We have a delicious post about Exploring Mexican South Philly/Italian Market, but even if you are only in the area for the Geno’s/Pat’s cheese steak challenge (note: there are WAY better options, but it’s still the classic. FYI: for a step up, Lorenzo’s often makes the “best” lists) there are some old school Italian places left in the area that are well worth checking out.
Shopping: In addition to the produce stands lining the sidewalks and butcher shops, these are Philadelphia institutions:
Di Bruno’s: We usually visit the Chestnut Street outpost in Center City, but this is the original (c. 1939) and it’s beautiful inside. It’s small, but stuffed with fresh cheese, salami, baked goods, etc. – the perfect place to put together a picnic or fancy appetizer platter. Plus, the staff are super friendly. Put yourself in their hands. Tell them what you like and let them give you recommendations (and free samples). Although pricey, you are more than welcome to purchase small quantities. Each of their stores carries slightly different products. 930 S. 9th
Fante’s: Need a pizzelle baker, pasta maker, espresso machine, or any other type of cooking gadget? Fante’s has been operating in the Italian Market since 1906. Even if you are not purchasing, it’s a fun place to look around (and grab a copy of their pizzelle recipe) and have what is probably the best coffee deal in the city… a $1 espresso from their tiny coffee bar. Other drinks are available, including a delicious cappuccino granita (summer only). Definitely get a home-made biscotti to go with your coffee. They have terrific customer service and were great helping us pick out an espresso machine.1006 S. 9th
Talluto’s: The place to come for pasta, which the family has been making in Philadelphia since 1967. They have both fresh pasta (hand cut to order), and a freezer case full of options, including a variety of sauces. 944 S. 9th
Termini’s: It’s been around forever (the original location in the Italian Market opened in 1921 and moved to the current site in 1938- where it still has the original tin ceiling, tile floors, and wooden fixtures), and still makes some of the best cannoli in the city – plus, all the Italian classics, including biscotti and cheesecake (which Fred says is almost as good as his grandmom’s) 1523 S. 8th
Isgro’s: Opened in 1904, Isgro’s is older, smaller, and less well-known than Termini, but it’s old school and delicious. Try comparing cannolis from both places for a South Philly experience that beats the Pat’s/Geno’s cheese steak challenge any day. 1009 Christian Street
Sarcone’s: A 5th generation bakery. THE place for rolls (you’ll see restaurants all over the city bragging that they serve hoagies on Sarcone’s rolls), but also to-go pizza crusts, cheap pizza slices, pizelles,etc.. Next door to Ralph’s, which claims to be the oldest Italian restaurant in the US.
Mr. Joe’s: Philadelphians love to argue about the best “red gravy” Italian restaurant, but our favorite is Mr. Joe’s. #1 all meals come with a complimentary glass of house red wine (and salad) #2 all meals come with a complimentary cannoli (or other dessert) from Termini bakery (the bakery and restaurant are owned by the same family). #3 The menu is small, but everything we’ve tried has been delicious. The restaurant is small, so come early or late. Service can be a bit slow, but very friendly once it’s your turn. Note: they are open 11:00-5:00 Tuesday-Saturday) 1514 S. 8th
Water Ice: John’s. A classic. 4 basic flavors (cherry, pineapple, lemon, chocolate, plus occasional specials). Cheap. Not too sweet. Philly Desserts: Classic Water Ice a.k.a. Italian Ice (John’s)
Make sure to check out the pole at 9th & Montrose. It’s the one used each year for the Italian Market Festival’s greased pole contest.
Walk the streets around the market and you will notice businesses set up to assist immigrants as they first began arriving in the area in the 1800’s. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the area along 7th St. between Bainbridge and Washington Avenue was a “bankers row” of over 25 row-house sized banks set up to help Italian immigrants with loans, money transfers, even railroad and steamship tickets. Today, you can still see the facades of Banca Calabrese, Banca D’Italia and Bozzelli’s bank.
Tobey says: I love the Italian Market area – there’s always something interesting to see and eat!