Editor's note: Author/writer/Southern Smoke content manager Tim Malcolm knows his food (he's the former dining editor at Houstonia), sports, and travel. So much so, he literally wrote the book on it: Baseball Road Trips (First Edition): The Complete Guide to All the Ballparks, with Beer, Bites, and Sights Nearby. (Find it here.)
We asked the Philadelphia native to come up with the ultimate list for traveling Houston Astros fans as they navigate the
mean-spirited metropolis known as Philly. Malcolm, a Philadelphia Phillies lifer (ugh), agreed. Here, then, are his tips on where to eat, drink, and stay in his hometown. Be safe, y'all: Philly fans can be famously ... "passionate."
Every Houstonian is hot with a case of World Series fever. We’re all fired up for the Astros … right?
This Houstonian was born and raised in Philadelphia (not West, like the Fresh Prince) and from the moment my infant self first cried “boo,” I have been a Phillies fan. Therefore, over the next several days I plan to be completely irritating to every Astros fan I meet.
However, I am also the type of person who loves recommending things to do to people visiting baseball cities. If you, Astros fan, are considering flying to Philadelphia to attend one of the World Series games scheduled at the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park (October 31, November 1 and, if necessary, November 2) … first, I will pray for you. But second, and seriously, I would like to share with you my choices for where to stay and eat like a Philadelphian when in the City of Brotherly Love.
Hey, maybe you’ll even receive some brotherly love yourself while there (you won’t).
Stay Like a Philadelphian
Forever the poshest stay in town, the Ritz-Carltonsprouts into the skyline from a 1908 neoclassical bank building. The Ritz is smack in the middle of Philly’s downtown district better known as Center City, and some of its rooms have clear views of the iconic City Hall tower topped by the statue of William Penn. Inside the hotel, Richel D’Ambra Spa & Salon offers facials, while a 30th floor lounge serves cocktails and gazes out to the city beyond.
Just north of City Hall and off Broad Street, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, is Le Meridien. This hotel, which is more budget friendly than the Ritz but still glamorous, is set inside a Georgian Revival building that was previously the city’s YMCA. Amuse, a French bistro, is on site with breakfast service.
Amid Philadelphia’s theater district, the section of south Broad Street known as the Avenue of the Arts, and a 12-minute Uber ride north from Citizens Bank Park, is the DoubleTree by Hilton. The DoubleTree has a pool and fitness center, and some top-level rooms have clear views of the city’s skyline.
If you wish to stay in a building closer to Philly’s Revolutionary-era historic sites, there’s the Morris House Hotel, a mere three-minute walk from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. This boutique accommodation is housed inside a 1787 brick structure, and because of its antiquity, standard rooms are slightly smaller than what you would typically expect. The larger luxury rooms, however, are appointed with rows of books, 19th-century American art pieces, and fireplaces.
With its high-rise luxury apartment buildings, the Rittenhouse Square area is home to local celebrities and patio-rich bistros with plenty of people watching. Here you’ll find 1715 on Rittenhouse, with 20 unique and thoughtfully designed rooms with either king or queen beds, plus two king suites. Inside the hotel is the Prohibition-style speakeasy cocktail bar called The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, which requires reservations and offers vibrant cocktails, and both wine and scotch rooms.
Citizens Bank Park is a 15-minute drive south from City Hall. It abuts major highways and is surrounded by both parking lots and multiple sports venues. The closest hotel to the park is the Courtyard by Marriott at the Navy Yard, about a five-minute Uber ride south from the ballpark. It’s also just off Interstate 95 and a 12-minute ride from Philadelphia International Airport. There’s an onsite bistro, and the Navy Yard has dining and shopping within walking distance.
Eat Like a Philadelphian
Everyone associates Philadelphia with the cheesesteak, that classic combination of thinly shaved ribeye, melty cheese (American, provolone, or Cheese Whiz), a sturdy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside sub roll, and optional sauteed onions. The truth is the best cheesesteak in town is your neighborhood spot, so don’t worry about going on a crawl of the 2,000 or so mom-and-pop steak shops in the area. Instead, if it’s your first time you should pay a visit to Philly’s own Times Square at 9th and Passyunk (pronounced pashy-unk) where you’ll find Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. If it’s not your first time, there’s John’s Roast Pork by the Delaware River. These eateries are in or nearby South Philadelphia, the neighborhood closest to Citizens Bank Park.
That leads me to this: The roast pork sandwich — roasted and thinly sliced pork shoulder with its juices, provolone cheese, and optional broccoli rabe inside a hoagie roll — is just as necessary to sample as the cheesesteak. John’s is a fine choice for the sandwich, and I also recommend visiting Tommy DiNic’s, the frequently buzzy centerpiece of Philly’s famous Reading Terminal Market in Center City. Be sure to peruse the market for plenty of aromatic and delicious regional specialties, like Pennsylvania Dutch shoofly pie (molasses crumb cake) and apple butter.
Good hoagies—essentially sub sandwiches in varieties like American, Italian, roast beef, and meatball—can be found at almost any corner deli or sandwich shop, and there’s one every couple blocks or so. For the best gourmet sandos, though, there’s Center City’s Middle Child, whose Baller Classic (turkey, Duke’s Mayo, pickles, onions, arugula in a seeded hoagie roll) always hits the spot.
Outside of sandwichville, there are some excellent restaurants throughout the city. Most notable is Zahav, chef Michael Solomonov’s thoughtful ode to Israel that won the 2019 James Beard award for Best Restaurant in America. Vedge, set inside a historic brick mansion, serves exciting vegetable-forward dishes like smoked eggplant braciole and lions mane mushroom with celery root fritter. A table of four can typically share the entire menu here. Also, the very new American concept Vernick Food & Drink, from celebrated local chef Greg Vernick, spotlights global flavors while using fresh seasonal ingredients.
The area along the East Coast that stretches from Boston down to Baltimore is known to some as the Pizza Belt, home to arguably the best pies in America. Philly stakes its claim with two necessary stops: Old-school tomato pie stalwart Tacconelli’s, about 15 minutes northeast of Center City in the Port Richmond neighborhood, and much younger darling Angelo’s Pizzeria, known for its artful Neapolitan and Sicilian pies. You’re encouraged to call early in the day to secure your dough at Tacconelli’s, while Angelo’s is takeout only.
For breakfast you gotta have scrapple. Originating with the Pennsylvania Dutch community as pannhaas, it’s meat scraps with cornmeal, flour and spices, formed into a loaf and best served pan-fried. Don’t worry: It’s delicious. Get it with two eggs and hash browns at one of the many blue-collar diners in town. Baseball fans love the Penrose Dinerand the Oregon Diner, which are on opposite sides of the ballpark and were around well before the Phillies won their first world championship in 1980.
The official snack food of Philadelphia was long either the Tastykake butterscotch krimpet or peanut butter kandy kake, but these days the salty and sweet treats at multiple outposts of Federal Donuts have helped to change most people’s opinions. It specializes, naturally, in donuts like its warm cinnamon brown sugar, plus hand-battered chicken tenders, and twice-fried crispy chicken sandwiches. There’s even a Federal Donuts at Citizens Bank Park—good news, because you’ll probably need to comfort yourself with dessert while watching the Astros lose to the home team.
Enjoy your trip to my hometown. Go Phillies!