11 Iconic Philadelphia Foods & Must-Have Philly Eats
Where to find essential cheesesteaks, hoagies, soft pretzels, water ice and more...
Philadelphia takes food very seriously — especially when it comes to the city’s most iconic offerings.
Best-of-Philly specialties include a juicy cheesesteak smothered with Whiz, a flavor-packed hoagie on a crusty roll, and a slice of freshly baked tomato pie sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
Treasured by locals and former residents, the city’s signature foods attract new visitors to Philly, too.
From the salty ( soft pretzels !) to the saucy ( red-gravy pasta !) to the sweet ( Butterscotch Krimpets !), read on for our list of Philadelphia’s signature eats — and where to find them.
The ultimate iconic Philly food is the cheesesteak . Invented by Pat Olivieri of Pat’s Steaks in 1930 and imitated by many, a true Philly cheesesteak requires thinly sliced beef and a crusty roll. But the choice of cheese — provolone, American or Cheez Whiz — is a matter of great debate. So is the choice of sandwich shop. The age-old feud between Pat’s King of Steaks and its across-the-street rival Geno’s Steaks draws thousands of visitors to Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue for taste-offs. Other spots like Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies , John’s Roast Pork , Joe’s Steak + Soda Shop , Steve’s Prince of Steaks , Tony Luke’s , Jim’s Steaks and Max’s Steaks also have impressive numbers of devoted fans. Your next best cheesesteak awaits with our guide on where to find them in Philly .
It may not be quite as well known as the cheesesteak or the hoagie, but the roast pork sandwich — a regional Italian American standout — is without a doubt a signature Philly sandwich. Tender, oven-roasted pork shoulder, usually shaved or chopped, gets layered with melted sharp provolone cheese and garlicky sautéed broccoli rabe on an Italian roll. John’s Roast Pork , Tony Luke’s , George’s Sandwich Shop and DiNic’s Roast Pork all deliver stellar classic renditions — evident in their long lines of customers. Find more great roast pork sandwiches in our guide .
The hoagie , Philly’s signature answer to the sub or hero, comes stuffed with fresh meats, cheeses and veggies — or some variation of these ingredients. The quality of the bread is paramount, with local bakeries like Amoroso’s or Sarcone’s delivering fresh rolls daily to shops all over the city. One local sandwich chain, Primo Hoagies , has built a small empire with dozens of shops across the East Coast. Liberty Kitchen PHL and Pastificio Deli are quality options, and Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly regularly has a line out the door for its sought-after sandwiches and pies. For extreme hoagie fans, nationally lauded Pizzeria Beddia has a secret hoagie room that groups can reserve for a “hoagie omakase” tasting menu experience. Peruse our guide on the best hoagies in Philly for more.
Introduced to the region by German settlers centuries ago, pretzels have long been a favorite local snack. Philly’s signature variety is the soft pretzel, an everyday treat purchased from a street vendor, corner store or from a bakery such as Center City Pretzel Co . or Philly Pretzel Factory (multiple locations). At Miller’s Twist in historic Reading Terminal Market , customers can watch workers roll and twist buttery “Amish pretzels.” No matter what form the pretzel takes — braided, sticks, nuggets or even sandwich rolls — they always taste better with mustard. Fill that pretzel-shaped void in your life with our guide to the best pretzels in Philadelphia .
While its name is somewhat confusing, water ice (pronounced “wooder ice” by some locals) is the perfect dessert or snack for hot summer days in the city. Elsewhere known as Italian ice, the combination of fruit or syrup with finely shaved ice is a refreshing treat. John’s Water Ice , Mancuso & Son and Rose’s Real Italian Water Ice are just a few age-old favorites, while charming suburban options such as the Yardley Ice House amaze with a variety of flavors. West Philadelphia-based Siddiq’s Water Ice specializes in creative flavors like strawberry daiquiri, cantaloupe and white grape, and D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats is a gourmet delight on East Passyunk Avenue. (And let’s not forget Rita’s , Philly’s water ice ambassador.) Our guide to the top water ice spots in Greater Philadelphia has more about the city’s signature frozen treat.
Visitors would be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphian who doesn’t have nice things to say about Butterscotch Krimpets or Creme Filled Chocolate Cupcakes. Tastykakes have been Philadelphia’s sweet snack of choice for more than a century. Tastykakes can be ordered directly from the bakery or found in any local convenience store, such as the popular chain Wawa .
A mixture of pork, spices and cornmeal, scrapple is a crispy-fried breakfast meat native to the Pennsylvania Dutch (who, in fact, are German — or Deutsch — in origin). Today, scrapple can be found in greasy-spoon diners and breakfast joints like Dutch Eating Place and Down Home Diner , both in the popular Reading Terminal Market. Some of the best-known purveyors of authentic scrapple are Godshall’s Quality Meats , Habbersett and Hatfield , though plenty of restaurants make their own versions in-house.
Made with thick, focaccia-like dough, fresh tomato sauce and sometimes a hint of grated Romano cheese, Parmesan or oregano, tomato pie is a staple at many Italian bakeries and eateries in Philadelphia. South Philly institutions like Sarcone’s Bakery and Cacia’s Bakery have gained notoriety for their tasty pies, as has Marchiano’s Bakery in Manayunk and Corropolese in Norristown, which has been in operation since 1924.
Red Gravy Pasta Dinner
There’s something supremely satisfying about authentic, homemade Italian red gravy served over pasta. Given the rich Italian-American heritage in Philadelphia, it’s no surprise that some of the best red-sauce joints can be found here. In South Philly’s Italian Market , Ralph’s has been around since 1900, and Villa di Roma is another iconic spot. Little Nonna’s in Center City’s Midtown Village is also worth a visit and, if you’ve been wanting your waiters to sing to you, don’t miss The Victor Cafe .
The quintessential Philly confection, Goldenberg Peanut Chews are dense bars of nuts and sweet syrup enrobed in chocolate. First issued in 1890 by a Romanian immigrant named David Goldenberg, this chocolate treat — available at many grocery stores and convenience stores in the region — has become a mainstay of regional trick-or-treat bags.
Popularized in the region during the 19th century, pork roll — also known as Taylor ham — is a sausage-like breakfast meat that’s usually served on a roll with eggs and cheese. This Philly favorite (which is also loved by New Jerseyans) rivals scrapple as the breakfast meat of choice for locals. Find it on a breakfast sandwich at numerous spots throughout the Greater Philadelphia region, from Rowhome Coffee to Lennie’s Hoagies to the New Hope Star Diner .
Take it from us: Philly does food really, really well. All these Philly classic foods mentioned above live right alongside some of the best restaurants in the country (per the dozens of spots recognized with James Beard Awards ). And accolades? Philly’s food scene has them for days (see Laser Wolf , Kalaya , Irwin’s , Pizzeria Beddia ). Plus, there are lots (and lots and lots ) of places to cheers here. Click the button below for our comprehensive coverage of just some of the best places to eat and drink in Philadelphia .