Road Trip: Center City
Eat (and drink) like a local in a touristy part of town
Many visitors to Philly, such as those in town for July’s Democratic National Convention, will spend much of their time here smack in the middle of Center City, just under the gaze of the William Penn statue atop City Hall. And what red-blooded conventioneer isn’t tempted to duck out of their scheduled programing to enjoy the city? Luckily for them, the neighborhood where they are most likely to be staying offers so much more than ho-hum chain restaurants and shops. Our guide provides tips on where food-savvy locals go in this part of Center City. These spots are worth the trip, whether you are in town on official business—or not.
9am: Coffee at Ray’s Café & Tea House
Jolt yourself awake at this Chinatown coffee shop, where strong Taiwanese-style coffee is made to order in elaborate glass siphons. Owner Grace Chen opened the shop in 1989, and since then she’s offered a range of international blends for caffeine cravers. Grab a newspaper and enjoy your beverage of choice: The siphon coffee, cold-brewed coffee and teas are all served with a cookie on a pretty tray. Chen is also known for her mean Taiwanese home cooking, so order a few pre-breakfast dumplings to share.
10am: Breakfast and shopping at the Reading Terminal Market
It’s easy to lose several hours taking in the sights, smells and tastes at this cavernous, high-energy market—a must-see Philly institution that opened in 1892. “Start Your Day the Amish Way,” beckons a T-shirt slogan at the Dutch Eating Place, where reasonably priced Pennsylvania Dutch specialties like hot apple dumplings and—for more adventurous eaters—scrapple are served to a diverse crowd at the counter. Nearby, workers at Miller’s Twist efficiently shape dough into buttery pretzels; their breakfast-appropriate pretzel roll-ups include egg-and-cheese and turkey sausage.
1pm: Lunch at Tom’s Dim Sum
Although it’s across the street from the Convention Center, this gem is a bit hard to find: It’s tucked into a tunnel at 11th and Arch Streets, next door to Dunkin Donuts. Owner and Shanghai native Tom Guo oversees a sprawling menu, but he’s known for expert xiao long bao, or soup dumplings (if you haven’t tried them before, ask your server to give you a few pointers to avoid a splatter of hot broth). Other top picks include the crispy scallion pancake, plain or stuffed with beef and cilantro (“beef pancake” on the menu); fried and steamed buns; double-cooked pork with tofu and cabbage; and shredded beef with hot green peppers.
3pm: Gelato at Capogiro
Walk off all that dough with a quick stroll to Midtown Village, a collection of independently owned businesses centered around 13th Street south of Macy’s department store. At the corner of 13th and Sansom Streets, you’ll have a hard time choosing from among Capogiro’s made-fresh-daily gelati and sorbetti. Proprietor Stephanie Reitano rotates the flavors often, so be sure to ask for a taste of what’s new. Longtime favorites include bacio (chocolate hazelnut), fior di latte (sweet cream), and Thai coconut milk. If you need an extra boost to beat the afternoon slump, go with an affogato—a scoop of gelato with a shot of espresso poured over it.
3:30pm: Shopping on 13th Street
You wouldn’t know it today, but not too long ago the buzzing 13th Street corridor was more red-light district than nightlife destination. Chef Marcie Turney and her partner Valerie Safran, who now own nine area restaurants and shops, pioneered the neighborhood’s revitalization in 2002 when they launched Open House. There they sell housewares, baby gifts and fun Philly-themed merchandise. At Turney and Safran’s shop Verde you’ll find jewelry, accessories and their line of Marcie Blaine chocolates. For a rejuvenating retail experience, head off the main drag to the gorgeous new boutique Rikumo at 1216 Walnut Street to browse Japanese home goods, textiles and teas.
5pm: Cocktail hour at Hop Sing Laundromat
Yes, there are rules here—absolutely no sneakers, no shorts, no photos and no credit cards among them—but it’s worth the inconvenience to sample the exceptional cocktails served behind the ornate door at 1029 Race Street. An early arrival means you’re less likely to have to wait in line, but expect the doorman to sit you down in the vestibule and give you a rundown of unacceptable behavior before ushering you into the dimly lit main room. There the staff, directed by the quirky, meticulous one-named owner Lê, crafts simple, elegant, potent drinks from the vast collection of high-end spirits that lines the wall behind the nickel-covered bar.
7:30pm: Dinner at Double Knot
Head back to 13th Street for sushi at the hottest new addition to the Midtown Village scene. This ambitious bilevel space by chef Michael Schulson features a street-level area that serves as a coffee bar by day and a cocktail lounge by night. The candlelit basement restaurant opens at 5pm. In addition to sushi and sashimi, highlights include robatayaki grill skewers of seafood, meat and veggies and a $55 tasting menu (10 menu items plus dessert).
10pm: Karaoke at Yakitori Boy
Now that you’ve spent the day diligently immersing yourself in the Convention Center area, you’ve earned the right to let loose at this karaoke lounge and izakaya. Order your sake or Japanese beer of choice and queue up “Philadelphia Freedom” to celebrate your accomplishment.
Ray’s Café & Tea House
141 N. 9th St.
Reading Terminal Market
12th and Arch Sts.
Tom’s Dim Sum
59 N. 11th St.
119 South 13th St.
107 South 13th St.
108 South 13th St.
1216 Walnut St.
Hop Sing Laundromat
1029 Race St.
120 S. 13th St.
211 N. 11th St.