Philadelphia is one of our oldest cities in America as one of the first 13 colonies. It’s famous for the “Rocky” stairs at the Museum of Art, known for inventing the Philly Cheesesteak, offering some delicious restaurants from famed restaurateur Stephen Starr, and housing one of the best business schools called Wharton at UPenn. Believe it or not New Yorker’s either forget or don’t realize that it’s only 1.5 hours away by train from New York City. You must not continue to think that this is actually far and not possible for a day trip. I went for dinner one night – had the best meal- and was back at Penn Station and in my bed before midnight. Why not take advantage of all the art, culture, history, and great food this city has to offer while you can?
To show you how Philly can easily be seen in one day (without having to pay for a hotel or have it take over your whole weekend) go ahead and read on. For more restaurant and activity recommendations, there is a list at the bottom.
If you want to enjoy your Friday and Saturday night in your own home after a long week of work, I’m here to tell you that you can still do that and make a whole day out of Philly on Sunday. Start by taking an early train through Penn Station or taking your own car.
When you arrive, head straight to South Philly Barbacoa to experience some of the best and most authentic Mexican lamb tacos and consommé soup you’ve ever had. This quick and easy restaurant was named by Bon Appetit as one of their Hot 10 Best Restaurants this year in 2016. It could be called a whole in the wall more or less and you don’t wait long for your food as you see your meat being cut right in front of you. One taco is $4, ½ a kilo of barbacoa which could feed 3 people comes with homemade tortillas, meat, consommé, and all the fixings for $30, while a full kilo is $60 respectively. The DIY toppings or condiments, if you, will include: guacamole, chopped onions, spicy bell peppers, green beans, and a couple salsas and sauces to finish off the taco with. The lamb is delivered to you in foil and the toppings are in hand painted little bowls. Best tacos of my life? Maybe, but it’s all in the experience. It’s fun to see the meat carved, to choose from a load of colorful toppings, and to eat something so simple and fresh.
The Barnes Foundation near several other museums (2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway) is a home collection recreated from Albert C. Barnes and replicated the exact way he put together his artwork in his own home. His collection is one of the most lavish and memorable I’ve ever seen. You feel like you’re in your friends home as it’s not as sterile as other nationally recognized museums and there is nothing on the walls to read about mediums or history. You’ll recognize your favorite impressionist artists and catch yourself blushing as you can simply call out each piece and then get closer and check on the gold frames which painter created it. Serrat, Van Gogh, Renoir (everywhere), Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, and even a few Miro’s grace these walls. Don’t miss this. Tip: If you go on a first Sunday of the month it’s free, so make sure you get here early to beat the crowds.
I don’t know why I find the Liberty Bell so astonishing, but when you learn about history as a young child, and finally have the opportunity to see the bell in real life, it’s possible you might get a little giddy like I did. If the line is too long, they’ve cleverly created a couple windows that allow you to take a peak inside at the big guy. It still counts.
The original red L-O-V-E statues started and exist all over Philly. Yes, there is a large one in Manhattan, but you’ll find the ones in PA are much smaller. If you have time you can go to the one by the Museum of Art and also practice your Rocky aka Sylvestre Stallone stair running. It’s a wonderful “campus” to walk around and visit if you don’t have time to go inside.
Sweet Box may have started a food truck, but now you can visit the brick and mortar shop which is decked out with hot pink wrappers. You can order and buy whole cakes here, or just grab a chocolate chip cookie dough topped brownie for the train home.
One of the main reason, I recommend going on a Sunday night is for this new Filipino restaurant, Perla’s, family-style, BYOB Kamayan dinner for $40 per person. The tables are covered in banana leaves upon arrival and as soon as you sit down the staff pours a batch of garlic fried rice over the green plants followed by three pieces of chicken inisal, a fried whole fish, pork belly pieces and vegetables like okra, green beans, squash. One of the best things I took away from this meal was the homemade Banana Ketchup. Wow this is amazing and I never thought I’d like a sauce better than Heinz (no judgment please). This is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had at a restaurant because all the food is laid out in front of you, and it just feels like you are somewhere new. Did I mention that you are supposed to eat with your hands, too? Love this culture! The meal ends with lumpia and bibingka for dessert. We had a 5:30 p.m. Sunday dinner reservation and caught the 7:45 p.m. train back to New York with plenty of time.
OTHER DINING/ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS
- If you have time for two nights in Philly or are interested in other cuisines, please try my other favorite restaurant, Zahav. It’s without a doubt the best Mediterranean/ Israeli food I’ve ever had. The salatim and hummus is unreal followed by the fried cauliflower. Everything is a hit.
- I also love Marc Vetri’s Osteria Philly for pizza. If you’ve never had octopus on your pizza, I encourage you to try it here.
- For authentic Italian and the best pasta of your life, go to Le Virtu which is a classic Philly restaurant with all the cuisine from the Abruzzo region. The homemade pastas are incredible and made with olive oil- not butter. It’s amazing how you can quickly feel like you have been transported to Italy just through food. Start with the antipasti of house cured meats and antipasti’s, and go for the single-stranded pasta which is hand pulled called Maccheroni alla Mugnaia.
- The Reading Terminal Market is a site to see. On the Sunday I went they had an amazing band and singer slaying the day away. I don’t even remember how my food tasted because I was so fixed on them. There are Philly Cheesesteaks, Cookies, an Omish Bakery, Seafood purveyors. Be prepared to get lost in the food!
- For one of the best speakeasies, check out Hop Sing Laundromat. While you might have to wait a while outside if you have a larger party, the inside is sexy, filled with gorgeous candlesticks, bottles, cocktails, and picture frames.