Philadelphia is a city known for its humble, no-nonsense approach to everything from art to sports, and nowhere is this tendency better expressed than in the traditions surrounding Philadelphia street food. If you plan to visit the city, don’t leave without sampling some of these Philadelphia street food classics.
#5. The Cheesesteak
No list of Philadelphia street food is complete without some reference to the cheesesteak, one of the culinary pillars of the city’s culture. Mention the word to a local and you will soon be subjected to epic tales about cheesteak rivalries that have been ongoing for generations. How food vendors slice the thin strips of steak, apply them to the grill, lay them along a fresh Amaroso roll and top them with melted cheese and onions are matters of serious discussion in this town.
#4. Baked Goods, Breads and Pastries
The soft pretzel is well known street food tradition here, as is the bagel with cream cheese that rivals anything found in New York.
#3. Soup (Believe it or Not)
This may come as a surprise, since Philadelphia carries such a strong reputation as a blue-collar city with deep Italian and German culinary roots. But food vendors here, especially those who serve Chinese and Korean cuisine, know their way around a bowl of hot soup. Philadelphia street soup is a well-kept secret.
#2. The Sandwich
The hoagie, the street vendor breakfast sandwich, the meatball sandwich from the Italian market area and the hot dog–if they weren’t invented here, then Philadelphia has reinvented them, and they’re the better for it. Some halal food vendors (also a specialty here) will offer hoagies or egg sandwiches with layers of crispy falafel topped with delicious red hot sauce.
#1. The Chicken Cheesesteak
Contrary to what conventional cheesesteak advocates would have you believe, it is the chicken cheesesteak that carries away the highest award for no-nonsense Philadelphia street food. When a chicken cheesesteak is properly hashed and assembled, the chicken bits are curled, brownish and crisp, the cheese is oozing and generous and the roll is golden and unforgettable.