Philadelphia, known as the City of Brotherly Love, is a city famous for many things, whether for better or for worse. This includes, in no particular order, Rocky, the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia Eagles, and the cheesesteak.
The ubiquitous cheesesteak, with its thinly sliced ribeye steak, caramelized onions, and cheese is a simple yet classic combination. Love them or hate them, cheesesteaks are an icon of Philadelphia. You can find them everywhere from Reading Terminal Market, to small delis, to high end restaurants. If you come to Philly, you can’t leave without trying one.
But, the culinary scene of Philadelphia, a city of 1.5 million, is more than just cheesesteaks. Also popular are hoagies, roast pork, cannoli, water ice, tomato pies, and pizza to name a few. You can even find great tacos here.
While Philadelphia can be an expensive place to eat, you can also find your share of affordable food options that are not only cheap but delicious. This is my list of 9 of the best cheap eats in Philadelphia.
1- Angelo’s Pizzeria
This is a post about the best foods of Philadelphia. So, I am required to start off with the most known food of the city, the cheesesteak. At the corner of 9th and Fitzwater is Angelo’s Pizzeria, a small shop popular for its pizza, cheesesteaks, and hoagies. Though it seems like your typical neighborhood pizza shop, people travel from all over to try the food here. While the pizzas and hoagies are great, their cheesesteaks might be even better.
In 2013, Danny DiGiampietro opened Angelo’s Pizzeria in South Jersey. He then moved the shop, named after his son Angelo, to South Philly in 2019. What makes Angelo’s so great is how they use high-quality ingredients to ensure the best product possible. Because of this attention to detail, the shop has grown in popularity. If this is your first time visiting, here are a few things to note. They are a cash only establishment and only do take out orders. When they are busy, they only take orders by phone. And, getting through on the phone can be difficult. When they aren’t too busy, they might allow walk up orders, but the wait can be upwards of an hour. But, the wait is worth it.
I have had a lot of cheesesteaks in my life. But, the cheesesteak ($11.00) served here is special. I like to order mine with sweet fried onions, creamy cooper cheese, and spicy peppers on a fresh and flakey baked roll. While there are great spots in Philly for a cheesesteak, the one at Angelo’s Pizzeria is one of the best.
What to order: Cheesesteak, Pizza, Hoagie
Address: 736 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 11:00AM-sold out; Monday: Closed
2 – Ricci’s Hoagies
Philadelphia has a sandwich obsession. The cheesesteak is well known by visitors. And locals love their roast pork. But there is another popular sandwich loved by locals. And, that is the hoagie. While some call it a sub or hero, in Philadelphia, they call it a hoagie. A hoagie is a sandwich made with a sliced roll filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.
The place to go for a hoagie sandwich is Ricci’s Hoagies on 11th Street in South Philly. This family-run shop has been serving hoagies since 1920. What makes Ricci’s Hoagies so great is how they slice all meats fresh to order, right in front of you. Meats include ham, turkey, corned beef, pepperoni, roast beef, prosciutto, and roast pork. And, you can customize your hoagie to your liking. This includes onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, salt, vinegar, olive oil, and oregano.
As for me, I go for the popular Old Fashioned Italian ($9.25) on a crispy yet chewy Liscio’s Bakery hoagie roll. Inside is Genoa salami and prosciutto, funky crumbled sharp provolone cheese, and sweet roasted red peppers. And, I like my hoagie with everything on it. What I love about the hoagies at Ricci’s is how they layer everything like a work of art. A layer of meat, a layer of cheese, and a layer of vegetables surrounded by a fresh roll. You can taste all the textures and ingredients in each bite. And, this is what makes Ricci’s Hoagies special, even after 100 years.
What to order: Old Fashioned Italian Hoagie
Address: 1165 S 11th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Monday-Friday: 8:00AM-3:00PM; Saturday: 9:00AM-3:00PM; Sunday: Closed
3- Tommy Dinic’s Roast Pork
Philadelphia is best known for their cheesesteaks. But, if you ask the locals, roast pork is the real sandwich of Philly. While as old as the cheesesteak, roast pork is less known to non-Philly natives. So, on my visit, I made it a priority to try a roast pork sandwich for myself.
One of the best places in the city to try roast pork is at Tommy Dinic’s. Since 1954, the Nicolosi family has been selling roast pork and beef sandwiches in Philadelphia. It was in 1980 when grandson Tommy opened up shop inside the Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest markets in the country. The roast pork sandwich ($11.00) served here is simple and traditional. What I love about Dinic’s is how they slice their pork thin and dip it in homemade broth. They then serve the pork on a roll from Sarcone’s, a 5th generation Italian bakery in South Philly. And, if you want to order like the locals do, add crumbled sharp provolone and broccoli rabe. The combination of salty, rich meat, funky provolone, and bitter, crunchy broccoli rabe is a unique and delicious combination. Over the years, the menu has expanded to include other items. This includes roast beef, Italian sausage, meatballs, Italian-style pulled pork, and brisket.
What to order: Roast Pork
Tommy Dinic’s Roast Pork
Address: 51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (located inside Reading Terminal Market)
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 9:00AM-5:00PM; Sunday: Closed
4 – Octopus Falafel Truck
There is a small food cart located in downtown Philadelphia near the corner of S 20th and Ludlow. You know you are near when you can smell the aroma of grilled meats and vegetables in the air. You won’t find a name on the cart or a menu. This is the Octopus Falafel Truck.
Inside this mysterious cart, loved by locals, is a unique man known as Gus. Gus takes inspiration from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. He often cooks grilled meats and vegetables over charcoal or falafel in his cart. His daily special changes everyday and is the only thing you can order.
When you arrive, get in line. Once at the front of the line, be patient while Gus prepares your food. When ready, Gus will hand you a Styrofoam container and nothing else. This means no bag and no utensils. You then hand Gus $10 and walk away. Gus doesn’t like to answer questions and doesn’t take special requests. He might not even talk to you. It’s all part of the experience.
The best thing about Octopus Falafel Truck is the amount of food in each plate. On my visit, the special was juicy marinated grilled chicken, smoky grilled peppers, and large chunks of falafel on a bed of soft yellow rice. On top, snap peas, grilled asparagus, black olives, orange cherry tomatoes, and a grape. All this for $10. This might be the best deal in Philly.
What to order: Daily Special
Octopus Falafel Truck
Address: 8 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hours: Monday-Friday: 12:00PM-2:30PM; Saturday-Sunday: Closed
5 – South Philly Barbacoa
South Philly Barbacoa is a small taqueria located in the heart of the Italian Market. The taqueria, open only on weekends, is famous for their lamb barbacoa. It’s so popular that there is often a line out the door. If you are planning to eat here, bring cash and come early as they often sell out of items before closing time.
Mexican immigrant Cristina Martinez is the star behind South Philly Barbacoa. She started selling barbacoa out of her home before moving to a cart and then to her own restaurant. The one thing that hasn’t changed is how everything served here is homemade. This includes marinated lamb simmered for hours and handmade tortillas. The authentic food has made the small taqueria a popular spot for Mexican food. They have won awards, including a James Beard Award, and appeared on television shows such as Netflix’s Chef’s Table and Somebody Feed Phil.
My two favorite items to order are the barbacoa taco and pancita taco ($5 each) on a homemade corn tortilla. You can customize your tacos by adding onions, jalapenos, cilantro, limes, and salsa. The barbacoa is simple but tender, juicy, and rich. You can taste all the flavors of the lamb in each bite. The pancita though might be my favorite as the meat is spicy, salty, and chopped small. They also have lamb consommé on their menu which is amazing.
What to order: Barbacoa Taco, Pancita Taco
South Philly Barbacoa
Address: 1140 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Saturday-Sunday: 5:00AM-3:00PM; Monday-Friday: Closed
6 – Sarcone’s Bakery
Sarcone’s Bakery is a no-frills 5th generation Italian bakery located in the heart of the Italian Market in South Philly. In 1918, Italian immigrant Luigi Sarcone opened the small shop located at 758 South Ninth Street. For over 100 years, the family-run bakery has used the same time tested recipes to bake the best Italian style bread in Philadelphia. Hoagies, rolls, ciabatta, tomato pies, and more, baked fresh daily in brick ovens, has made Sarcone’s Bakery an icon of Philadelphia.
While the breads are great, the bakery is popular for its tomato pie ($3.00), a regional specialty of Philadelphia. The best way to describe a tomato pie is a rectangular bread topped with a red tomato sauce known as gravy. The best part of the tomato pies at Sarcone’s Bakery is the thick, chewy, airy bread baked until golden brown on the bottom. On top is a tangy and sweet tomato gravy seasoned with oregano and topped with a light dusting of Parmesan cheese. While simple, and served at room temperature, the tomato pie at Sarcone’s Bakery is a must eat for any visitor to Philadelphia. So, when you are craving a tomato pie, you know where to go. But, don’t forget to bring cash as they are cash only.
What to order: Tomato Pie
Address: 758 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Tuesday: 7:30AM-3:30PM; Wednesday: 7:30AM-3:00PM; Thursday: 7:30AM-3:30PM; Friday: 7:30AM-4:00PM; Saturday: 7:30AM-3:00PM; Sunday: 7:30AM-1:00PM; Monday: Closed
7 – John’s Water Ice
If you were to ask locals in Philadelphia to name the most iconic dessert, odds are they would say water ice. Being from California, I had never heard of water ice until my first visit to Philadelphia in 2006. So what is water ice? Water ice, sometimes called Italian ice, is a frozen dessert made with finely shaved ice topped with fruit or syrup. For over a century, Philadelphians have enjoyed water ice during the hot summer months.
One of the best places in Philadelphia to try water ice is at John’s Water Ice. Located in the heart of Bella Vista, John’s Water Ice has been serving water ice out of their small shop for almost 80 years. Their secret to success is in their family recipe which uses homemade and natural fruit juices. Flavors include lemon, cherry, chocolate, and pineapple. They also offer special flavors including mango, strawberry, lime, banana, peach, and more.
As for me, I keep it simple and go for the lemon water ice. While simple, the water ice here is silky and creamy in texture and quenches my thirst on a hot day. The natural lemon flavoring is sweet, tart, and fresh. Other than water ice, John’s Water Ice serves ice cream and gelati.
What to order: Water Ice
John’s Water Ice
Address: 701 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Open April through October; Monday-Saturday: 11:00AM-10:00PM; Sunday: 1:00PM-10:00PM
8- Isgro Pastries
Isgro Pastries is a legendary family-run bakery located in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. It was back in 1904 when Mario Isgro, a young teenager from Italy, opened his bakery at 1009 Christian Street in Philadelphia. For over a century, the bakery has been serving award-winning Italian sweets. This includes cannoli, ricotta cookies, macaroons, biscotti, sfogliatelle, cakes, torrone, and more. Everything here is handmade in small batches using the same time-tested recipes handed down for generations. And, they only use high quality ingredients to ensure the best product.
On my visits to Isgro Pastries, I go for the Ricotta Cannoli ($5.00). This Italian classic and legendary Philadelphia cannoli is simple but delicious. What makes the cannoli so special is its shell which is crunchy and bubbly on the outside yet airy and light on the inside. Filling the cannoli is a creamy, luscious ricotta and dark chocolate chips. The combination of the crunchy shell and sweet, but not too sweet filling, is something special. If you have a sweet tooth, you can add a dusting of powdered sugar. If you are looking for the best cannoli in Philadelphia, Isgro Pastries is the place to go.
What to order: Ricotta Cannoli, Ricotta Cookies
Address: 1009 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Tuesday: 8:00AM-4:00PM; Wednesday-Saturday: 8:00AM-6:00PM; Sunday: 8:00AM-4:00PM; Monday: Closed
9 – Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks
Love them or hate them, the final spot on my list of 9 of the best cheap eats in Philadelphia goes to both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. They are far from the best cheesesteaks in Philly. But, they are iconic institutions of the city. Even though they today cater to tourists, everyone should try them at least once.
Pat’s King of Steaks, or Pat’s Steaks, dates back to 1930. It was brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri who created the first steak sandwich using an Italian-style roll. Their creation evolved into the cheesesteak as we know today. In 1966, Geno’s opened across from Pat’s on Passyunk and 9th Street. Since then, they have competed against each other. And, both claim to serve the best cheesesteak in Philly.
In reality, both restaurants serve a similar product. Both are cash only. And, both are open 24 hours a day so you can grab a cheesesteak any hour of the day. The more drinks you have, the better it will taste. But, everyone has their favorite. Mine is the cheesesteak “wiz wit” at Pat’s ($13.00). It might not look the best, but what I enjoy about Pat’s cheesesteak is how the steak is tender and sliced thin. And there is something special about the combination of sweet grilled onions and cheesy wiz. At Geno’s, their cheesesteak is similar but their steak is thicker and chopped on the grill. Everyone who visits Philly should try one or the other, or both, at least once.
What to order: Cheesesteak
Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks
Address: 1237 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Pat’s King of Steaks); 1219 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Geno’s Steaks)
Hours: 24 hours