The best known Philadelphia food is the cheesesteak. But there’s pretty good Malaysian food in Philly, too. (Photo: Seet Ying Lai Photography/Getty Images)
Everyone knows that Philly is known for its cheesesteaks, pretzels and hoagies — all of which are an absolute must in the City of Brotherly Love. But don’t miss the chance to test the city’s international flavors and other favored local bites.
These days, the Italian Market on 9th Street is becoming increasingly Mexican, with Spanish music blasting from radios and restaurants offering tastes from south of the border. Just down the street from shops selling fresh pasta and cured meats, you can find tacos and quesadillas to rival any found in Southern California.
The Chinese have had a presence in Philadelphia since 1860 and, today, its Chinatown is the third-largest in the United States. An ethnic quarter of that size usually means there are a good number of authentic restaurants to enjoy, including Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, specializing in China’s famous hand-stretched pasta.
While you won’t see the chef stretching dough at this low-key restaurant, the noodles are nice and chewy, and the egg and vegetable option — a generously portioned bowl — makes for a refreshing, bargain-priced meal.
Philadelphia’s Asian food scene isn’t limited to the cuisine of China. Philadelphia is home to a number of Malaysian restaurants that offer tropical, spicy dishes like mango chicken and Indian mee goreng. Banana Leaf in Chinatown is one popular and inexpensive choice.
For some of the best Italian-style gelato to be found outside Italy, choose between one of Capogiro Gelato’s three downtown Philadelphia locations. The Thai coconut milk flavor is delicious, although the fruit flavors are very nice as well — especially since many are locally sourced from local Lancaster County farms.
But if it’s an all-American scoop of vanilla or cookies-and-cream that you’re looking for, Bassett’s Ice Cream has been serving up classic favorites from behind its historic counter in the Reading Terminal Market since 1893. If you want to be decadent and go for a hot fudge sundae or banana split, Franklin Fountain, though less than a decade old, successfully recreates the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soda fountain experience.
Unlike the coarse icy texture of snow cones, water ice is smooth and fruity, which makes for a refreshing way to cool off on a hot, humid Philadelphia summer day. There are a number of stands and shops selling the popular treat around the city, including Rita’s Water Ice and Philadelphia Water Ice franchises.
Yet another international cuisine is on display in one of the city’s most renowned restaurants. Zahav celebrates the Israeli heritage of the head chef, and does so ingeniously. It’s best to come with friends so you can sample an array of the delicious Mediterranean-style small plates, like hummus, house-made merguez and sheep’s milk cheese all prepared to perfection.
This article was published as a part of a partnership with Visit the USA, inspiring travelers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.