Philadelphia is a great place for a family vacation. The fifth largest city in the U.S. is home to lots of learning adventures, including historical landmarks, museums, and universities galore. There are sculptures and murals all around the city, so there’s something to see at every turn. Independence National Historical Park is a cornerstone of U.S. history, and dozens of universities bring a sense of intellect and culture to the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia is also home to a vibrant culinary scene. Sure, you can find lots of greasy cheese steaks and sugar-dipped soft pretzels, but you won’t have a problem finding real food on a vacation here. The locavore movement is thriving in Philly, and there are loads of restaurants and markets that feature healthy food options. My family recently visited Philadelphia for a weekend, and it was a challenge to choose from the many restaurants I wanted to try. I’d have to write a book to cover everything, but here are some highlights of healthy, locavore food in Philadelphia.
Marathon: The first thing many travelers want to eat when they visit Philadelphia is a cheese steak. This is typically greasy, unhealthy comfort food doused in Cheez Whiz, but there are better options available. Marathon serves a delicious cheese steak made with grass-fed beef and homemade cheese sauce. This was the first place we brought our kids to eat during our recent trip to Philly, and it was the perfect start to our vacation. The servings were hearty and delicious. Our water glasses were filled repeatedly without us asking, and the staff was friendly and attentive. The children’s menu has several good options outside the typical kid fare.
Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily: This beautiful restaurant in Washington Square features a seasonal, monthly rotating family-style dinner menu. Many ingredients on the menu come from local farmers and cheese producers. Talula’s Garden is the dinner restaurant, and Talula’s Daily is the counter-service market that serves casual food from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The market is exactly the kind of place I’m looking for when I travel with my family. We ate lunch at Talula’s Daily, and it was perfect. I enjoyed a delicious cauliflower chickpea salad, and my kids loved the apple grilled cheese. My husband had a fantastic pork sandwich with a colorful slaw. With its many locally produced specialty foods and artisan cheeses, this would be the perfect place to fill a picnic basket.
Plenty Café is a quick-serve cafe and coffee bar with two locations in the city. Featuring gourmet sandwiches and salads, this cafe focuses on natural, organic, and local ingredients. Their internationally-inspired dishes are almost all made in-house, including fresh pestos, aiolis, and cured meats.
Pumpkin Restaurant features a creative menu that changes daily according to what fresh, local ingredients are in season. The cozy dining room is decorated with locally reclaimed materials. This looks like a great place to celebrate a special occasion.
Mugshots Coffeehouse is a casual spot that offers farm to table food for breakfast and lunch. From pastured eggs to local cheeses and fair trade coffee, you can feel good about many items on the menu here. We went to Mugshots for lunch on Sunday, and unfortunately they were out of several menu items. Get there early for the best selection.
City Tavern is a unique dining experience based on the kinds of food that were served in 18th century colonial America. The award-winning children’s menu has lots of real food, including turkey pot pie, fish and chips, and grilled ham and cheese baked from an 18th century recipe.
Sabrina’s Cafe is said to offer one of the best breakfasts in town, serving up meals at four locations throughout the city. The menu stresses local and organic ingredients. Offerings include whole wheat pancakes, house-made granola, and many vegetarian options. Sabrina’s is famous for its long lines, so call ahead to put your name on the list.
JG Domestic offers a lunch and dinner menu focused on local, seasonal ingredients. Many items on the menu include produce, herbs, honey, and eggs from the chef’s farm in Buck’s County. Pastured meats and organic dairy are featured on this impressive menu. JG Domestic is another restaurant where you can get a specialty cheese steak made with high-quality, local beef.
FARMiCia is a restaurant in Old City that focuses on local, organic, and artisanal ingredients. The restaurant supports sustainable agriculture, and its menu is full of creative options. This would be a great place to celebrate a special occasion.
White Dog Cafe opened in 1983 as one of the pioneering farm to table restaurants in Philly. Located in University City, the majority of their ingredients are sourced from local farms within 50 miles of the restaurant. They focus on organic ingredients, pasture-fed and humanely raised animals, and fair trade tea, coffee, and chocolate. Fair trade triple chocolate mousse cake? Yes, please!
Southwark Restaurant is another special occasion, farm to table restaurant on the Philly dining scene. Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, they also offer a special Sunday Supper menu. They depend on relationships with local family farms to put together their unique, ever-changing menu.
The Farm and Fisherman is a small farm to table restaurant in Washington Square. The menu focuses on locavore cuisine, and it changes with the seasons. The menu may not be appealing to kids, so this would be good for a night out without children.
Vedge is one of the country’s most celebrated vegan restaurants. It offers a creative, vegetable-based menu that’s inspired by seasonal produce. The restaurant is popular with vegetarians and omnivores alike.
For more information about restaurants in Philadelphia, check out Visit Philly’s food section.
Reading Terminal Market: If you visit Philadelphia, this is one place you don’t want to miss. Located in the heart of the city, this huge public market is home to nearly 80 vendors. Shops include bakeries, restaurants, specialty foods, produce, and housewares. You can get whole grain spelt bread and award-winning granola at Metropolitan Bakery, or pick up some Amish donuts, pickles, and salads at Beiler’s. There are also dozens of ethnic restaurants to choose from if you visit at mealtime.
Italian Market: America’s oldest outdoor market is home to a variety of specialty food vendors, selling items including produce, pasta, meat, baked goods, and cheese. The market also hosts an Italian festival in May each year.
Farmers’ Markets: There are over 50 farmers’ markets in Philadelphia. If you’re visiting Philadelphia during the growing season, farmers’ markets are a great place to get a sense of the local food scene and pick up some real food. Check out Food Fit Philly to look up the locations.
Healthy Corner Stores: As part of Food Fit Philly’s initiative to bring healthy food to every neighborhood in Philadelphia, you can find healthy corner stores all throughout the city. Visit Food Fit Philly to find one near where you’ll be at mealtime.
Philly Farm and Food Fest: This annual marketplace for farmers and local food producers takes place this year on April 13, 2014. With over 140 vendors, it’s the premier event for regional farmers and food artisans to show off what they do. Cooking demos, book signings, and kid-friendly activities make this an event that the whole family can enjoy.
Night Market Philadelphia: This is a unique street food festival that takes place several times each year. It highlights Philadelphia’s restaurants and food trucks. This festive event brings together thousands of people to enjoy and celebrate great food.
Philadelphia between Meals
There’s so much to see and do in Philadelphia. We took a bus tour with Big Bus Company to get the lay of the land, and this is a great way to start if you haven’t been here before. I loved that we could get on and off at the different attractions throughout the city. If you have kids, there are a few spots you won’t want to miss.
Independence National Historical Park: Pennsylvania’s biggest tourist attraction includes Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. See where it all began for the U.S.
Liberty 360 3D Show: This 15-minute 3D movie is hosted by Ben Franklin, and it highlights America’s symbols of freedom. My kids loved this experience.
Franklin Institute: This science museum is full of fascinating exhibits for kids and adults. You can even ride a bike across a tightrope.
Please Touch Museum: This museum is targeted to children under 7 years old, and it gets rave reviews from kids and parents alike.
Smith Playground: This enormous playground is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and the highlight is a 40-foot wooden slide. We met friends here, and our group included children from ages 1 to 10. Everyone was thoroughly entertained for hours.
Franklin Square: Another popular playground in Philadelphia, Franklin Square includes a carousel, mini golf course, marble fountain, and play structures. This fun family park has something for kids of multiples ages as well.
Have you visited Philadelphia with your family? I’d love to hear about it – especially what you ate! Please comment below with your suggestions for real food in Philly.
If you have the bug for real food travel, check out the other posts in this series:
Providence, Rhode Island
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Real Food at the Beach
Real Food at Walt Disney World
Disclosure: DiscoverPHL provided my family with passes to several local attractions. All opinions expressed here are 100% mine. We can’t wait to visit Philly again.