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Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation’s independence. It’s also the birthplace of several of the tastiest foods on earth. Now, these are not necessarily the most nutritious foods that you’ll ever eat. In fact, they definitely are not. But what’s life without a little indulgence? Here, we give you our picks for where to eat this city’s most iconic foods and they just so happen to make a perfect, 5-mile loop. (Well, 4.8 miles, but who’s counting?) To make this Taste de Philly a little less naughty, we’ve mapped out the distance so you can run or walk (probably walk) in between bites.
Beef, cheese, and a bun. Sounds like a burger but it’s SO not. If you’ve never had a Philly cheesesteak from Philly, make this your first stop. But where to go? And what kind to get? While most Philadelphians can agree that the cheesesteak consists of a crusty roll, chopped beef, and melted cheese, everything else after that is up for heated debate – from how the beef is chopped to type of cheese to the toppings. The most popular choice of cheese is Cheez Whiz, but American and provolone are common (and, in my opinion, FAR superior) substitutions. Additional toppings include fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup, and hot or sweet peppers. But perhaps the most contentious question is: who makes the best one?
WHERE TO GET ONE? (And how to order)
If you ask 100 Philadelphians where to get the best cheesesteak, you’ll probably get 100 different answers, if not more. Since I’m the one writing this, I’m going to give you my opinion, which counts because I spent every summer of my childhood about an hour and a half from the city and have consumed more cheesesteaks than a certified nutritionist should ever admit. Plus, my soon-to-be husband is a born-and-bred Philly native who spent four years attending high school at 17th and Gerrard (#preppride). We know Philly eats.
While Gino’s and Pat’s are the most famous, our vote goes to Jim’s on South Street. Mike’s order: “One American, ‘wit’.” This means one cheesesteak, topped with American cheese, with (pronounced “wit,”) fried onions. I prefer “one provolone, witout.”
Jim’s Steaks South Street
400 South St.
While some might think that the soft pretzel is a New York thing, it’s actually an Italian creation brought to the United States by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The first American pretzel was supposedly baked in 1861 in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and, today, most of Philadelphia’s soft pretzels are produced right in the city. How’s that for eating local?
WHERE TO GET ONE?
Honestly, any street vendor’s pretzel is probably as good as the next, but our favorite pretzel place is Miller’s Twist at the Reading Terminal Market. Unlike a cart pretzel, Miller’s are hand rolled and twisted, made from fresh dough, with a slightly tangy hint of baking soda and a generous slathering of butter. Enough said. Plus, the Reading Terminal is a Philadelphia food icon in and of itself. The enclosed public market located at 12th and Arch opened in 1893 and houses over one hundred merchants offering up a smorgasbord of earthly delights, from fresh produce to artisanal meats, fish, cheese, ice cream, and baked goods, from specialty and ethnic foods to crafts, books, clothing, and much, much more. Definitely plan a little extra time to wander while you’re here.
Reading Terminal Market
51 N 12th St.
1.3 miles North-West from Jim’s
In Boston, it’s a grinder. In New York, a hero. New Orleans has po’boys, but, in Philly, it’s a hoagie. Legend has it that this sandwich made of bread, cheese, and cold cuts was first crafted by Italian workers at South Philly’s Hog Island shipyard during World War I. The “Hog Island sandwich,” eventually became a “Hoggie,” and is now a hoagie. A hoagie is different from a sandwich in that it is made to order on a roll – not bread – and can contain a wide variety of various meats, cheeses, vegetables, and is finished with a dash of oregano-vinegar dressing. A true Italian hoagie is made with Italian ham, prosciutto, salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salt, pepper, oil and vinegar dressing, and it has been the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia” since 1992.
WHERE TO GET ONE?
What makes a Philadelphia hoagie special is the bread. The best hoagies in Philly come from delis that use bread delivered daily, and our favorite of these is Mike and Matt’s.
Here, you get to pick out your own roll (kind of like picking out a lobster) from the bakery bags at the door, and brother Mike or Matt will personally assemble your hoagie with cuts of meats and veggies thin sliced to order.
Mike and Matt’s Italian Market
206 Mifflin St.
1.9 miles South from the Reading Terminal
No, “water ice” is not just a redundant name for what’s sitting in your freezer. It’s what Philiadephians call Italian ice, and it’s pronounced “wooter ice” if you want to be really authentic. This frozen dessert is made with water (hence the clever name), fruit, and other flavorings. It’s firmer than a slushy, softer than sorbet, smoother than granita, and the perfect treat for a hot summer day or night.
WHERE TO GET IT?
Thanks to Rita’s, Italian Ice, or, “water ice,” as we call it, has spread from Pennsylvania all the way to Hawaii. But if you’re in Philly, I say skip the chain and go for John’s Water Ice – they’ve had the same recipe since 1945: fruit, water, and sugar, with no high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, or other nasties. Best flavor: lemon!
John’s Water Ice
701 Christian St.
1.1 miles North-East from Mike and Matt’s
0.5 miles North-East back to Jim’s
For more ways to make staying healthy a little less complicated and a lot more fun, check out the SmartyPants blog at www.smartypantsvitamins.com/blog