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Prepare yourself for dishes with big heart and boundless flavor with these scrumptious foods to try in Philadelphia, which truly capture the passion, soul, and diversity of Philadelphians from all walks of life.
Great food has been bringing people together in the city for centuries, and Philadelphia’s magnificent blend of grilled meat, buttery pastries, American classics, and a hefty dousing of European influence means there is food for everyone to enjoy in this fun-loving city.
Best Philly Foods to Try
1 – Soft Pretzel
This chewy, salty snack is a Philadelphia favorite you can find on every street corner. This twisted, baked bread made its way over to the States from Europe in the 1800s. The Pennsylvania Dutch (German immigrants who settled in southeastern Pennsylvania) perfected the treat.
When you buy a pretzel in Philadelphia, it will likely be a different shape from pretzels you’ve seen before. Philly-style pretzels are rectangular with two stacked loops. This kind is a little denser but always fresh and sprinkled with coarse salt. If it’s your style, try topping your pretzel with some yellow mustard and enjoy.
2 – Crabfries
Philadelphia-based restaurant Chickie’s & Pete’s introduced these seasoned fries to the world in 1977. While they don’t actually have crab in them, the fries’ seasoning captures the flavors of crab season for enjoyment year-round. The fries are crinkle-cut and come with a creamy white cheese dipping sauce.
While you can find Chickie’s & Pete’s across the city, they’re inescapable at sports games. In fact, the fries are such a favorite among Philadelphia fans that sometimes Chickie’s & Pete’s vendors will only sell their signature fries.
3 – Scrapple
Scrapple is a pork product that’s made of — you guessed it — scraps. It’s a savory, well-seasoned mix of scraps, trimmings, cornmeal, and wheat flour that is formed into a loaf and cut into slices. The slices are fried and often eaten in a sandwich or at breakfast. You can try it with ketchup, mustard, or even jelly or applesauce.
This dish is another favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch, who initially created it as a cheap source of protein. Depending on the way it’s cooked, scrapple can be crispy or spongy. Some compare it to liver or paté, while others liken it more to breakfast sausage.
4 – Pork Roll
If you’re craving pork but scrapple isn’t your thing, try pork roll. It’s a type of processed pork mixed with salt, sugar, and spices, then smoked.
Much like scrapple, it is formed into a log and cut into slices. With a fatty, salty flavor, many enjoy pork roll on breakfast sandwiches or with eggs.
Both John Taylor and George Washington Case are credited with creating a pork roll recipe in the 1800s. In fact, Case actually packaged his pork roll in corn husks!
Taylor marketed his product as Taylor’s Prepared Ham, and, to this day, people debate whether the savory meat is called pork roll or Taylor Ham.
5 – Bagel
When you think bagels, you probably think New York — but don’t knock Philly’s bagels until you’ve tried them.
With such close proximity to the bagel capital of the U.S., it only makes sense that Philadelphia has found a way to recreate (and maybe improve) this versatile bread.
Many mom-and-pop style bakeries have been popping up across the city with homemade, fresh-baked bagels. They’re chewy, warm, soft on the inside, and hard on the outside. They’re perfect for filling with toppings and shmears such as smoked salmon, egg, and cheese, or just a classic spread of Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
6 – Cheesesteak
If you ask a local what food to try in Philadelphia, there’s a very high chance they’ll say a Philly cheesesteak, specifically from Pat’s or Geno’s.
These two sandwich shops, which are right across the street from one another, have been in friendly competition since they started serving steak sandwiches in the early 1900s.
Cheesesteaks are simple: shaved ribeye, melted cheese, and grilled onions. While they were once made with provolone, many shops now use Cheez Whiz.
They are held together by a long roll (called a hoagie roll in Philly — we’ll get to that). While some top theirs with mushrooms, grilled peppers, and condiments, many prefer to stay traditional for this Philly favorite.
7 – Hoagie
Cheesesteaks are not the last you’ll see of a long roll in Philadelphia. A hoagie, the city’s version of a sub sandwich, is typically cold, stuffed with meat and cheese, piled with toppings, and served on an Italian (or hoagie) roll. Regardless of what meat you get, your hoagie will likely be topped with oregano, basil, and oil.
The unique, regional name “hoagie” supposedly came from Italian immigrants who worked in Philadelphia’s Hog Island shipyard in the 20s. They called the sandwiches “hoggies,” which eventually morphed into hoagies. Now the name is a point of pride for Philadelphians.
8 – Pizza
Pizza has a rich history in Philadelphia. South Philly is known for its traditional Italian food, which immigrants brought to the region from the 1800s onwards. Pizza became popular after WWII, when GIs brought their love of the dish back from Europe, and Philadelphia shop owners started selling their own.
While you can find pizza of all styles in the city, Philly-style pizza has a chewier crust with sweet tomato sauce, many cheeses, and lots of toppings. Pepperoni is a fan-favorite topping, but with so much traditional Italian in South Philadelphia, it’s worth it to try them all.
9 – Tomato Pie
Another popular food you’ll find in Philly’s Italian region is tomato pie. Similar to pizza, this dish has a thick, spongy crust topped with tomato gravy and parmesan. It’s also called “square pizza” for its signature shape, meaning you’ll have to fight for your favorite piece: corner, middle, or side.
Tomato pies became a staple in the Philadelphia Italian scene in the early 1900s and gained popularity through the century, even as some bakeries closed or stopped selling the dish. Now, it’s a regional favorite that you can eat hot or cold, but most commonly at room temperature.
10 – Roast Pork Sandwich
You thought you were done with hoagie rolls, didn’t you? The roast pork sandwich is another Philadelphia favorite packed into that signature crusty roll. Its creation is credited to Domenico Bucci, an Italian immigrant who started selling the hot sandwiches out of a shack in 1930.
The roast pork sandwich starts with juicy, slow-cooked pork seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and fennel. It’s piled into a hoagie roll and topped with sharp provolone and sauteed spinach or broccoli rabe. This sandwich is more of a secret, local favorite, so it’s definitely worth seeking out.
11 – Soup Dumplings
Italian food isn’t the only cuisine you’ll find in Philadelphia — far from it.
In Chinatown, you can try traditional Korean, Taiwanese, and Cantonese dishes, including soup dumplings. These thin dumplings are filled with hot soup, so the best way to eat them is to poke a hole in the dough, drink the soup, and then eat the rest.
You can find soup dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, crab, veggies, and more. Typically served in a wooden steamer basket with four to eight dumplings, this dish is perfect for sharing with friends.
Related: 15 Taiwanese Foods You Need to Try
12 – Lamb Barbacoa Tacos
We’re headed back to South Philadelphia for some succulent, slow-cooked lamb tacos. While the city isn’t widely known for its Mexican fare, the restaurant South Philly Barbacoa has popularized the tacos so much that all of Philadelphia now craves them.
The lamb simmers for hours in a citrusy marinade, making it juicy and flavorful. It’s served on a homemade corn tortilla and you can choose your own salsas, veggies, and herbs to put on top. Because of how labor-intensive barbacoa is, the shop is only open three days a week, so make sure to plan ahead!
Related: 18 Mexican Foods You Need to Try
13 – Pierogies
As the home to a large Polish community, Philadelphia has been boasting traditional Polish food since the late 1800s. Pierogies, an especially popular Polish dish, are dumplings made by filling tender, unleavened dough with a variety of ingredients. Traditional pierogies are stuffed with cheese and potato, boiled, then pan-fried, and served with caramelized onions and sour cream.
Many people get creative with the pierogi in Philly, with versions ranging from buffalo chicken to cheesesteak to even chocolate ganache. As long as it has a soft, creamy interior and a slightly crunchy exterior, the possibilities for pierogies are limitless.
Read more: 16 Polish Foods You Need to Try
14 – TastykakeCheck Price on Amazon
It’s time for a sweet treat, and these snack cakes are fun-sized, sugary desserts you can take on the go. Tastykakes can be found in stores across the country, but the company started over a hundred years ago in Philadelphia and is a Philly favorite.
From cakes to donuts to cinnamon rolls, Tastykake products are known for being sweet and moist with a variety of different flavors. They usually come in packages of two (because one just isn’t enough). If you come to Philly during a holiday, try out some of their seasonal treats!
15 – Water Ice
No, this isn’t ice water! Water ice, pronounced “wooder ice” by Philadelphians, is the city’s version of Italian ice. Some claim they’re the same, but locals know the difference: water ice is crunchier than Italian ice, with a sorbet-like texture that’s distinctive to the Philadelphia area.
You can get your water ice in hundreds of flavors from independently-owned shops. Lots of places will only serve the classics — lemon, cherry, and chocolate — but others, like Mama Maria’s in Port Richmond, serve up unique flavors like the Philly Special (you’ll have to go there to find out what it is!)
16 – Ice CreamCheck Price on Amazon
If you’re looking for ice cream, you’ve come to the right place. The city has been known for this delicious dessert since the 1800s. There’s even a Philadelphia-style ice cream: a no-egg version that’s less custardy than French-style. This kind of ice cream, named at a time when “Philadelphia-style” meant “high-class,” supposedly allows the flavors to shine through even more.
Breyer’s, Bassett’s, and Franklin Ice Cream are all historic ice cream businesses serving up light, creamy, flavorful desserts using the highest quality ingredients. With options to add homemade cones, turn it into a shake, or build a sundae, Philadelphia ice cream is quite the experience.
17 – Doughnut
Philadelphia is now a doughnut town thanks to Philly-based bakery Federal Donuts, which started pumping out fresh, homemade treats in 2011. They now have several locations and are paving the way for other local bakeries to break into the doughnut scene with fresh flavors and high-quality ingredients.
Whether you try out Federal Donuts or head to another shop in town, you’ll find creative bakers making innovative doughnuts. From flavors like strawberry lavender to vegan maple bourbon to cannoli cream, you might have to get a whole dozen just to try them all.
18 – Irish Potato Candy
So, Irish potato candies are not Irish, nor are they potatoes. But they are a fun, small treat that Philadelphians enjoy for St. Patty’s Day. They were created by Philadelphia candy-makers in the 1800s to market between Valentine’s Day and Easter.
Irish potato candies are made by combining cream cheese, butter, sugar, coconut, and vanilla extract to create a dough. The dough is then formed into small balls, chilled, and coated in cinnamon (so they look like potatoes).
You can find some in shops across the city, but if you’re in the Philadelphia spirit, they’re an easy, no-bake dessert you can make yourself.
Read more: Irish Potato Candy Recipe
19 – Peanut ChewsCheck Price on Amazon
Peanut Chews are a tasty treat to finish up your Philadelphia food tour. Produced in Philly since 1917, this candy is easy to get and enjoyed across the United States. When they were first created, Peanut Chews were a part of rations for the U.S. military in WWI for their high protein content.
The fun-sized bars are made of peanuts and molasses that are then coated in either dark chocolate or milk chocolate. They are sugary, chewy, and crunchy — a simple, classic Philadelphian snack for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Foods to Try in Philadelphia Summary
Delicious food is abundant in Philadelphia, and the city’s unique blend of dishes brought to the region by Italians, Polish, and so many other nationalities, fused with new ingredients, modern twists, and some classic American dishes, have made for a cuisine that is unlike any other on Earth.
I, and people from all walks of life in Philadelphia, absolutely adore the diversity and sumptuous flavor in the foods of our city, and when you come to visit, I’m sure you will too!
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Contributor: Madeline Marks is a writer from Philadelphia, PA, currently residing in Savannah, GA. She enjoys blogging, journalism, poetry, and fiction, and when she’s not writing, she likes to read and spend time in nature.