Reader: I just arrived as a summer intern in Philly for two months. I’m on a somewhat restricted budget, but what reasonably priced restaurants would you recommend for me to make the most, gastronomically, of my stay?
Craig LaBan: First off, welcome to Philly! We’re such a great restaurant town, in part because of how far your dining dollar goes for quality cooking here compared with other East Coast cities. We have a wealth of options, including gastropubs and BYOBs, especially among our international communities, where you can taste soulful, handmade flavors at very fair prices.
To get you started, I’m thinking of Chinatown and Mexican South Philly as among our best values. But I’d also encourage you to explore the city’s many distinctive neighborhoods, and I have value picks in a few key spots around town.
South Philly offers a gold mine of other value flavors. You can check your boxes there for the city’s best cheesesteaks and pork sandwiches (if you had to visit one for both, it’s John’s Roast Pork, 14 E. Snyder Ave.), hoagies (Pastificio Deli is my pick, 1528 Packer Ave.), and classic Italian red gravy cuisine.
Try Mr. Joe’s Cafe (1514 S. Eighth St.) for that throwback Italian luncheonette feeling, with the sweet bonus of a cannoli from Termini’s bakery across the street.
Trendy East Passyunk Avenue is also an essential visit, and though there are lots of upscale restaurants there, the fantastic British meat pies at Stargazy (1838 E. Passyunk Ave.) are among the city’s best values. I also love the authentic Malaysian flavors of skewered meats grilled over coconut charcoal at Saté Kampar (1837 E. Passyunk Ave.) Bop across to the west side of Broad Street for another taste of Southeast Asian flavors at Indonesian standby Hardena (1754 S. Hicks St.).
Fishtown and Kensington are emerging neighborhoods of serious restaurant energy you’ll also want to know. The Fishtown branch of Asian fusion-minded Cheu Noodles (1416 Frankford Ave.) is one of the most creative quality meals you can get for $15 or less. For $26, two of you can feast on a platter of “Bubbie Chow’s” pastrami-spiced short ribs with steamy bao buns.
Just up the street, check out beautiful Suraya (1528 Frankford Ave.), the Lebanese cafe and restaurant I’m reviewing this weekend. The lunch menu, in particular, is very fairly priced. Philly’s craft-beer scene is flourishing everywhere, but especially nearby on Spring Garden Street, and is another source of fairly priced dining: Check out the vast new location for pioneer Yards Brewing, whose airy taproom is a great place to sample classic Philly beers and a pub-plus menu that’s entirely $16 or under a plate.
Center City has good values, too. Kanella Grill (1001 Spruce St.) consistently serves one of the best flavor-to-dollar quotients around, with Cypriot cooking that’s fresh and evocative of the Mediterranean. It’s one of the best of our many BYOBs that, by definition, automatically save you money on the drink bill.
Dizengoff (1625 Sansom St.) will open your world to the possibility that hummus can be an exciting meal for $11 or less. As the sibling of Zahav, it’s also an affordable way to taste one of our top chefs, Michael Solomonov.
My colleague Allison Steele wrote this useful happy hour roundup a few months ago, with tips on deals at Double Knot, El Rey, and Fette Sau. For the purposes of getting to know Philly, though, my pick from her list is the Oyster House (1516 Sansom St.), where the buck-a-shuck oyster happy hours will introduce you to the last of the great fish houses that once ruled this city. If you go back for lunch, be sure to order the fried oyster and chicken salad platter with pepper hash for $16. Sounds odd, but it’s delicious. And it’s one distinctive Philly value meal that, once your summer internship is done, you won’t taste anywhere else.