This post was most recently updated on June 2nd, 2016
This past weekend I made an impulsive decision to catch the St. John’s versus Villanova basketball game in Philadelphia, which led to my first visit to Philadelphia. We made our way down to Philly and realized that the game tickets were way too expensive, so we decided to watch the game from a friend’s house. Unfortunately, St. John’s lost the game, but my friends and I were definitely winners. Most of my preconceived notions about Philadelphia were confirmed, but I also came away with a new outlook on the city. We may have missed the game, but we did explore the city, eat some bomb food, and have a good time.
On our way to Penn Station in Manhattan for our train down south to Philly, I had a few ideas of the place. Some of the thoughts that popped into my head included “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, Rocky, Allen Iverson, The Declaration of Independence, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Dr. J (I love basketball in case you couldn’t tell), Philly cheesesteaks, and the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, to name a few. Clearly, my mind was all over the place, and to be honest, I’m not sure why, but I always felt an obligation to visit the city and see the humble beginnings of the United States with my own eyes. Although it was only a weekend, I felt like it was really productive in terms of experiencing what the city has to offer, as well as getting to know its past.
So rather than wasting any time, let’s just get right to the most important part of my trip: eating my first Philly cheesesteak. Sometimes in life you hear so many good things about something and when you experience it for the first time, the expectations are not met. This was not the case. My two college buddies and I had finally arrived in the city at about 9:30 PM and we were starving. We had to get the famous cheesesteak for our first meal. We headed down to Center City and stopped at Jim’s South Street Steaks for our first taste. I got a cheesesteak with provolone and peppers and left the place beyond happy. When you’re starving the way we were, I can only think of a handful of more satisfying meals than a cheesesteak.
The next cheesesteak that I had was the better of the two at Dalessandro’s. This place is highly regarded in the Philly area (and for good reason). With the quality of steaks that this joint produces, it’s no wonder why it’s been open since 1960. The first thing you notice when you walk up to the restaurant is the line that pushes out of the door. At first, I wondered if this place was worth the wait in the line, and I even considered walking across the street to a random neighboring restaurant that claimed to have good cheesesteaks. But my friend assured me that I would be making a huge mistake if I didn’t make the small sacrifice. He was right… I thought the first steak I had was good, but Dalessandro’s took it to a new level. This time I switched it up a little and got the same provolone with peppers but also added the sweet onions to it; the subtle difference really changed the whole taste for the better. Paired with some Herr’s chips, this was far and away the best meal over the weekend.
After we filled our cheesesteak craving, we decided to try out some of the other food that the city had to offer. That’s when we hit Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat. This was a recommendation by my good friend, a native Philadelphian, and needless to say he came through clutch. Deep in the hipster neighborhood of Northern Liberties, we found the restaurant and were presented with a half an hour wait, but it was well worth it. The restaurant had a foodie and industrial vibe to it that gave me a feeling that I was about to eat some delicious food. I’m from Southern California, so I crave avocados at all times. When I saw guacamole on the menu, naturally, I had to have it. After the appetizer, I moved on to the homemade chicken enchiladas topped with an entire avocado. Typically, food on the East Coast tends to be a lot heavier, so I was happy for a change of pace with the West Coast flavors.
So clearly food was a big part of the whole Philadelphia experience, but this doesn’t mean that the rest of the trip wasn’t also great. On Saturday morning we headed down to Center City and went to a store that we were all looking forward to: Ubiq. Following in the steps of stores like Kith in New York and Undefeated in Los Angeles, Ubiq is a lifestyle store that specializes in contemporary and urban footwear. We walked in and saw all of our favorite styles and brands; the shop is so popular because of the exclusive sneakers that it carries and the unique collaborations that it is often a part of. The store represented a new wave of youth that seems to be taking over the city. All over Philly there were signs of struggle between the youth movement and the older generation.
When we finished up at Ubiq and the rest of Center City, we headed down to South Philly, the classic Italian neighborhood. On the way there all I could think about was Rocky Balboa and how crazy it would be if he was a real person that I could randomly run into on the street down there. Obviously, I didn’t meet him, but the Italian Market really made me forget all about it. Although you would assume that the Italian Market is strictly Italian, this is untrue! South Philly is arguably the most diverse part of the city as it also boasts some of the most authentic Mexican and Chinese cuisine on its borders. As far as the Italian food, some of the most prominent smells in the air were the bakeries’ fresh bread, the different cheeses, and delicious pastas. Maddy and I are pretty easy to please; food is definitely the way to get us in a good mood, so I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to these overwhelming aromas. Unfortunately with winter very recently giving way to spring, none of the area was prepared for a crowd, so I know that I didn’t get the best that it had to offer.
Besides the food, my favorite part of the trip was our visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In case you’re not aware, the entrance to the museum has the famous steps that Rocky ran up. Rather than looking like a tourist and taking a picture of myself at the top with my arms above my head, I simply took a picture of the steps themselves. Too many people made fools of them and even broke a sweat running up those stairs for a picture; all in all, I didn’t want to become a statistic! Once inside, I was highly impressed by the variety of art that the museum featured. You can find works from every single continent, and I was specifically interested in the quantity and quality of the Japanese Kano art and the Surrealist artists from the 20th century. If you visit the city, this is a destination that must be seen. The museum is really one of the best that I’ve been to, and I would say that it is not too far off of any museums in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. On a side note, you can get La Colombe Coffee; if you don’t know what it is, then you’ll thank me later!
All in all, I’m glad that I finally got to cross a trip to Philly off of my checklist. I was definitely impressed with where the city stands and the diversity that it offers. Going in, I can honestly say that I just saw Philadelphia as a city of America’s past; a place that was past its prime, that only held importance in the beginning of the country. I was definitely wrong. Philadelphia is a city with an educated youth, as it is surrounded by UPenn, Villanova, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Drexel, and other institutions, and boasts a variety of culture with so many demographics. Not only is it an important city for the country, but it is also rising on a global scale. If you’ve never been to Philadelphia or you haven’t been in a while, I highly recommend that you visit and educate yourself on the transformation that is taking over the city.
Further reading: Top 25 Things To Do In Philadelphia (PA) – The Crazy Tourist