FOOD: Five Places To Get Stereotypical Philly Food That’s Not Cheesesteak

The following is a guest post.  Danny Barron is a writer living in Philadelphia. He is one of the founders of The Scrapple, a Philly-based blog focused on food and alternative culture.   This post is the first in a series of guest posts written by Danny that are centered around food + drink in Philadelphia.

The most played-out question in town is where to get the best cheesesteak. Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes nothing but a greasy cheesesteak quells the kind of dumb appetite that follows a night of drinking in South Philly. Though, if it’s the only thing you’ve planned to eat when you’re here, you’ll miss out on a ton of great food and leave with a belly full of regrets.

The food scene is full of people making inventive and solid eats, and most of it at a price that allows you to sample the best without gutting your wallet. Philly food has grown from a collection of regional quirks to masterful culinary delights.

Roast Pork Sandwich

Roast pork is, or at least should be, the pre-eminent Philly sandwich. It deserves all the credit to making this town hungry and Paesano’s is place to go to get your fix. The “Arista” is a massive sandwich that includes roasted suckling pig, broccoli rabe, long hot peppers, and sharp provolone cheese. The taste is robust and spicy without any overbearing heat, so flavorful that it makes a cheesesteak seem like shredded-paper stuffed into cardboard.

The proportions of Paesano’s menu are large enough to make it a great meal for sharing. Unfortunately, this is not the place for a late-night bite. Stop here for lunch or early dinner to fortify yourself for the night ahead.

Paesano’s is located on 9th Street in the Italian Market. Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and open until 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Water Ice

For those who say the classics never go out of style, John’s proves that aphorism true. John’s serves only four options—cherry, lemon, chocolate, and pineapple—and has done so since 1947.

Water Ice is a classic dessert in Philly’s Italian Market. Similar to an Italian ice but softer and wetter, drenched in sweet and rich flavor. The ice will also taste fruity (cherry is my go-to flavor), or chocolately, unlike some contrived flavoring you’d get in a supermarket.

John’s Water Ice can be found at 7th and Christian Sts, just south of Center City in the Bella Vista neighborhood. Open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.


Scrapple is…well, it’s a lot of things. It’s a mix of pork trimmings—all the leftovers from the butcher—wheat flour and cornmeal. Traditionally a food of the Pennsylvania Dutch, it’s become Philly’s most infamous food.

Scrapple is mainly found in the supermarket in a rectangular shape, but if you’re feeling like you’d rather give the pros a shot with it, head over to White Dog Cafe for brunch and get the Green Meadow Farms Pork Scrapple Sliders with smoked cheddar cheese and a balsamic ketchup. It’s similar to sausage patty but a unique flavor on it’s own.

The White Dog Cafe is located at 34th and Sansom Sts in West Philadelphia. Open Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Saturday-Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Brunch menu offered Saturday & Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Federal Donuts

From funnel cake to apple fritters, fried dough is a staple of the Dutch and German culture that settled in Pennsylvania. But while doughnuts are no more of a regional food here than anywhere, it’s the unexpected combination of doughnuts and fried chicken that makes Federal Donuts so uniquely Philly. But be warned, this place is only open until they run out, and chancing an afternoon visit can lead to severe disappointment.

Federal Donuts provides a ‘hot fresh’ menu of donuts made to order that offers Vanilla Lavender, Indian Cinnamon, and Apollonia Spice. These donuts are soft, warm and perfect for chilly mornings. Their ‘Fancy’ menu features donuts made fresh each morning with flavors like Chili Mango, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, and Mandarin Coffee.

The chicken is Korean-style, twice-fried and rubbed in spices or glaze to finish up. Seasonings include Buttermilk Ranch, Coconut Curry, Harissa (a spicy, smoky blend North African spices with Aleppa pepper) and Za’atar (sesame seeds with wild savory and sumac). Federal’s chef works from midnight to 7 a.m. everyday preparing the day’s chicken, so you’ll get the freshest chicken in town.

Federal Donuts is tucked away in South Philly at 2nd and Manton Sts, Open Mon-Fri from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or sell out, weekends 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or sell out.

The Soft Pretzel

Sure, you can grab a pretzel off any old street-cart in Manhattan, but there’s little that tops eating a Philly-style soft pretzel straight off the belt at Center City Pretzels. Starting at midnight Monday through Friday, you can get three for a buck picked right out of the oven and delivered straight into your hands. Top that off with some good spicy mustard or caramel and then grab a seat on the sidewalk (there’s no seating at all here) or take a walk home or back to the bar.

A semi-secret Philly tradition is the Midnight Pretzel Ride, a 3-mile bike ride from the Art Museum steps to Center City Pretzels. Most of the crowd is made up of dudes on fixies and the trick is to ride as fast as possible (but safely, right?) lest you end up at the back of a very long line.

Center City Pretzels opens Monday-Friday from midnight to noon, Saturday from 4 a.m. to noon, and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.