Let’s say it’s your One Year Anniversary with your significant other. How do you celebrate? Perhaps a nice dinner in the city, some flowers and champagne, or even a weekend getaway to a cabin in the mountains?
Us? Nah. We want sandwiches. And lots of them! My boyfriend has compiled a long list of sandwich/burger places across the country to visit, and surprisingly enough, an overwhelming amount were in Philadelphia.
Philly? What good is there besides trashy Eagles fans who climb streetlights and a broken bell that doesn’t even work? Don’t even get me started – up until that point, I detested cheesesteaks. Rubbery dry slabs of meat with an unidentified orange sauce was never my thing. But my boyfriend talked me through it, assuring me the sandwiches would better than expected and I could essentially plan everything else on this trip. Fine, we agreed we’d spend 4 days in Philadelphia.
There’s a table of contents on the Travel page if you had ADD, but below I’m gonna break it down day-by-day here for a decent itinerary for a first-time visitor with 4 full days in Philly.
(not even gonna count this as a day):
Thanks to the lovely folks at VisitPhilly.com, we got this beautiful room at the Double Tree right in Center City. The location is prime, just a few blocks from City Hall and surrounded by numerous restaurants and bars.
Every season VisitPhilly has their own Hotel Packages. We were lucky enough to be there during their foodie-package, which included discounts and deals on all types of local restaurants in the city. Check it out for what’s upcoming for your next stay in Philly.
Since we arrived late Friday evening, there wasn’t much to do that night besides wander around and get our bearings (a.k.a. bar-hop).
While I find the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia mildly entertaining, I wouldn’t say I’m as much of a fan as my boyfriend. Apparently the actors who play Mac and Dee (married in real life) are part owners of this place. Figured it was worth a shot just to check it off the list.
Overly-priced beer and lots of It’s Always Sunny memorabilia – not generally what I look for in a bar. We decided on getting one snack to share before we went back to the hotel. I mean, how can you go wrong with mac-n-cheese?
Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect it, but the mac-n-cheese was bad. Like, it looked all cute and shit in the little cast iron skillet with the bubbling cheese sauce, but nope. Even my perpetually-loving mac-n-cheese boyfriend agreed. Think: buttered pasta with some shredded cheese shoved under the broiler before serving. Oh well, at least it made a decent Instagram pic (I DIDN’T SAY IT WAS GOOD!)
El Compadres Tacos
I have an unfortunate habit of waking up far too early when I’m on vacation, but way too late when I have work. So there I was, at 7am on a Saturday morning craving tacos. You better believe I walked my ass more than a half hour each way, ALONE, for these bad boys.
This is one of the many reasons I love Instagram. A bunch of you guys mentioned this place, and especially to go early on a weekend, so I’m glad I listened. Barbacoa and chorizo, shaved right off the spit. The lovely woman behind the counter even offered me a free tasting of the meat along with some lamb broth soup while I waited.
City Beer Tour
You see, wee needed these tacos for the long day ahead of us. We were going on a 5 hour multiple-brewery tour of Philly. If that doesn’t sound fun to you, then sorry not sorry, we can’t be friends.
3 local breweries with a pit stop for food in the middle couldn’t have sounded like a better day to me. We hit up Fishtown Brewpub, Flying Fish Brewery, and Lunacy Brewing Company. Each had a reserved section for us, with our tour guide explaining anything and everything we needed (or didn’t need) to know about beers.
Our guide was hilarious, beer plentiful, and the food at Brauhaus Schmitz was delicious (and definitely needed).
PS – City Beer Tour has new locations they operate out of along the North East! NYC is one of them!
Admittedly, it was a little hard for us to get up that next morning, but we managed and Uber’ed our asses to the Fishtown area. This restaurant was recommended to us by a few people, and I can see the appeal. Kitschy and random decor, matching the unusually tasty sounding menu options.
My boyfriend got the grilled chicken sandwich with sharp provolone, prosciutto, spinach, roasted hot peppers, basil pesto mayo, on Italian bread. The sandwich held up nicely between the juicy chicken, sauteed vegetables, and the melted cheese – gotta give them props for that.
And I got the pork belly hash. It was cider-braised pork belly, sweet potato puree, maple cider jus, and a poached egg on top. I’ve never been a sweet potato or sweet-anything person, but the fat and the slight acidity from the pork, along with the silky poached egg, really balanced out the meal.
Yards is actually just across the street from Silk City Diner, which could be of benefit if there’s a wait at Silk City. You can leave your name and phone number with them, hop across the street to Yards, and be back in time for food once your table is ready.
Roy Pitz Barrel House
Not too far away is yet another brewery – Roy Pitz Barrel House. When you walk in, you’re just flooded with bright colors and openness. The massive bar features their full list of award-winning beer in addition to some local specialties (barrel-aged and sours).
They also have a pretty extensive seasonal menu. Pictured here were their deliciously crisp fried persimmons.
And if you’re champs like we are, you should be down for one more spot in the area. Just a quick Uber ride is the oldest distillery in Philadelphia since Prohibition.
The space is open and bright, and you can actually see into the distillery portion through the large glass windows. Although they’re known for the Bluecoat Gin, they have spread out to other liquors as well, such as vodka, absinthe, and whiskey.
[ THIS IS WHERE YOU TAKE A NAP BEFORE DINNER BECAUSE YOU HAD A DAMN LONG DAY AND YOU DESERVE IT! ]
Balboa’s Supper Club
This was definitely my favorite activity the whole trip. I’m SO happy the concierge at the Loews (more on that below) suggested it, and even MORE happy this Supper Club happened to coincide with that weekend we were visiting.
It’s a somewhat-monthly intimate dining experience curated by Chef Alex Garfinkel. Local ingredients and artful dishes are presented in a fun way where you interact not only with other patrons, but with the staff and Chef himself.
The dishes ranged from Beef Carpaccio to Grilled Octopus to a very lovely and unexpected Cauliflower Veloute (secretly my fave). And each time you go, the menu will vary depending on what’s in season and their availability.
This was a highly enjoyable experience – from the pleasant service each person gave us, to the atmosphere, and most importantly the food. I’d absolutely recommend this for anyone while in Philadelphia, and I hope to come back and try more of their dishes next time as well.
Beyond full from the previous night, we somehow were able to check out of the Double Tree and waddle our way to the Loews for our final hotel check-in of the trip.
I had a free night saved from Hotels.com and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to splurge. The Loews is one of the most well-known and iconic hotels in Philly, and I mean, balling out here is the only way to go.
What a fucking gorgeous view, right? Like, I’m actually speechless guys.
Oh and peep these beautiful welcome gifts. The staff at the Loews was absolutely the sweetest! The funniest part was that we were so preoccupied with everything from the past few days that up until that point, we forgot our actual anniversary was THAT DAY.
Besides the obvious dazzling view from the 28th floor at the Loews, the location could not have been any more ideal! Literally down the block is Reading Terminal Market.
Besides the fact that I’ve been pronouncing Reading Terminal Market wrong for however long, I also learned that this is one of America’s largest and oldest public markets. Since 1893 it has showcased local produce, animal products, and some of the city’s favorite quick bites.
Luckily my boyfriend already pre-scoped out the area and we strayed away from the bright lit “cheesesteak” signs in Reading. The only worthwhile spot, according to him (which I guess is according to the reviews online), was Tommy DiNics.
This was my first experience with a Philly Roast Pork sandwich. And here I was just assuming Philly only had Cheesesteaks – silly me.
The meat was so juicy, it was almost as if they added some type of au juice to the sandwich. The bread also was a playing factor in that it soaked everything up but never was soggy.
No time to digest… We’ve been in Philly 2 full days and have to yet to have ONE cheesesteak yet. Downtown we go.
Pat’s and Geno’s
Food Network mislead me to believe that these were the “classics” and worth a Uber ride down here (granted, it was only $3 with Uber Pool, but still).
No, just no. I would like to note though that these cheesesteaks are indeed better than the pitiful “cheesesteaks” I’ve had at numerous bodegas in NYC, but just by slightly. I get it – the hype is what draws people in. Rivaling cheesesteak kings across the street from one another – woo! Shiver me timbers.
Honestly, you’re just going to have to read this thorough breakdown of Philly sandwiches for your self if I kept you that you enthralled by now.
Urban Village Brewing
Back to the Fishtown area, because apparently that’s where all the cool shit is.
They brew their own craft beers AND have an in-house brick oven for pizzas. How they have the space and time to do both (and do it well, might I add), I have no idea.
This was the “Tara” pizza, and it came with truffle cream, kennet mushrooms, pickled banana peppers, mozzarella, and pecorino cheese. It smelled like heaven, and it was adorably placed on our table atop an empty tomato sauce can because who needs pizza stands anyway.
This Pastrami Grilled Cheese also did not disappoint, and was the perfect accompaniment for these unusually-flavored but very delicious brews.
Because I just had to.
With sunset views of these, I mean, you just can’t not. It was breathtaking to watch the sun subside over the beautiful city of Philadelphia.
Alright, so let me just cut to the chase here. If a place is literally rated #1 on TripAdvisor (#1 of 255 things to do for Nightlife in Philadelphia, for example), along with having 99% of 5.0 star reviews, you just have to fucking do it.
Tim, the owner of Founding Footsteps, generously went out of his way to make sure we could get a tour with him. Although our tour was a little unorthodox, it made for an even better experience.
As worded by Tim, we were getting a “combined food, beer and history tour”. Nothing could have sounded better to us. Well, that was until we tried the phenomenal sandwiches we got at Paesano’s. This was a game-changer. Paesano’s was strangely not on our sandwich-list, yet blew every other sandwich spot since that point out of the water.
If you’re looking for a stuck-up tour guide repeating a written speech to you, then Founding Footsteps is not for you (trust me, I’ve had sooo many guides like this in the past). But if you want someone who speaks to you like you’ve been friends forever, and someone you can make jokes with, WHILE learning about historical stuff, then this is definitely for you.
Alas, our final day in Philly. Bittersweet, but our waistlines could definitely feel the pressure. Unfortunately for our stomachs, we still had just 2 more sandwich spots to hit up on our last day. These two spots were actually the most recommended by trustworthy sources, so it absolutely had to be done.
John’s Roast Pork
We always choose to go with the classics on our first visit to a restaurant. So roast pork, sharp provolone, and spinach (not broccoli rabe!) it was.
Holy shit this was good. Similar to DiNics, but for whatever reason, much more juicy. The location was small, and honestly in the middle of I-have-no-idea, but definitely worth the cheap Uber ride.
Okay, so the secret is out – this is our absolute favorite cheesesteak place in Philly (tied with Paesano’s for favorite sandwich spot in general).
This place is laid-back with no-frills, but they have the best tasting (1) steak (2) “whizz” whatever that is, (3) and bun capabilities of soaking the juice. Now THIS was the type of cheesesteak experience I was looking for in Philly.
Our Amtrak back home was later on in the afternoon, so we had some time to spare. 2nd Story Brewery provided some lovely craft beers for us to taste on while digesting the previous sandwiches, while also preparing us for some physical activity.
Anyone who knows me can confirm I am the clumsiest, least-athletic person probably alive. Why my boyfriend got us ice skating tickets here in Philly… I have no idea. But the liquid courage from 2nd Story Brewing surely helped.
Honestly, it didn’t help much at all. I couldn’t even do one lap; I just held on to the railing while little children passed me with ease. I could, however, blame it on the unusually warm weather we experienced that day – the ice was melting rapidly and the entire surface needed to be Zamboni’d or whatever it’s called.
But, all good things must come to an end. It was a lovely 4 day weekend with my dear boyfriend, and I don’t think we could have accomplished any more even if we tried. Philly is much more than just sandwiches; it is an amazing city full of kind-hearted people, cheap ass Uber Pools, and probably the only city outside of New York that I would consider living in.
Until next time, Philly.