30 Best Cheap Eats in Philadelphia
Find out where to fill up for less in Philly with this cheap-eats guide. Here are 30 sure bets that range from local staples (hello, cheesesteak!) to global-inspired gems
Photo By: Danya Henninger
Photo By: Taylor McGraw
Photo By: Danya Henninger
Lahori Charga at Wah-Gi-Wah
Owner Atif Khan offers a bird at Wah-Gi-Wah that’s got tongues clucking… in a good way. It’s a spin on fried chicken straight outta Lahore, Pakistan. To make this specialty of Khan’s home city, the bird is first dry-rubbed and marinated, then coated in a secret spice paste before hitting hot oil (it can be made extra-spicy upon request). The result is a crisp, juicy chicken shot through with the warming spices characteristic of South Asian cooking. Commonly ordered whole, Lahori Charga is also available by the half for $7.99, meaning you can tear through a plate without putting a major dent in your wallet.
Beef & Onion Pie at Stargazy
Sam Jacobson introduced proper UK flavor to South Philly with Stargazy, a pie-and-mash purveyor modeled after the traditional shops of his native London. In his tiny storefront along East Passyunk Avenue, the chef turns out savory pies in playful variations like broccoli-cheddar, buffalo chicken and pork mole. He keeps it fresh by switching up the options regularly, but there’s one mainstay that never comes off the menu. The Traditional comes stuffed with not much more than ground beef and onions slow-cooked Jacobson’s way (red wine and Worcestershire, among other touches). A single Trad, along with a helping of mashed potatoes and a pour of pleasingly green parsley “liquor,” rings up at $9.
Salted Chocolate Cherry Cookies at Metropolitan Bakery
Open since 1993, this multi-locale bakery has been providing Philadelphia with European-style artisan breads (many derived from organic flours and leavened with wild yeasts) since way before terms like miche and levain wiggled their way into the American culinary lexicon. Bread-centric as they are, Metropolitan also makes what just might be the best cookie in the city — a traditional chocolate chip tarted up with the addition of chewy sour cherries and balanced with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt ($2.25/each).
Man’oushe at Suraya
Cherished in Lebanon in the same way that many Americans prize their pizza, man’oushe are fragrant flatbreads baked in a wood-fired oven and lightly adorned with all manner of meats, spices, vegetables and herbs. This beloved street food is a centerpiece at Suraya, the stunning Lebanese bar, market and restaurant in frenetic Fishtown. Our favorite of the bunch ($9) comes topped with cheese, tomato, onion and sliced long hot peppers, which hold court atop a delicate dough round that’s satisfyingly crisp.
Cheesesteak at One Pound Cheese Steaks
Humble as it may read on butcher paper, a proper Philly cheesesteak can set you back more than you think, depending on where you go and what add-ons you get. Credit Kensington’s One Pound, then, for offering maxed-out portions at crazy-competitive prices. True to the memorable name, their hefty footlongs, available with every topping and modification imaginable, run from $5.50 to $7.50. For a few dollars more, you can upgrade to a two-footer and feed your whole crew, even past last call. The walk-up shop serves customers until at least 2 a.m. nightly, with a 4 a.m. close on Fridays and Saturdays.
Galaktoboureko at Kanella Grill
The enticing aroma of kebab scents the air along Spruce Street from time to time, thanks to Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides and his charcoal grill. But even on the days that the chef isn’t grilling right outside his restaurant, the customers still stream into Kanella. His impeccable Cypriot cuisine has won Pitsillides much admiration in his adopted hometown of Philly. And while savory Mediterranean fare is his wheelhouse, the chef is certainly no slouch in the sweets department. His galaktoboureko, which pops with notes of cinnamon and orange, features a deceptively light semolina custard suspended inside phyllo dough. It’s $5 well spent, as this treat is quietly one of the best desserts in the city.
Bun Bo Hue at Cafe Diem
Just a few steps from South Philly’s perpetually crazy Washington Avenue stands Cafe Diem, a no-frills storefront that may not exactly warrant a second glance from hurried passersby. But those in the know hit up this family-owned soup shop for its killer Vietnamese specialties. A standout is the house specialty Bún bò Huế ($9). Built around beef and offal cuts, this lesser-publicized cousin of pho features a punchy broth packed with tongue-tingling chili heat and fish-sauce funk.
Tacos at El Jarocho
Neon signage flickers in the windows of El Jarocho like a beacon guiding hungry travelers to must-try Mexican eats. Step inside this glowing spot on the corner of 13th and Ellsworth and you’ll find more options than a typical taqueria: tortas, platters and rotating Mexican specials, to name a few. But don’t let that big bill of fare distract from this shop’s low-key taco prowess. Their three-per-order plates ($9) cater to pretty much any kind of taco fan, with a range of choices that encompass entry-level chicken or pork, an indulgent mix of chorizo and steak, and tender beef tongue or griddle-crisped chopped tripe for more-adventurous tastes. Oh, and eating in comes with a fun perk: a complimentary basket of chips paired with a deliciously addictive side of chipotle-sour cream dip.
Bacon Grease Popcorn at Khyber Pass Pub
This New Orleans-inspired spot may look like your standard pub (albeit with 20-plus craft brews on tap), but it excellently reps the Crescent City in the Old City with a solid selection of NOLA staples like po’boys, gumbo and muffulettas. While it’s easy to overlook in a daze of boudin balls and debris gravy, consider the popcorn ($5). Dusted in Cajun seasoning and tossed with more than a little Benton’s bacon grease in lieu of butter (there’s a vegan option, too), it’s a familiar snack tinged with a light Southern accent. Tip for snack-loving moviegoers: Khyber is within short walking distance of three cinemas, meaning you can BYOP if you’re bold.
Veggie Hoagie at Antonio's Deli
Though Philly-style hoagies — you might call them heros or subs — are typically the domain of meat lovers, one version offered at Antonio’s Deli ditches the cold cuts entirely. Built on seeded bread from nearby bakery Sarcone’s, the veggie hoagie stacks up rounds of Roman-style baked eggplant, garlicky broccoli rabe and marinated red peppers, all sprinkled with a shredded sharp provolone blend. With plenty of heft and a price of just $8, it’s the vegetarian heavyweight of Antonio’s hoagie selection.
Korokke at Bangin' Curry Franklin
Japan doesn’t play when it comes to deep-fried snacks, having transformed all manner of meats, seafood and vegetables into the crispiest of battered bites. You can really get your crunch on with the korokke, Japan’s answer to the European croquette. The Bangin’ Curry Franklin food truck offers their rendition on the appetizer ($5) alongside its popular pork and chicken katsu platters. Best eaten when it’s still a little too hot, this sweet-savory treat comes crusted in panko and stuffed with cream cheese, corn and leek.
Pernil at Porky’s Point
Roti at Brown Sugar Bakery
A Caribbean landmark along West Philly’s 52nd Street corridor, Brown Sugar has earned a loyal following with its friendly vibe and consistent fare. The menu thoroughly traverses the culinary terrain of Trinidad and Tobago with a slew of regional specialties. Fry bake with saltfish for breakfast? Check. Curry goat and stew chicken platters for lunch? Check and check. But if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, opt for the roti. This traditional grilled flatbread comes delicately swaddled around a satisfying mound of fillings. Regulars tend to go for the goat ($7.50), but the hearty channa-and-potato pick ($5) is an unbeatable vegetarian option.
Croissants at Artisan Boulanger Patissier
This French bakery holding it down along the traditionally Italian East Passyunk Avenue corridor does many things well, but Artisan’s flawless croissants are arguably its greatest achievement. The plain version of the pastry costs $2.25, but for just a quarter more, you can treat yourself to one crammed with chocolate. Got another buck to spare? Drop that dollar bill on a supple almond croissant crowned with powdered sugar and priced at $3.50. All of Artisan’s croissants are in high demand, so make sure you fall in line as early as possible if you want to score one (or several) before they sell out for the day.
Burger and Fries at Fountain Porter
Yes, the cheesesteak looms large over all of Philly Sandwichdom — but there are worthy burgers to seek out in this city, too. Though nestled just a few blocks from the birthplace of Philly’s most-publicized culinary export, Fountain Porter holds its own in the ‘hood by coupling its impressive lineup of draft brews with an unfussy food menu. Their kept-so-simple beef patty, seasoned, dressed and potato bun’d the way it would come at a good friend’s weekend barbecue, runs just $5 (there’s a veggie option, too). The best part: You can throw in a side of fries and still keep your food tab under $10.
Fried Crab Claw at Nom Wah Tea Parlor
With so many alluring options squeezed onto the menu at Nom Wah, decision time may make you feel a bit like a deer caught in headlights. The venerable NYC restaurant expanded into Philly in 2015, thus blessing the City of Brotherly Love with its extensive selection of dim sum offerings. Classic turnip cake? Check. Chunky cilantro-scallion rice rolls? Check. Shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings? Check. But the best way to stopgap your hunger while navigating the maze of menu choices is with this unconventional (and budget-friendly) bite: the fried crab claw for $4.50. The kitchen wraps sweet blue crab meat in minced shrimp, then batters and fries the whole lot. The pincer is left intact, providing the snack with its own convenient handle.
Empanadas at Jezabel’s Cafe
Jezabel Careaga has brought the flavors of back home to her adopted city via her namesake cafe. At her cozy nook nestled in the Fitler Square neighborhood, Careaga recreates the same home-cooked specialties that she made growing up in Palpalá, Argentina. The caramel-stuffed cookies known as alfajores will satisfy just about any sweet tooth, but plenty of savory options dot the menu, too. In fact, the accomplished baker might be best-known for her signature empanadas. Smaller and lighter than their Central American counterparts, Careaga’s dough pockets ($3.50/each) are baked instead of fried. She crams them with a satisfying assortment of fillings like spicy beef or chicken; vegetarian lentils; and ham, cheese and tomato.
Party Crasher at Waffles and Wedges
Score next-level waffles and potato wedges at this takeaway shop. Their thick-cut spuds, which are baked instead of fried, go from basic to extra in as much time as it takes you to decide on which meats, cheeses and sauces to get heaped on top. The Liege-style waffles are also a win. Made with imported Belgian pearl sugar, these crisp and chewy creations can be crowned with all manner of delicious adornments. The Party Crasher is a perfect way to go all out without dropping a serious amount of cash. A menu staple since the shop’s 2015 opening, this celebration-worthy waffle comes topped with vanilla icing and a flurry of rainbow sprinkles, all for $7. Party Crasher is also the name of W&W’s mobile food truck, which schleps sweets from their Pine Street HQ to loads of outdoors festivals and special events.
Pretzels at Miller's Twist
The bewitching scent of buttery baked dough draws customers to this tiny stand tucked away in Reading Terminal Market. Follow your nose to Miller’s Twist and you’ll find traditional soft pretzels priced at $2 each, as well as sausages and hot dogs wrapped in butter-lacquered dough. Options include an all-beef jumbo frank ($3.50, two for $6), a smoked cheddar-turkey sausage ($3.75, two for $6.50) and a jalapeno-cheddar dog ($3.25, two for $5.50). The meat is about as local as it gets, sourced from right next door at the L. Halteman Family Country Foods butcher stand.
Water Ice at John’s Water Ice
There’s no warm-weather treat more Philadelphian than water ice. And there’s no better place to try this confection than John’s, a seasonal walk-up shop at Seventh and Christian. This family-owned operation has been slaying customers’ water-ice cravings since the 1940s with a winning old-school recipe. Fruit, sugar and ice is all that goes into the mixer here. This unadorned simplicity has translated into steadfast success, with loyal customers returning every season for a taste of the shop’s staple varieties: lemon, cherry, pineapple and chocolate ($1.75 to $5.25, depending on size). Can’t decide between water ice and ice cream? Opt for a gelati ($3.50/cup), which combines scoops of both into a single serving.
Pimento Grilled Cheese at Rex 1516
Happy hour at this spiffed-out spot on South Street draws the crowds with more than just the drink specials served from 5 to 7 p.m. nightly. Trust us, a trip to Rex is worth it for the $5 pimento grilled cheese alone. Executive Chef Justin Swain delivers a Southern-inflected take on the traditional grilled sandwich by melting his own pimento cheese with pickles between two thick slices of Texas toast. It all adds up to an unapologetically gooey sandwich perfectly accented with bright Southern flavor.
Potsticker Trio at bao • logy
Fine-dining vet Judy Ni Tessier tapped into her Taiwanese heritage to create the menu at this fast-casual operation in Center City. She and her husband, Chef Andy Tessier, decided on a selection of traditional Taiwanese street foods to be prepared from scratch with sustainable ingredients. The resulting menu features slider-like gwa bao and crepe-like ruen bing. But the potsticker, blessed with a perfectly executed pan-seared bottom crust, is a can’t-miss opener. Sample all three varieties of this popular dumpling with the Potsticker Trio ($9.99). You'll get three each of the three options: Berkshire pork and wild-caught shrimp; pasture-raised chicken with garlic chives; and local, seasonal vegetables.
Roman-Style Pizza at Rione
The offerings at Rione bear no resemblance to your average slice on a paper plate. This Center City shop serves pizza al taglio, a rectangular-shaped Roman specialty with simple toppings scattered across a lighter-than-it-looks crust. Owners Francesco and Alison Crovetti keep it fresh with a daily-changing variety of options sold by the piece, each ranging in price from $2.50 to $4.25. The traditional Margherita ($3.25) is a solid intro to the style, but don’t sleep on the sauceless potato and rosemary ($3.50) or the best-selling Diavola ($3.75) studded with spicy soppressata.
Skewers at TT Skewer
Meat on a stick is the mainstay at this tiny restaurant just a few feet off Ninth Street. Though barely bigger than a bank vestibule, this spot cranks out a huge variety of Chinese meat and seafood skewers. Best part? You don’t have to drop a lot of bills on these bites, with most options hovering at around $1.50 - $2.75 per stick (pricier picks include whole grilled squid for $6). The spicy lamb, fish ball and chicken gizzard are good places to start.
Sardine Sandwich at American Sardine Bar
The enormous sculpture of a half-peeled sardine can dangling above ASB’s front door serves as a signpost of sorts, reminding passersby of the briny delicacies that await at this Point Breeze pub. Chef Doreen DeMarco always runs a selection of the little fish on the menu, prepared in various ways with various accompaniments. But one standout is the sardine sandwich: primo Galician canned sardines, sliced pickled egg, lettuce, onion and dijonnaise tucked between two small hunks of a hoagie roll. It’s a two-bite delight, logically priced at $2.
Rendang at Hardena
Rows upon rows of sizzling Indonesian specialties beckon from the cafeteria-style steam table at this cozy restaurant run by the Widjojo family. Matriarch Ena and her two daughters have put Hardena on the map with impeccable renditions of Indonesian favorites. Case in point: The beef rendang made from a family recipe that’s been passed down through at least three generations of Widjojo women. It all starts with beef shanks and a slow braise. To ensure depth of flavor, the meat is cooked for up to six hours with coconut milk, coconut water and a slew of herbs and spices. Get a taste of this traditional plate, complete with a vegetable side, for just $8.
Spam Musubi at Poi Dog
Spam Musubi is a ubiquitous snack in Kiki Aranita’s home state of Hawaii. But it wasn’t until she and Chris Vacca debuted Poi Dog that Philadelphians began getting hip to this Hawaiian specialty that bundles Hormel’s versatile canned meat with sushi rice, furikake and nori. Though you can certainly supplement your spicy ahi poke or Kalua pig plate lunch with a side Musubi, the snack also works remarkably well as a grab-and-go power food — and it’s priced at just $3.
Baklava at Manakeesh Cafe
Situated in the West Philadelphia enclave known as Little Lebanon, this welcoming spot is named after the traditional Levantine flatbread that’s long been popular in the Lebanese Republic. Manakeesh is a mainstay of the menu, with topping options that include spiced ground lamb, za'atar and labneh. But this cafe is also frequented for its sweet, flaky pastries, particularly the bite-size Lebanese baklava. The cafe offers nine different styles with three different nut fillings (cashew, pistachio and walnut). A single piece will run you $1.75, but you may just want to spring for three ($4.25) off the bat, or maybe even a half-dozen ($7.75).
Hot Roast Beef at Cherry Street Tavern
There just aren’t many places left quite like this friendly barroom at the corner of 22nd and Cherry that’s been in operation since 1905. This local landmark seems like a holdover from another time, complete with original tile floor, ornate back bar and smattering of vintage Philly sports memorabilia throughout. Whether you’re warming a stool to take in a game or chat up the locals, Cherry Street’s hot roast beef ($9.25) is the menu move to make. Roasted in-house daily, the meat is sliced to order and stacked on a fresh kaiser roll with your choice of cheese (don’t forget the pickles and horseradish). It all adds up to a sandwich that’s unfussy yet comforting, much like the tavern itself.
Ice Cream at Bassetts
Thriving in the local confectionary biz since 1861, Bassetts has rightful claim to the title of America’s oldest ice cream company. But the scoop specialist, situated in the same Reading Terminal Market stall since the 1890s, has managed to stay current with a flavor roster that nods to both tradition and modernity. Old-school favorites like butter pecan, cinnamon and rum raisin share menu space with new-fangled birthday cake, matcha and Moose Tracks (fudge and peanut butter cup).