Philadelphia: The Pro Tour Player's Food Guide
Geoff Matteson Says:
Pro Tour: Philadelphia is almost upon us — and while I'm not invited (sad face) I do live here and there's no reason you shouldn't get the benefit of my knowledge. Let's just jump right in.
Food: The Most Important Part of This Article
Philadelphia is a great food town with tons of awesome affordable restaurants that are worth checking out... but I'm not going to cover all of them. Instead I'm going to focus on just the best options that are near the convention center so you can find something great within walking distance.
But first a quick word about cheesesteaks — because if you haven't been here before they're probably at the fore of your mind. Cheesesteaks are... okay. I mean they're good but they're just sandwiches. They're not worth mythologizing and they're far from the best food in the city or even the best cheap food or even the best sandwich for that matter. Still you can't really get a decent one outside of this area so if you want to try one while you're here I don't blame you.
If you want to get your picture taken outside of a famous cheesesteak store take a cab to either Pat's or Gino's but if you want to save time and money and have a meal that tastes better anyway just grab one at the Reading Terminal Market . I believe Spataro's has the best-regarded cheesesteaks in there but I don't think any of those places will really do you wrong.
Just make sure you get one with actual cheese and not Cheese Whiz. The latter does have some diehard fans but I maintain that it is a terrible ambassador for our fair city.
With that said there are two main categories of places to buy food near the convention center. The first is the aforementioned Reading Terminal Market which is a veritable treasure trove of different sorts of food that happens to be right across the street. In addition to the cheesesteaks atSpataro's there's Kamal's Middle Eastern Specialties home of some quite good falafel andHershel's East Side Deli which is probably your best bet for cold sandwiches. And if you're in the mood for a sweet treat Bassett's Ice Cream is locally made and really good.
But the best place of all unquestionably is a little place called Rib Stand. As you enter the Reading Terminal Market from the entrance nearest the convention center Rib Stand is on your right and that means that you don't really have to explore the rest of it if you don't feel like it. The pulled pork sandwiches here are amazing.
One note: Rib Stand is closed on Sunday so make sure you get there on Saturday if you're not planning on padding out your trip with extra days.
The other big bunch of restaurants is called Chinatown. See when they built this convention center for some reason they decided to plop it straight down on top of Philly's Chinatown — resulting in a truly odd mix of conventioneers non-English signage and pining over lost ethnic identity. Bad for Chinatown residents good for you. If you know where to go here you can eat amazing food and low low prices. And can you guess who's going to tell you where to go? If you guessed anything other than “Geoff Matteson” or “a friend of mine who knows that part of the city really well” you guessed wrong.
I'm only going to give you three picks — and while that might seem low it's for your own good. After all you only want the best right? So the first place I'm going to recommend is called Vietnam which is probably the best Vietnamese food in the area. Make sure you try the iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Even if you've never had Vietnamese food before don't be squeamish. You won't regret trying this place out; this is one trip to Vietnam that you'll enjoy flashing back to!
Next up is Ken's Seafood which despite the name is mostly famous for its Peking duck. It's a reputation that's well-earned too because it's absolutely the best duck I've ever had in my life. This joint also has private karaoke rooms upstairs which makes for a really fun night out with friends if you're not too tired from playing Magic all day.
Finally and most importantly there's Dim Sum Garden . You must go here. They're known for a thing called Shanghai steamed buns also known as soup dumplings which are very hard to find in the US. They're basically little noodle pouches filled with boiling-hot soup and they're so delicious you can't even believe it.
Take a tip though: don't go in blind. There's a technique to eating these without burning your face off. Basically you pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks put it in the bowl/spoon hybrid they give you puncture it so that the soup can start to drain out and cool off a little bit mix in some dumpling sauce if you want blow on it for a minute and the slurp it all down. It's an experience and it's just extremely good. They also have great homemade noodles with beef (try them with hot pepper oil!) along with pretty much everything else. Seriously guys if you try just one of the places I'm recommending make it this one.
I'm also going to mention just one bar and that's Monk's . It's the best bar anywhere in the city with a fantastic selection of beer and really good food to boot. It's a slightly longer walk than the rest of these places (roughly fifteen minutes instead of five) but if you're looking to hang out at a bar one night while you're here you're not going to do better than this place.
Things That Are Not Food: The Second-Most Important Part of This Article
There's a lot to see and do in Philadelphia and I'm not going to even approach most of it because you're probably not going to be here for very long but here are a few things worth checking out:
Some Stairs! If you're a fan of the movie Rocky or just a fan of famous cinematic stairs you won't want to miss these. You'll do what everyone does: try to run up them and give up five percent of the way up because that's really really hard. But if you walk up the rest of those stairs you'll find a nice surprise: they actually lead up to something worthwhile! Yes the Philadelphia Museum of Art is really pretty awesome and you can easily spend your entire Sunday afternoon there after scrubbing out of the tournament day one.
Humanity! South Street is famous though I've never really known why. It's basically a kitschy street with a bunch of restaurants and shops and one pretty cool concert venue. Also Larry from The Three Stooges was born in some restaurant here so they have a big sign with his head on it. Anyway people like to come here and walk around and it's nice enough. The link at the beginning of this paragraph points to the location of Brauhaus Schmitz a very cool German-style beer hall that also serves excellent German food. If you go to South Street with a group this is definitely the place to end the night.
Grover Cleveland's Secret Tumor ! I am not kidding. The ever-popular Mutter Museum is a nearly one-of-a-kind museum of medical oddities. In addition to the aforementioned presidential cancerous mass my wife (who used to work there) informs me that this is the home of:
- The tallest skeleton in North America
- A piece of John Wilkes Booth
- Life sized casts of famed conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker
- A “mega colon” about which I personally don't want any more information
...and so much more! Let's say you love going to museums but you hate art and also have a strong stomach. The Mutter Museum is for you!
Okay that's all for now. Remember this is in no way intended to be an exhaustive list but rather a brief guide to the very best our city has to offer (or at least the best that's fairly convenient to where you'll be anyway). If you have any questions or want a recommendation in a category I didn't cover here feel free to ask in the comment thread.
Jon Becker Says:
This is a supplement to Geoff Matteson's Philly Guide which I liked well enough insofar as it goes but thought could use some expansion.
#1: Okay I don't fully agree with Geoff's write-up particularly with respect to Cheesesteaks. You have to have whiz. You have to have whiz. You can get Provolone but everyone will know you are a tourist and laugh at you and as much as I could not have believed this ten years ago whiz is about a thousand times better than not whiz. Also don't under any circumstances get lettuce. It's Amoroso Roll + steak + whiz + grilled onions (or no onions at your preference). You can add hot peppers yourself afterwards. The words “Whiz wit” will lead you to happiness.
I am a Pat's King of Steaks guy but this is not easily walkable. Other (wrong people) like Geno's Jim's Tony Luke's Mama's John's Roast Pork Campo's Rick's Shank's and the Reading Terminal Market place that Geoff referenced. I suppose the others all are better than what you will get anywhere outside of Philly but finding your favorite cheesesteak place is a personal and individual experience.
#2: With respect to sammiches Tony Luke's roast pork deserves notable mention (always with sharp provolone and optionally broccoli rabe). If you are lazy as I imagine you are as a gamer in the Reading Terminal Market is DiNic's Roast Pork which is more convenient really good and was on Man vs. Food this year. Luis Neiman always has a DiNic's vs. Herschel's Deli quandary when he PTQs here. Herschel's is actually very solid pastrami — it's not Katz's but multiple New Yorkers agree that it is not far behind which is a significant concession in Herschel's favor.
#3: I haven't been to Vietnam or Ken's but Dim Sum Garden is pretty great. The warning about not maiming yourself with boiling soup is really important for those who have never had soup dumplings. If you just slurp it you will experience serious esophageal injury/facial melting.
#4: Monk's is nice — but keep in mind it's a Belgian beer place so pretty much all their beer is Belgian. Not that this is a bad thing just keep it in mind. The food's decent too; good mussels. We used to draft there but at some point a few years ago they started giving us static about it so bear that in mind if that is in your plans. A little on the upper end for the average gamer pricewise for a drinking place.
#5: Since we as gamers like copious amounts of cheapish food don't forget there is a Maggiano's across the street and around the block from the convention center. A difficult get on Friday and Saturday night but it won't be too bad on Wednesday/Thursday/Sunday. If you want Friday or Saturday evening consider a reservation only because it gets super-crowded.
#6: Reading Terminal Market is right across the street from the convention center and is the first choice for most Magic players since it is close and there are a million choices… but its hours are suckish. It closes at 6 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday. It only recently added Sunday hours closing at 5 p.m. — but with no Amish vendors on Sunday (which make the crazy-popular cinnamon rolls run the most popular breakfast place and the rib place Geoff mentioned — I'm also not as high on the ribs as Geoff is but that's personal opinion).
In addition to Herschel's and DiNic's there are Indian Asian vegan a diner and a ton of other options — including Delilah's which has pretty well acclaimed southern food. There's also a brewpub on top of the Terminal Market but it's pretty run-of-the-mill though open regular brewpub hours (read: longer than the market).
#7: There is a Hard Rock Caf but it is crowded is overpriced and it sucks. Please take the opportunity to go somewhere else instead of settling.
#8: Old City is a decent bar/restaurant hangout space closer to the convention center than South Street (about eight blocks straight down-market). Old City has a Buffalo Billiards a terrific cheap Mexican place called Mexican Post (with good food and pitchers of margaritas at a pretty reasonable price) an Irish place called Plough and Stars (more restauranty than barrish though plenty of drinking there) two places with live music and a bunch of standard sort of clubs/bars that twentysomething magicians would likely enjoy. More Heezyish than Monk's is.
Also in Center City (not old city) there's a bowling alley/bar place where you can rent lanes and drink beer in a kinda more upscale environment – it's called Lucky Strike on 13th and Chestnut only a few blocks from the convention center. Oddly it is on the second floor.
#9: There is a Dave and Buster's about a six- to eight-dollar cab ride from the convention center at Penn's Landing. Most of you likely know what that is but Google away if not.
#10: There are higher-end food options too in the city but you need to plan ahead for those reservations-wise. You might try Morimoto Buddakan Amada (better less expensive and less noisy than Garces' other tapas place Tinto) Alma de Cuba Vetri a bunch of Steven Starr places and so forth.
#11: **Important to Magicians**
Downtown Philly has two churrascarias (Brazilian steakhouses) — a Fogo de Chao and one called Chiba (there is a third out on Castor Avenue but the neighborhood is terrible and it's not particularly close by). Other options for steaks downtown are the Palm (my fave). Capital Grille Ruth's Chris (which I avoid downtown) Morton's Smith and Wollensky (which was great but then changed its menu and is now only okay - this is the same as Mahony and Porcelli in NYC) Barclay Prime and the flavor of the month Butcher and Singer.
Obviously all of these are dressier places than convention clothes though I'm sure a pair of khakis and a non-T-shirt would at least get you in the door at most places.
#12: Chinatown which is basically adjacent to the convention center has a lot of reasonable vegetarian options.
#13: The local version of your 24-hour convenience store is called Wawa. Not all of them are 24 hours.
#14: If you see one — and there are a couple of them — the best coffee in the city is likely La Colombe and it is actually super-reasonably priced (under three bucks). Unfortunately but their offerings are much more restrictive than say Starbucks. For example I've heard they do not stock soy milk — but since I drink my coffee black I've never checked on this.
The coffee itself is terrific though. They've pack your coffee to go obviously but if you want to sit for a bit they serve your coffee in an actual cup and saucer which is a nice change of pace.
#15: The Phillies are out of town during the Pro Tour so don't worry about scoring tix.
#16: Philly public transportation sucks so plan on walking or cabbing for the most part though the cabs are pretty easy to get and reasonably priced for short trips. Cabs from the airport are a flat rate to the city and there is a train/light rail which is relatively cheap — but I have never taken it since living in Philly if I am at the airport I always have my car.
If anyone has any specific additional Philly questions feel free to post them below and I'll do my best to answer them. See y'all in later in the week!