Philadelphia City Guide

The Clean Plates guide to clean eating in the city of cheesesteaks and brotherly love

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The Fair Food Farmstand inside Reading Terminal Market
The Fair Food Farmstand

Not to be outdone by the Republican National Convention last week, the Democratic National Convention convening today in Philadelphia will also have roughly 50,000 attendees and, like Cleveland, roughly 1 restaurant for every 5,000 people coming to throw the confetti around.

While the City of Brotherly Love may be the place where Rocky scaled the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps, it’s also known—and beloved—for its cheesesteaks. Those are hard to eat for three days in a row, especially when you’re trying to eat healthfully, so Clean Plates asked Philadelphia Inquirer Restaurant Critic Craig LaBan where diners can go to find better-for-you fare. Here are his insider picks:

Several Spots Where You Could Run Into Bill: Farmer’s Markets

The covered brick arcade of the shambles at Headhouse Square in Society Hill has been a market destination since Colonial times, and since it was revived in 2007, its Sunday markets have become the region’s premier showplace for ripe heirloom produce, grass-fed meats, cheeses, artisan ice cream and vegan food trucks—the latter of which vegan and potential First Dude Bill Clinton would no doubt want to check out. If you’re looking for local produce on Saturday, the market at Rittenhouse Square (which also runs Tuesday) is the place to go. Meanwhile, the Fair Food Farmstand, inside the Reading Terminal Market, has done a great job of gathering a wide assortment of seasonal local foods and products. For a complete list of farm markets in the region, here’s a recently updated complete list from Philly.com.

Headhouse Farmers Market
Headhouse Farmers Market (Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®)
Rittenhouse Farmers' Market
Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market

When You Just Want Veggies: Vedge

Serious vegetable gourmets likely already know about Vedge, the pioneering fine dining restaurant from chef-couple Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby that is considered by many to be the best vegan restaurant in America; it requires planning months ahead to get a table, so just tell them Hillary sent you. V-Street, their more casual concept across town near Rittenhouse Square, is a perfect spot to experience their produce-forward spins on international street foods, from smoky “carrots as ado” to spicy trumpet mushroom bulgogi. The inventive cocktails are also fantastic. Here’s Craig’s review. (See this link for the complete round-up of Philly’s creative and burgeoning vegan scene.)

Vedge ice cream

Where to Go For Pho—And Not Feel Faux—Near the Convention Center: Chinatown

Conventioneers are just a block away from one of the best Chinatowns in America, which showcases a wide range of Asian specialties, from soup dumplings (Dim Sum Garden) to hand-drawn noodles (Spice C), to spicy Burmese tea leaf salads (Rangoon), ramen (Terakawa) and old-school Cantonese favorites (Lee How Fook). One old standard that never fails to impress, however, is Vietnam Restaurant, a family-run homage to Vietnamese classics served in a multi-floor townhouse redone in evocative French-Colonial style. Don’t miss the BBQ meat platter sampler.

When You’re Sick of Your Fellow ConventioneersFishtown-Kensington

Take a short Uber ride or simply hop the Market-Frankford El and head east to begin exploring the hip and happening Fishtown-Kensington neighborhoods, the most exciting and fast-evolving food zones in the city. Full of gastropubs, half a dozen distilleries, coffee roasters, grass-fed whole butchers, brewers, an artisan bagel shop and a rapidly growing collection of ambitious restaurants, this is Philly’s strong and distinctive answer to Brooklyn. For a complete guide of what not to miss, check-out Craig LaBan’s 47 favorite spots.

The Ultimate Dine-In Your Hotel Room Food: Di Bruno Bros.

This has been a fixture in the Italian Market since 1939, and the tiny original store on Ninth Street, jam-packed with imported cheeses, olive barrels, pastas, oils and salumi remains one of Craig’s favorite places in the city to linger and taste. The current generation of family ownership has taken the company to the next level, spreading their craft cheese gospel to multiple locations around the region, including a mega-store near Rittenhouse Square that—especially for cheese—could compete with any specialty market anywhere.

Cheese plate from Di Bruno Bros

Starting the Day Right, Right Here: Talula’s Daily

An all-day market-café on leafy Washington Square attached to Aimee Olexy’s beautiful Talula’s Garden, is a perfect place to linger around a communal country table over a “Healthy Start” scone, bowl of housemade granola or daily frittata, with a cup of La Colombe coffee and  fizzy glass of local Baba’s Bucha kombucha to wash it down.

The Farm in Philly: Russet

The farm-to-table movement has become such standard practice in recent years, the legit chefs no longer mention it. But a couple places bring an especially unique approach, including Helm, a BYOB in fast-emerging lower Kensington that is drawing on seasonal produce from formerly blighted plots of North Philly’s urban farms. Chef Andrew Wood, meanwhile, has the city-country situation down pat. He serves hyper-seasonal, locally-sourced meats with a rustic Italian flair at Russet, his charming BYOB near the Kimmel Center, and also directs the menus at bucolic Wyebrook Farm, an idyllic sustainable meat farm with rolling vistas of the Brandywine Creek from its stone barn terrace in Chester County that’s worth a visit if you have time for a detour to the country.

Wyebrook Farm
Wyebrook Farm

Also published on Medium.