According to most travel guides, the quintessential Philadelphia dining experience begins with a soft-pretzel appetizer, continues with a sandwich-y main — say, a cheesesteak, roast pork or hoagie — and gets rounded out with a scoop of water ice, a Tastykake or a Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew. Of course, these iconic Philly foods are near and dear to our hearts, but a menu like that doesn’t do justice to all the great eats in our fair city.
Getting the full Philly food experience is all about knowing the right people. Iris McCarthy, author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Philadelphia (Globe Pequot, Sept. 18), is the right people. She’s a hometown food writer and blogger who has assembled a pocket-sized guide geared toward making sure that visitors and locals have a chance to taste the best the region has to offer, whether it’s a deep-fried Engine #47 hot dog from Moe’s on Grays Ferry, a square pie from Santucci’s or a $49 prix fixe tasting menu at Sbraga.
McCarthy has done a bang-up job pulling together a comprehensive guide to all things Philly-food-related, from a How to Speak Philly guide (why, yes, “beggle” is the proper pronunciation for bagel around these parts) to a month-by-month calendar of food fests and events to a roundup of farmers’ markets.
Food Lovers’ Guide is not afraid to stray from Center City. McCarthy heads out west to Desi Chaat House for the namesake Indian street snack, north on Broad for bulletproof fried shrimp and into the far Northeast for manti and kebabs at Uzbekistan. Without a guide like this, a visitor might never have the chance to be serenaded by opera-singing waiters while enjoying hubcap-sized plates of veal parm at FrancoLuigi’s Pizzeria & High Note Café. There’s also real insider info here, intel about the American-cheese-topped pizzaz slices at Cacia Bakery, out-of-the-way smoked links at Czerw’s Kielbasy in Port Richmond and the Snyder Avenue Javanese fare of Indonesia Restaurant.
But if you do decide to go the pretzel-cheesesteak-water-ice route, McCarthy has some solid picks. For pretzels, it’s Center City Pretzel Company on Washington Avenue, where the doors open at midnight and the pretzels are hot out of the oven. On the steak front, she’s got South Philly’s Gooey Looie’s and Steve’s Prince of Steaks on Bustleton Avenue. And for water ice, South Philly is the place to be with the solid offerings of John’s on Seventh and Christian, inventive flavors at Pop’s Homemade and gelati at Italiano’s.