourist-trap ‘steaks – let GQ take you from airport to table in 12 steps, with stops along the way for libations and sleep (if you’re so inclined).

Old and Center Cities

Home to historic Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell, the original US Congress, the Rocky stairs…), Old and Center Cities lie between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.

Where to eat…

High Street On Market
The bakery behind this top-quality lunch spot – and it is behind it both literally and figuratively – also supplies several restaurants across Philadelphia, so you can be sure the outside of your sandwich comes highly accredited. And what they put in the middle, and on the side, is worthy of the visit too. The core sandwich menu (from $11) is largely static and runs to all the classic Eastern Seaboard fillings (pork, turkey, grilled cheese, pastrami). The selection of salads (from $13) rotates more often and, if you ask, the kitchen will let you have one on the side of your sandwich for an extra $4. GQ’s grilled broccoli side was a fittingly charred accompaniment to the tasty, salty pastrami in our sandwich (yes, the bread is good, but whoever supplies the meats deserves recognition too). If you make it through the full high-top sandwich with room to spare, the peach pie with caramel blueberry ice cream is excellent – and if you don’t, ask them to box a slice up for you anyway. 308 Market Street. highstreetonmarket.com

Rooster
Local chef-restaurateur-personality Michael Solomonov and his partner, Steve Cook, of Cook N Solo, continue to make a short stretch of the upmarket Rittenhouse district a must-visit hospitality hotspot with the reimagining last summer of this deceptively standard-looking Jewish diner (red-leather booths and counter service, naturally). Rooster is Cook N Solo’s fifth holding on Sansom Street between 15th and 17th Streets and behind the wedge-thick deli-meat sandwiches and almost-as-thick brown sugar bourbon peach pie is a charitable enterprise which diverts all profits to The Broad Street Ministry, a neighbouring charity that offers meals and, crucially, real hospitality to the homeless and others in need. Whether you go for the goodwill or for the patty melt with Jarlsberg, mushrooms and “Everything” sauce ($10), just go. 1526 Sansom Street. roostersoupcompany.com

Urban Farmer
Providence is what brings diners to this steakhouse. The menu is mostly built around very local suppliers – although the 8oz ribeye ($46) GQ ordered was from Montana – with the kitchen keeping close relationships with a long list of nearby farms, ranches and fisheries. In the same building as the Logan Hotel, this is a restaurant with some serious square-footage, so not an intimate spot for an evening, but for lunch with a side of people-watching – or as a launching spot for a stroll up the fantastically well-endowed art district on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which also includes the “Rocky” stairs – you’re in the right place. Be sure to start with the devilled eggs with candied bacon ($9), which is six halves per plate, so share if overindulgence has become a problem, and then let the meat do the talking – the restaurant certainly does. Our steak, ordered with a side of creamed spinach gratin (again, share if necessary), was confident in its flavours and prepared without undue fanfare. The theatrics are reserved for the desserts, and the goats’ cheese cheesecake ($10) we finished with was striking on the plate and striking on the palate. 1850 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. urbanfarmerphiladelphia.com

Reading Terminal Market
Do not visit Philadelphia without getting breakfast/lunch/both at Reading Terminal Market. Running since 1893 in a former train shed, it’s a full block of diners, bakeries, coffee shops, cheese stands, butchers, specialist produce, homewares, breakfast counters, sandwich stalls… we could go on. This is Philadelphia writ small, set apart from other cities of the American northeast – an unpolished blue-collar lunch spot and morning commuter stop that makes no concessions for tourists and yet remains one of the district’s major draws. We’re not here to tell you the food here competes for quality against other restaurants in this city guide – although the caramel apple dumpling ($4) at the Amish-run Dutch Eating Place certainly does – because that’s not the point. You’re here to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Philly’s finest. It’s hip without trying – and that’s as hip as it gets. 12th and Arch Streets. readingterminalmarket.org

Royal Boucherie
The run of S 2nd Street between Market and Chestnut Street is a lively destination on a Friday or Saturday night and if you can’t decide whether to start with dinner or drinks, get a reservation at Royal Boucherie and experience the best of both in one romantically lit premises. A winner, in 2014, of American reality TV culinary competition Top Chef, restaurateur Nick Elmi opened this raw bar and charcuterie in 2017 with local bar Svengalis Stephen Simons and David Frank, and so both food and drinks menus make for a bevy of difficult choices. Fortunately, the constantly updated charcuterie board ($24/$57) and oyster selection ($18/$32) takes the decision out of your hands and you won’t regret giving up your autonomy for either – it’ll give you more time to decide how deep into the cocktail list to delve… 52 S 2nd Street. royalboucherie.com

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
To paraphrase friend of the GQ family Samuel L Jackson, when you absolutely positively have to eat all the meat in the room, Del Frisco’s in Center City should be your reservation of choice. No nuance, no gimmicks, simply top cuts of steak – GQ lustily devoured the 16oz 45-day dry-aged prime strip ($69.50) – served in good ol’ American portion sizes. And on the topic of size, this is one mammoth restaurant. Built into the near-century-old triple-height atrium of the former First Philadelphia Bank, complete with original pillars and ornamental ceiling, the surroundings are about as classically grand as you find anywhere in town. Rumour has it the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line have been known to bulk up here – and that’s almost 1,600lbs worth of human being we’re talking about, so you know Del Frisco’s is good for it. (Fortunately, NFL players are also good for it when it comes to settling up, as one famous receipt for $17,747 proved.) 1426-1428 Chestnut Street. delfriscos.com

Zahav
If you want a table at this Israeli restaurant – and, trust us, you do – be sure to make your reservation ahead of your trip. In fact, before you book your flight, before you book your hotel, you’ll want to make sure Zahav can host you. Because this is one of those places where the first thing Philadelphians say when you tell them you’ve been is “How did you get a reservation?” Opened in 2008 by award-winning chef Michael Solomonov, Zahav weathered the financial crisis on the back of the plaudits that immediately rolled in and have not stopped since. Solomonov’s intention has always been to show Israeli food for the mosaic of different national cuisines that it is – North African, Persian, Eastern European, Mediterranean… This is small-plate dining, although this being Israeli, small is a misnomer and you won’t offend when, inevitably, plates go back unfinished. The “tayim” tasting menu ($48) is the way to go, which begins with “salatim” (a daily changing selection of vegetable salads), then brings two mezze plates (we particularly recommend the zucchini schnitzel), a dish from the grill and a dessert. It’s all for sharing. It’s all good. And the service is as informed as it is affable. An essential visit. 237 St James Place. zahavrestaurant.com

Where to drink…

Graffiti Bar
Levered into a patio space behind Asian small-plate restaurant Sampan and accessed from the street via a narrow alleyway, Graffiti Bar is a lively, super-condensed party spot – but note the crowd here skews young and fun, rather than sophisticated. High tables on one side, the long bar on the other and flanked by flatscreens showing sports, it’s dimly lit but brightly conceived. It serves dishes from Sampan’s kitchen, but on a Friday or Saturday night, you’re here for the drinks – we can recommend their Old Fashioned ($15.40). It’s also a good introduction to Philadelphia’s street mural scene, with local artist Ali M Williams responsible for the artwork that lines the alley entrance. Art, and street art in particular, is an important component of Philadelphia’s self-image, with work of all sizes occupying walls and buildings across the city. Mural tours are available, although you’ll see plenty for yourself just by paying attention. 124 S 13th Street. sampanphilly.com

The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company
Legend has it the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company was a prohibition-era front that rivalled Al Capone’s. Now, the spirits run free – well, to all intents and purposes it does, despite Pennsylvania’s liquor laws being among the strictest in the US – and it’s one of Philadelphia’s most intriguing cocktail joints. Retaining a “speakeasy” feel, and literally underground, the names on the menu clue you in to the kind of experience this is – GQ tried “The Day Of Atonement” (gin, vermouth, white rum, crème de cacao, Salers, orange and wormwood, $13), but we were equally drawn to the “Isolation & Psychic Distortion”, the “Nickles To The Moon” and the “Turn Me On Dead Man”. You get the idea. The Franklin also serves a tasting menu, should the occult-like naming conventions prove too much to choose from. 112 S 18th Street. thefranklinbar.com

Where to stay…

Lokal
Invisible service” hotels have been bridging the gap between Airbnb and professionally run stays for a few years, and this is Philadelphia’s first, a boutique narrowhouse of six self-contained one- and two-bed loft-style apartments opened in 2017 in the shell of an old printworks. It has all the advantages the independently inclined, self-sufficient traveller looks for, but no chance you’ll open a cupboard and be presented with a reminder you’re staying in someone’s home. This is living like a local, but with all the benefits of a valued visitor. Codes to the front door and your room are sent a few days before you “check in” and although assistance is available 8am-11pm, you’re then free to come, go and be left alone as you please. An iPad in each room does a masterful imitation of a concierge, with apps for ordering takeaway, groceries and drinks. And if you find the absence of a hotel breakfast troubling, you shouldn’t: Old City presents an embarrassment of hip coffee shops for your macchiato and avo-on-rye needs. Try Menagerie Coffee (18 S 3rd Street. menageriecoffee.com) and United By Blue (205 Race Street. unitedbyblue.com), which is also a “sustainable outdoor apparel” shop. You can reach both in about the time it takes to call a hotel lift. Independence aside, design is the keyword here. With interiors by local firm Jersey Ice Cream Co, whose signatures – faux-unfinished plasterwork, max-matt cabinetry, midcentury modern furniture – are all present here, the one-bed GQ occupied was apportioned with an ample kitchen, doubly ample bathroom and suitably lofty ceiling heights. What’s more, it’s on a stretch of North 3rd Street, between Race and Arch Street, that rightly calls itself the Philadelphia Design District, where an eclectic selection of shops is worth a diversion even if you aren’t staying at Lokal. Suites from $195 a night. 139 North 3rd Street. staylokal.com

South Philadelphia

Come for the Italian Market, stay for East Passyunk Avenue…

Where to eat…

Townsend
Townsend (“Tod”) Wentz is among Philadelphia’s select “name” chef-owners, and although his most recent opening, Oloroso in Center City, serves tapas (1112 Walnut Street. olorosophilly.com) and the one before that the Italian A Mano, near the museum district (2244 Fairmont Avenue. amanophilly.com), his first is this elegantly sized French restaurant in South Philly. Townsend occupies a former residence, with original fireplace in the back and a front bar Wentz put in himself. For those whose palate skews more refined than meat sandwiches (no judgements here), the menu at Townsend is an intriguing sliver of sophistication in the sprawling row homes of South Philly. The locally popular marinated hamachi ($15) is an appetite-building starter, which GQ followed with the masterful scallops ($18). When we dined, the mains spanned bass, lamb, halibut and chicken dishes (from $32), and the 32oz dry aged cote de boeuf ($48 per person), all of which were worth the Uber ride. A word, also, for the wine (sommelier Lauren Harris’ list is expansive and her servers supremely knowledgeable) and the cocktails (not for nothing was this fine restaurant also the fourth-best bar in Philadelphia in 2015). 1523 East Passyunk Avenue. townsendrestaurant.com

Where to drink…

Bok Bar and Irwin’s
Philadelphia is not known for its skyline, or at least not in the vein of NYC, Chicago and Seattle, but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise from the eighth storey of this decommissioned school building. Closed since 2013, a project to put to new use all 340,000 square feet of it has seen the arrival of artists’ studios, record labels, boxing gyms, galleries and, at the top, taking advantage of the views north to City Center, the open-air Bok Bar, serving basic bar food and an impressive selection of beers and wines. Across the eighth-floor lift lobby is Irwin’s, which skews more sophisticated, with a mezze menu and cocktail list worth crossing the hall for. The Bok is further into South Philly than you might otherwise have made, but this is not a school you want to skip. If you don’t eat at Irwin’s, the famous Passyunk (say it Pash’nk) Avenue is three blocks over and a worthy dining destination in its own right. 800 Mifflin Street. bok-bar.com; irwinsupstairs.com

University City

Philadelphia’s academic district, home to Drexel and the Ivy League University Of Pennsylvania, sits on the other side of the Schuylkill River to Center City and immediately next to the main train station 30th Street.

Where to eat…

White Dog Cafe
White Dog Cafe has been serving farm-to-table menus since 1983 and it’s seen University City change around it in those years. Thanks to a major local redevelopment project, designed to shift Philadelphia’s centre of gravity to the west of 30th Street Station, it’s likely to see even greater changes in the decade to come. It’s a sprawling premises, built into three converted brownstone houses, although “meandering” might be a better word, with distinct pocket sections flowing one to the next, from the stout horseshoe bar, via the electric-pink eclectica of the “Living Room” and miniature botanical garden-like “Solarium”, to the smaller “Parlor Bar”, where GQ ate in a comfortable little booth. The classically American menu sources ingredients from farms no further than 50 miles from the kitchen, and the well-provenanced cheese board ($18) is particularly worth saving space for. Come for lunch or, better still, a great weekend brunch. 3420 Sansom Street. whitedog.com

Where to stay…

AKA University City
Across the Schuylkill River from Center City, the university district is in the early years of a major decades-long period of development. Among the early adopters, this new AKA hotel is designed with longer-term stays in mind (weeks or even months). Occupying the top 18 floors of the highest residential building in Philadelphia, it follows the theory of the “vertical village”, with its “Level 28” billed as the first private lifestyle club in the sky. Available to all guests, it covers 25,000 square feet and includes a fitness centre, infinity pool with skyline views, cinema, lounge and terrace, business centre and even a golf simulator. Decor draws on major design names such as Italy’s Lissoni and Stevali and British lighting visionary Michael Anastassiades for ultra-luxe surroundings. Even better, the ground-floor Walnut Street Café (walnutstreetcafe.com) serves the best eggs breakfast GQ found anywhere in Philadelphia. A GQ city guide could never countenance staying in one building for the duration of your trip – and yet, at AKA University City, you genuinely could. Studio suites from $375 a day. Cira Center South, 2929 Walnut Street. akauniversitycity.com

Northern Liberties and Fishtown

In the international parlance, this is hipster town. Take the subway’s Market-Frankford Line to Girard and head south for Northern Liberties or north for Fishtown.

Where to drink…

Yards Brewery
Be in no doubt that Philadelphia is a beer town. Its mayor: Yards founder and brewmaster Tom Kehoe. Now in a new premises in the city’s Northern Liberties district, Kehoe’s brewery and taproom is the heart of the suds scene in Philly. The large, open space has a German beerhall feel, but Kehoe’s inspiration has always been English ales, and with 20 signature options on tap, some only available here, start with a flight of four, find your favourite and stick with it till closing (although this is also a good jumping-off spot for a stroll on the restaurant-rich stretch of N 2nd Street between Spring Garden and Girard subway stations). The kitchen serves all the beer accompaniments you’d expect and the roast pork sandwich is a Philadelphia specialty done as well here as anywhere. Kehoe’s whole team know and love beer, so taking a tour behind the scenes ($5) is a must for hopheads and an entertaining half hour or so for everyone else. Currently, Yards is in four states only, but with expansion projects already underway, there’s a chance you won’t always have to cross the Atlantic for it – but then where’s the fun in that? 500 Spring Garden Street. yardsbrewing.com

Where to eat (and also drink)…

Frankford Hall and Fette Sau
Fishtown, to the north of the Old City, is the latest neighbourhood in Philadelphia to have attracted young money, and with that have come the edgier end of the bar and restaurant scene. Resembling a German biergarten, Frankford Hall is open, industrial space, ranked with long tables and served by a bar with an intimidating selection of drafts, cans and bottles, grouped by origin, type and flavour – hell, if that choice wasn’t enough, there’s even a list of beer cocktails, including a curious “bier sangria”. Come on Sunday, post up near the TV and watch football all afternoon. If you get hungry, order German wurst, pretzels, schnitzels, etc at the counter in the corner. Alternatively, pop next door to Frankford’s sister diner, Fette Sau. Barbecued meat is the order of the day here and you order it by the pound. Pulled pork ($18 per lb), beef brisket ($23 per lb), burnt-end baked beans (from $4.50)… you get the idea. They’ll weigh it in front of you, serve it on a tray (literally on the tray), then just grab a beer at the bar and you’re good for the most flavoursome protein hit you’ll have all trip. Fishtown has great breadth of intriguing food and drink spots, but you’ll want to start at Frankford Hall and Fette Sau. 1208-1210 Frankford Avenue. frankfordhall.com. fettesauphilly.com

Out of town…

King Of Prussia and Mistral
Philadelphia’s main shopping district runs roughly from the ritzy Rittenhouse Square, down Walnut and Chestnut Streets, to Broad Street. And while no US travel itinerary is worth its TripIt bandwidth without at least half a day to engage with the national pastime, the greatest opportunity to do so is a half-hour drive out from Center City to King Of Prussia mall. By smartly building a connecting corridor, populated with luxury showrooms from Burberry to Tiffany, between two pre-existing centres, the mall is currently the largest in America – given our stateside cousins’ attachment to size, you’ll be aware this is an impressive statistic. And, yes, like its nearest city, it’s also a worthy dining destination if you eschew the food court and partake instead of chef Scott Anderson’s globe-trotting menu at Mistral. Located in the southeast corner of the larger of KOP’s two naves, it’s a sophisticated lunch spot (although it has a separate evening menu), whose dishes lean light and nuanced. Order, and share, from the snacks and small plates menus for the best sample of what Anderson’s rightly proud kitchen presents to the pass. The spring pea tahini ($10) was vibrant and popped with flavour, while the zucchini fritter with duck prosciutto and poached egg ($14) was a layered, well-balanced event. Intriguingly, another standout was the complimentary bowl of salt-and-vinegar rice paper crisps served at the start, which dissolved instantly in the mouth, leaving behind all their tongue-tingling flavour. Worth the expedition for commerce and comestibles alike. 160 N Gulph Road, King of Prussia. simon.com; mistralkop.com

And finally: a word on cheesesteaks…

OK. We said no cheesesteaks, but if you absolutely insist, we won’t stop you. Ask any Philadelphian native who does the best and you’ll probably get a different answer every time. But you really ought to visit the Italian Market in any case – it runs ten blocks along S 9th from Fitzwater Street – and we can vouch for Pat’s King Of Steaks that’s been slinging its subs ($10) from the end of the strip since 1930. 1237 E Passyunk Avenue. patskingofsteaks.com

American Airlines flies from London Heathrow to Philadelphia International Airport from £376 return. americanairlines.co.uk