Written and Photographed by Rebecca Peters-Golden
On one corner of the El Station at 46th and Market is a mural to Philadelphia native Will Smith. Indeed, the opening to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in which Smith raps, “In West Philadelphia born and raised,” is likely the only association folks outside Philadelphia have with the neighborhood.
Not as posh as Rittenhouse Square, as dignified as Old City, or as embroiled in the great cheesesteak rivalry as South Philly, West Philly is a neighborhood that even many Philadelphians don’t visit often. And it’s a shame, because West Philly is home to some truly excellent eats, from the fancy-pants to the hole-in-the-wall. Take the #34 trolley along Baltimore Ave, and every one of these good food stories are within an easy walk north or south.
43rd and Baltimore Avenue: Clark Park Farmer’s Market & The Green Line Café
Every Saturday from 10:00 am-2:00 pm and Thursday from 3:00-7:00 pm, vendors set up along the east side of Clark Park, selling everything from Thai basil to (my favorite) bread studded with cloves of roasted garlic. Food trucks also line up along the south side of the park, so you can grab tacos made with ingredients from the market at Honest Tom’s, then nosh in the park for a while before wandering among the food stalls.
Diagonal from Clark Park is the The Green Line Café, a sun-drenched coffee spot with both indoor and outdoor seating, including a parklet that’s perfect for people-watching in the shade. The Green Line also has rotating art shows, so make sure you check out the walls!
45th-47th and Baltimore Avenue: Gojjo, Queen of Sheba, Dahlak & Fu-Wah
West Philly has a large East African population, so there is a lot of great Ethiopian and Eritrean food in the neighborhood. Across-the-street neighbors Gojjo and Queen of Sheba, and Dahlak two blocks up, all feature active bars as well as food. Pop in to Gojjo during happy hour for some very affordable drinks, or to Dahlak and Queen of Sheba for karaoke.
Around the corner from Dahlak is Fuh-Wah, a neighborhood mini-market. It is also, however, the home of the now-famous tofu hoagie! You order at the counter and stand there blocking the cigarettes until you’re handed an Amoroso roll filled with marinated fried tofu, pickled carrots, daikon, cabbage, jalapeños, cilantro, and Sriracha. Definitely worth stopping in for. Besides, you know you needed refried beans, subway tokens, and toilet paper anyway.
49th and Baltimore Avenue: Little Baby’s Ice Cream
Little Baby’s Ice Cream, a handmade, small-batch, Philadelphia-style ice creamery, has just opened a store in West Philadelphia. Specializing in surprising flavor combinations, they also provide a wide array of non-dairy treats. Blueberry ginger, Earl Grey Sriracha, sweet potato burnt-marshmallow, rosemary gingerbread, and chocolate teriyaki are just a few.
50th and Baltimore Avenue: Dock Street Brewing Company & The Satellite Café
A hundred years ago, the building across from Cedar Park that now houses Dock Street Brewing Co. was a firehouse, and then a farmer’s market. Opened in Center City in 1985, Dock Street was one of the first microbreweries in the country, and it moved to this location in 2007. Dock Street’s pizzas are hardwood-fired to perfection, and I can smell the fires from my apartment two blocks away. Make sure to try the Fig Jam (mozzarella, gorgonzola, apple smoked bacon, and fresh herbs) and the Veneto (spinach, ricotta, sundried tomato, fontina, and crème fraiche), and grab a growler of their seasonal beer to take home.
A stone’s throw from Dock Street (no, really, I’ve totally seen people throwing stones) is The Satellite, an indispensable West Philly landmark, which contains all the vegan baked goods and new wave heavy metal you never knew you needed with your coffee. Bring your own cup to get a 50-cent discount, grab the soy milk out of the fridge, log on for free wifi, and kick back with a bagel while you rock out to Angel Witch. Try the Bike Shop Bagel with basil pesto, spinach, and roasted red peppers, and named for the community bike shop upstairs, or the Magic Bagel (cream cheese, olive oil, and nutritional yeast). Oh, and did I mention the cat? Kitty!
45th and Walnut Avenue: Manakeesh Café and Bakery & Saad’s Halal Restaurant
Manakeesh is a beautiful café in a renovated historic bank building, serving up Lebanese fusion as well as traditional Lebanese dishes. Manakeesh are Lebanese flatbreads, made to order in their open-flame brick ovens, and I sometimes have dreams about the lahm bajeen (ground beef or lamb with tomato and spices) and the tawook (creamy marinated chicken with house sauce). Order the fresh, mint-infused lemonade to go with it, and save room for dessert: the baklava is exquisite, and the Turkish coffee is perfect.
Right across the street is Saad’s, which has (arguably) the best falafel in Philadelphia. Saad’s started as a lunch truck, and he originally slaughtered his own meat to insure it was be halal—totally hardcore, right? Everything at Saad’s is made from scratch, and while Middle Eastern food is what it’s known for, Saad’s cheesesteak has also been held up against Pat’s and Geno’s, the Capulets and Montagues of cheesesteak, which is really saying something.
44th and Spruce: Honest Tom’s Tacos & Local 44
Remember when you got tacos from the truck at the Farmer’s Market and they were so delicious you wished you could have them whenever you want? Well, you can, because Honest Tom’s Tacos has a brick-and-mortar shop, too. It’s small, but how much room do you really need to eat a taco? Do yourself a favor and go in before noon for the breakfast burritos with fresh guacamole.
A few doors down is Local 44, a self-proclaimed “neighborhood beer joint.” Their spacious bar area and more than 20 beers agree, and their menu is comfort food slightly elevated. Check out the cauliflower mac and cheese, the homemade black bean burger, the Cubano sandwich, and the roasted bone marrow.
45th and Larchwood: Marigold Kitchen
Finally, just in case you’re looking to celebrate something, there’s Marigold Kitchen, which sits quietly one block off Baltimore Avenue, in what used to be a boardinghouse, just hanging out and being named the second best restaurant in Philadelphia by Philadelphia Magazine, no big deal. Chef Robert Halpern, who got his start at Moosewood Café in Ithaca, offers either a four- or six-course prix fixe menu, which often includes complimentary bites in between—as their tagline promises, “your bouche will be amused.”