Philadelphia has put itself on the culinary map, boasting some of the top restaurants in the country. But in addition to the popular, award-winning restaurants, Philly is also home to some hidden gems – those hole-in-the-wall, secret spots, known only to locals. Be prepared to be adventurous, step out of your comfort zone and go down hidden alleys and backways to find these spots, where you’ll be rewarded with a unique, one-of-a-kind meal. And you’ll leave with the satisfaction of knowing you’re now one of the people in the know.
Located downstairs from Fiume, a West Philly bar popular for its live music nights, is Abyssinia, featuring authentic Ethiopian food at affordable prices. Check out the combo platters for the best deals and a chance to try multiple items. For example, the meat combination, includes qey wot (tender beef stew), yebeg alicha (curried lamb stew) and doro wot (spicy chicken in berbere sauce) with 3 vegetarian sides for $12.95. Vegetarian combination which includes lentils, string beans, peas, collard greens dishes for $9.95. The most expensive thing on the menu is the Abyssinia special which includes Kitfo, tender minced beef, split lentils, collard greens and yellow peas along with dried beef ribs and salad for $13.95. Everything is served over injera, a sour spongy bread, that serves as the utensils. The ambiance is lacking, and unfortunately service can be slow. 229 S. 45th St.
Tasty Place has been there for years, but it is difficult to find even if you are looking for it, as its located down the steps in a basement supermarket in Chinatown. If you’ve never been to an Asian Supermarket, it’s worth the trip itself, but also brave the sketchiness and questionable conditions for some delicious, low priced food. Try the Salt baked chicken wings, as raved about by Craig LaBan. Great noodles like ginger scallion noodles and Chow fun noodles range from $5-$7. Roast pork and wonton noodle soup for $5.75. Also enjoy the house soup, a daily cauldron for $.50 a bowl from pork bones and whatever veggies the chef feels like adding in. Full of locals and high school students. 143 N. 11th St.
Located in the Juniata section of North Philadelphia, it feels like a long drive through some not so safe neighborhoods, but once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with huge portions of Latin American and Caribbean dishes. Parking is allowed across the street at the Rite Aid parking lot (on the outer spaces). Take time perusing the massive menu, which includes Cuban, Ecuadorian, Dominican dishes and more. Try some of the appetizers like the Papa rellena, potato ball filled with ground beef, Empanada de Cangrejo (crab turnover), Chicharron con Arepa (friend pork rib with corn patty), or mofongo (mashed green plaintain). All entrees come with traditional sides of rice, beans and choice of yucca, avocado or sweet or green plaintains. Popular entrees include the Cuban sandwich, Columbian Churrasco steak, and the Seafood paella for 2. Don’t forget to finish your meal with a delicious milkshake, Cuban coffee or traditional flan. After dinner, dance off the calories at the Night Club on the 2nd floor. Breakfast is also served in the morning. 4535 N. 5th St.
This small Indonesia eatery in South Philly is popular among the locals, but is not for the faint of heart. It can be difficult to find, on a residential street, with bars covering the windows but look for the yellow door. There are no printed menus at this dimly lit spot, but the family who owns and works there is welcoming and friendly. They will happily guide you through the variety of flavorful, home cooked foods displayed and offer recommendations. Order a la carte or for the best value, try a combo plate for $7 for 2 dishes and $9 for 3 dishes over rice. Choose among marinated and grilled satays, entrees like Beef Rendang, Tempeh, or Spicy Fish, and the delicious corn fritter, Bakwan. Vegan and vegetarian options available. 1754 South Hicks St.
Sansom Kabob House
There is nothing fancy about this middle eastern eatery, and you may miss it as your walking down the street, but take the stairs down for delicious, inexpensive food. Try the chicken, beef, lamb kabobs or the Sansom kabob which is a combination of lamb, beef and chicken which is delicious, perfectly spiced, moist and tender. Although the atmosphere is simple, the service is outstanding by the husband and wife team. Many vegetarian dishes available including Chalaw Banjan, stewed eggplant, or Qurma Kachalu, stewed potatoes. All dishes served with rice, salad and afghan bread. 1526 Sansom St.
Walk down the small alley off of 4th St or South Street and you come across a brightly lit awning. However the door is locked. Knock using the brass knocker and someone will come to see how many at your table. Then you’ll be taken into a beautiful morroccan paradise, with rug covered banquets, brightly colored pillow and an authentic magical meal. $25 gets you the 7 course meal which starts with a warm rose-water hand washing ceremony, as no utensils are offered. Courses include the cold three-salad platter of eggplant, carrots and cucumbers with bell peppers, followed by the B’stella, a layered pie with chicken, assorted nuts, almonds, eggs, parsley and onions, topped with confection sugar and cinnamon. 3 main courses include choice of lemon chicken or spicy chicken, beef or lamb and couscous. Dessert is fresh fruit, baklava and hot mint tea. This cozy and intimate atmosphere feels authentic down to the belly dancers on the weekends. They also have a full bar including inexpensive carafes of house white or red wine and Moroccan beer, or you can byob. 517 S. Leithgow St.
New Phnom Penh
Head down to South Philly for inexpensive, Cambodian comfort food in a tiny, divey spot. Although the menu also features Vietnamese and Chinese dishes, the stars are the cambodian dishes and noodles. The signature dish is the Ka tieu Phnom Penh, a Cambodian version of pho which comes with fried breadsticks – ja gwai (similar to you tiao in Chinese), and served in a flavorful pork broth filled with meat, shrimp and rice noodles and served with lime, bean sprouts and herbs on the side. Also popular are their Crispy deep fried spring rolls, filled with pork and mushrooms. 2301 S. 7th St.
Saad’s Halal Restaurant
This small, divey halal place located in University City, may not be considered a hidden gem, as it is always crowded. Enjoy cheap, delicious, flavorful food like chicken maroosh, which is a grilled chicken sandwich with sautéed onions, lettuce, tomato, parsley, pickles and garlic sauce on a toasted hoagie roll. They also feature wraps like Falafel or lamb schwarma. The sandwiches are large enough to feed 2 people, especially if you get a side of fries or hummus to share. Call ahead as they make to order and as there are often long lines, it can take a while. Also, be warned, the owner enforces a strict no cell phone policy. 4500 Walnut St.
Rocco’s Italian Sausage at Home Depot
Have you ever thought about heading to Home Depot for lunch or dinner? At Rocco’s Sausage, with 3 area locations, outside of Home Depots in South Philly, the North East and Port Richmond, you’ll enjoy a quick, convenient, cheap and delicious meal. In addition to their famous sweet and hot sausages, cooked low and slow, they feature an extensive menu including cheesesteaks, Jerk Chicken Sandwiches, Portabellas and breakfast. Every sandwich comes with soda and chips . This highly rated, hole in the wall spot, is as known for their friendly service as they are for their food. Stop by and they’ll give you a free sample while you peruse the menu and decide what to get.
1601 S. Columbus Blvd., 22nd and Oregon Ave., Roosevelt Blvd & Adams Ave., Castor and Aramingo Ave.