Illustration by Aly Miller

The Best Jewish Food in Philadelphia

Bagels, pretzels, upscale Israeli food, and so much more.

Founded by Quakers in 1682 as a refuge offering religious freedom, Philadelphia has been historically significant in American history since the very beginning. It doesn’t hurt that the founders of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia’s own Independence Hall. But the Philly of today has a lot more to offer than just its ties to the past. The city is vibrant, diverse, teeming with energy, art, and culture, which no doubt influences its food scene, among the most celebrated and multilayered in the whole country. It’s a city where street foods (hoagies, Philly cheesesteaks, and soft pretzels) are beloved, where immigrant cuisines are explored in fast-casual formats, where food cultures intersect (tour the Italian market and stumble upon some of the best tacos in town), and where you can find top James Beard Award-winning restaurants and temples of haute cuisine.

Given Philly’s historic openness to many faiths (hence the slogan “the city of Brotherly Love”), it’s no surprise that the Jewish community found a home along the Schuylkill River almost immediately. The Jewish population boomed in the late 19th century with a heavy influx of Eastern European immigrants who brought smoked meats, bakeries, a love of cured fish, and of course, bagels (what could go better with smoked fish?).
Today, Philly’s Jewish population is among the largest in the United States, with communities thriving throughout the city and outside the city limits in the burbs — what’s known as the Main Line.

Young, talented chefs and bakers are making their names by cooking foods with Jewish stories in Philadelphia, alongside some of the classic institutions, like bagel shops and delis that have been serving the city for generations. And of course, it’s impossible to discuss Jewish food in Philly without mentioning Philly’s most celebrated chef and restaurateur, Michael Solomonov, whose flagship restaurant of modern Israeli cuisine, Zahav, just received the James Beard Award for best restaurant in the United States. Solomonov plays a big role in making Philadelphia a culinary destination while exposing Philadelphians to the range and diversity of what Jewish food can be. His restaurants, owned by restaurant group CookNSolo with partner Steve Cook, are dotted throughout many categories on this list.

You’ll need a few days (or a few visits) to eat through this guide to Jewish food, where bagels and baked goods will fill you with carbs in the morning and innovative Jewish cafes and restaurants will excite your palate in the evening. Whatever you decide to eat, just be sure to take in Philadelphia’s uniquely independent spirit and its charming, relaxed vibe.

No doubt about it: Philly is a bagel town. Start with Philly Style Bagels, which Bon Appetit Magazine claims might be among the best bagel shops in the country. Their bagels are fermented, hand-rolled, boiled in beer, and baked on wood planks. The result is bursting with flavor. Be sure to try their smoked salmon, too. Spread Bagelry has two locations and a regular pop-up at Piazza Pod Park offering wood-fired Montreal-style bagels. Pick up a classic sesame with any choice of schmear. Knead Bagels gets a bit more chef-y with creative bagel flavors like lavender and togarashi (a Japanese spice mix). Fitzwater Street, South Street Philly Bagels,  Chestnut Street Philly Bagels, and Passyunk Bagels are classic New York-style bagel joints. These four shops are actually owned by the same person but operate separately. And they all bake their bagels on wooden boards covered in burlap. Head to any of these spots in the morning for a hot-from-the-oven poppy seed bagel slathered with cream cheese. The Bagel Place has a special charm and classic bagel flavors, but they also offer bagel-making classes! Call ahead to reserve a spot.

Pro-tip: Essen Bakery (see Breads and Pastries below) also makes artisanal bagels that shouldn’t be missed. And French bakery Kettle Black features a variety of breads in addition to their take on the classic bagel. They close up shop each day once the bagels are gone (typically around 2 p.m.) so be sure to get there early.

Philly Style Bagels
1451 E Columbia Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
No phone in-house. Email through their website.
Neighborhood: Fishtown

Spread Bagelry
262 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 545-0626
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse

 Spread Bagelry
3602 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 222-0283
Neighborhood: West Philly

Knead Bagels
725 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(267) 519-9920
Neighborhood: Washington Square

Fitzwater St. Philly Bagels
2001 Fitzwater Street Philadelphia, PA 19146
(267) 534-5995
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

South Street Philly Bagels
613 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 627-6277
Neighborhood: Headhouse Square

Chestnut Street Bagels
1705 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 299-9920
Neighborhood: Center City

Passyunk Ave. Bagels
1742 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 457-5150
Neighborhood: East Passyunk

The Bagel Place
404 Queen St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-2387
Neighborhood: Queen Village

Photo credit Essen

Whether you’re going to bubbe’s for Shabbat or you’re looking for something sweet to snack on, Philly’s pastry and bread scene has you covered. There are the classic bakeries like Kaplan’s, Lipkin’s, and Homemade Goodie’s by Roz (all kosher certified) where you can find high-quality challah and sweets like rugelach and Jewish apple cake. Then there are the nouveau spots (that have quickly become staples) like Essen Bakery, where James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Baker, Tova du Plessis, whips up an array of baked goods and sandwiches like chocolate halva babka and pastrami-smoked salmon sandwiches. Taffet’s, meanwhile, is all gluten-free. Located in the bustling Italian Market area of town, their sourdough rye and kaiser rolls evoke those familiar Jewish flavors in a gluten-free package.

Kaplan’s New Model Bakery
901 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 627-5288
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties
*This bakery is kosher.

Lipkin’s Bakery
8013 Castor Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19152
(215) 342-3005
Neighborhood: Northeast
*This bakery is kosher.

Homemade Goodies By Roz
510 S 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 592-9616
Neighborhood: Society Hill
*This bakery is kosher.

Essen
1437 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 271-2299
Neighborhood: East Passyunk

Taffet’s
1024 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-5511
Neighborhood: Italian Market
*This bakery is gluten-free.

Pro-tips: K’Far (which was not yet open at the time of publishing this guide) is set to open in 2019. It’s an Israeli bakery concept from the CookNSolo Restaurant Partners and will be led by James Beard Award-winning pastry Chef Camille Cogswell. K’Far will be located in the Rittenhouse neighborhood at 19th and Chestnut and serve up Israeli specialty pastries.

Photo credit Shlesinger’s

The deli scene in Philadelphia is marked by old school spots that locals have loved for decades. Schlesinger’s is operated by a third-generation deli man and is well-loved for its massive hot pastrami sandwiches, wide bowls of matzah ball soup, and its slices of sweet noodle kugel. Under the same ownership and a little farther afield is Hymie’s, which has been operating since 1938. Hymie’s has one of those massive deli menus, with sandwich offerings such as the Shlemeil (turkey, coleslaw, and Russian dressing) and the Schmoozer Combo (corned beef and pastrami with coleslaw and Russian dressing). Rachel’s Nosheri is a spot for breakfast or lunch with an emphasis on sandwiches featuring smoked fish and the like. Famous 4th Street Delicatessen has been a Philly favorite since 1923. Everything is done in-house, so don’t miss the home-smoked pastrami or the freshly baked rugelach and chocolate babka. Hershel’s Deli is located in Philadelphia’s beloved and lively Reading Terminal Market. It’s the ideal spot to grab a mile-high sandwich after an afternoon of browsing stalls of Amish pickles and locally grown produce.

Schlesinger’s
1521 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-7305
Neighborhood: Center City

Hymie’s
342 Montgomery Ave, Merion Station, PA 19066
(610) 668-3354
Neighborhood: Merion Station

Rachael’s Nosheri
120 S 19th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 568-9565
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse

Famous 4th Street Delicatessen
700 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 922-3274
Neighborhood: Headhouse Square

Hershel’s East Side Deli
51 N 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-6220
Neighborhood: Reading Terminal Market

Pro-tip: If you find yourself on one of Philly’s many college campuses or far out in the burbs, you don’t have to skip your visit to the deli. Zaydees is located on Temple Campus, Koch’s Deli is in University City, Ben & Irv’s is located in Huntington Valley, Steve Stein’s Famous Deli is in Bustleton, and Murray’s is in Merion Station.

Photo credit Alexandra Hawkins

Philadelphia hosts a wide array of upscale dining reflecting the vast Jewish diaspora. Start with nouveau Ashkenazi restaurant from CookNSolo Restaurant Partners, Abe Fisher, where Chef Yehuda Sichel is smoking Montreal short ribs that will melt in your mouth and where savory rugelach are served to start the meal. Then move onto the nationally celebrated and award-winning modern Israeli restaurant Zahav, also from CookNSolo, where Chef Michael Solomonov might just be working the grill station when you arrive. Carnivores and vegetarians alike will be delighted by the sprawling mezze platters featuring fried cauliflower, caramelized fennel, and halloumi cheese with strawberry, rhubarb, and pistachio. Both Zahav and Abe Fisher require reservations well in advance to secure a seat. For a taste of something different, head to Uzbekistan Restaurant, where Uzbek, Georgian, and Ukrainian Jewish food is on offer in the BYOB setting. Uzbekistan restaurant features dumplings galore from fruit-filled vareniki to meat-filled manti. The kebabs on the grill are also a highlight. And newer to the scene is Musi, an intimate spot from chef and community staple Ari Miller, who was just named Best Chef by Philadelphia Magazine. Inspired by his time spent in Tel Aviv-Yafo and named after his fishmonger from Yafo, Miller’s menu is seasonally oriented and changes based on what his purveyors have available.

Pro-tip: Cheu Noodle isn’t global Jewish dining exactly, but their brisket ramen, featuring a matzah ball and a spicy broth, is much beloved by Philly foodies.

Abe Fisher
1623 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 867-0088
Neighborhood: Center City

Zahav
237 St James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
Neighborhood: Old City

Uzbekistan Restaurant
12012 Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19116
(215) 671-1990
Neighborhood: Northeast

Musi
100 Morris St, Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 377-9466
Neighborhood: Pennsport

Photo credit Honey’s

Everyone loves the lively and homey atmosphere (and food!) at Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat, especially for brunch. With two locations in Philadelphia, local favorites include scrambled eggs with pastrami, challah French toast, and bubbe’s brisket sandwich. Cafe Ole has been referred to as the “Shakshuka Queen of Philadelphia” and it’s also a great spot to sit outside in Old City Philly. La Va Cafe serves Israeli and Mizrahi-inspired fare with warmth and hospitality. Try the freshly baked bourekas and Yemenite jachnun and malawah platters.

Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat
2101 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 732-5130
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat
800 N 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 925-1150
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties

Cafe Ole
147 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-2140
Neighborhood: Old City

La Va Cafe
2100 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 545-1508
Neighborhood: Graduate Hospital

 

Photo credit Michael Persico

Goldie Falafel and Dizengoff are two fast-casual stars of the CookNSolo Restaurant Partners’ empire. Local Philadelphians flock to these spots in their various locations dotted around the city. Goldie is all about, well, falafel, in a pita or on a salad. Eat yours with a side of fries dusted with shwarma spice and wash it all down with their famous tahini milkshake. At Dizengoff, it’s all about the hummus, topped with potato, pepper, or even a “pickle situation,” served with fresh pita for dipping. Mama’s brings quality and kosher falafel and other Israeli favorites, with lots of vegan items on the menu. Hey Hummus has a heavy emphasis on the hummus with all the toppings like their favorite, chicken shwarma.

Goldie Falafel
1526 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 239-0777
Neighborhood: Center City

Goldie Falafel
3401 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Neighborhood: West Philly

Goldie Falafel
Whole Foods Market food court, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 557-0015
Neighborhood: Fairmount
*This restaurant is kosher and vegan.

Dizengoff
1625 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 867-8181
Neighborhood: Center City

Dizengoff
Whole Foods Market food court, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 557-0015
Neighborhood: Fairmount

Mama’s Vegetarian
18 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 751-0477
Neighborhood: Center City
This restaurant is kosher and vegetarian.

Hey Hummus
2101 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 606-6942
Neighborhood: Center City
*This restaurant is kosher.

Photo credit Abbe Stern

If you’re in West Philly on a Saturday, stop by the farmers market and grab one or a dozen Dodo Bagels, especially the salt and caraway variety. For an even more ephemeral but delicious bagel experience, message Phillip Korshak of Korshak’s Bagels on Instagram and pick up a few of his perfectly crusted bagels in a low-key paper bag somewhere in South Philly. Miss Rachel’s Pantry is a completely vegan pop-up space under kosher supervision, where special Jewish holiday cooking classes and special themed meals are regularly held, especially during Passover when they get rid of all of their leavened products for the week.

Dodo Bagels Pop-Up Shop
Every Saturday at the farmers market in West Philly. Contact via website.
Neighborhood: West Philadelphia

Korshak Bagels
Pick up throughout the city. Contact via Instagram.
Neighborhood: South Philly

Miss Rachel’s Pantry
1938 S Chadwick St, Philadelphia, PA 19145
(215) 798-0053
Neighborhood: East Passyunk
*This restaurant is kosher and vegan.

Thanks to local Experts: Devra Ferst (food writer), Anita Davidson (Muhibbah Dinners), and Chef Ari Miller (Musi).

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