Books & Food in Philly
May 25, 2005 8:51 AM   Subscribe

All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia--and soon I will be. Please share your recommendations for used book stores, record stores, and vegetarian food (cheap to moderate, with moderate being entrees under $20). Also, as a bonus, if you know if any yummy restaurants near the Jersey Turnpike that would allow one to avoid the nastiness of the rest stop, that would be totally awesome.
posted by dame to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love Philadelphia, are you moving there or just visiting? There's a great place I go to with my friends for brunch called The Pour House, I think it's on 10th street. Also, next to the Pour house is a store called "Take a Break" it's basically this place you can go and play games, and literally take a break.

Out of Time Comics is good (if you're into the books with pictures), it's on Chestnut. Unfortunately I don't live there so I don't know much more than these :(.
posted by splatta at 9:16 AM on May 25, 2005

Between 21st/22nd and Walnut is a vegan restaurant called Sunwishes. Entrees are all $7-$10.

You didn't say what kind of music, but a stretch of two or three blocks on South Street (between 400 and 600 blocks) have some excellent record stores: Philadelphia Record Exchange, Repo Records, 611 Records, Tower Records. If you're in Old City, there's AKA Music, with a really nice avant garde section. (2nd or 3rd and Chestnut? I know how to walk there, anyway...)

Likewise on used books. South Street has a couple. There are a few in University City; one's on 34th and between Walnut/Chestnut. Another's on 39th/40th and Walnut.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:17 AM on May 25, 2005

There are some really good veggie places on South Street. My absolute favorite though, is Kind Cafe in the Northern Liberties's the best. The decor is extremely bohemian, and it's hard to tell the patrons from the people who work there. The food is inspired, cheap, casually served, and vegan...some cooked, and some raw. My husband's cooked recommendation is the portobello wrap - if it isn't on the menu you can ask for it.
posted by iconomy at 9:23 AM on May 25, 2005

Response by poster: Visiting. And for music, either stores with cheap used records or deep stores, preferably with good used CD sections--I live in New York & listen to indie & electro, so it's mostly a chance to find local stuff or to loot a new used section.
posted by dame at 9:24 AM on May 25, 2005

If you live in NY, then there's no need to stop for food along the turnpike-- it's only a 2 - 2.5 hr. drive, depending on traffic.

As it is, just, like, pack a sammich in the car. it'll make you happier, anyway.

Can't help you with veggie food in Philly, though, since every time i go in to the city, i just eat at pat's, where they'd probably punch me in the face repeatedly if i even THOUGHT the word "vegetarian."
posted by dersins at 9:29 AM on May 25, 2005

Repo Records and 611 Records have deep collections of indie and electro. Don't know that 611 has that much used stuff, though, and they cater to the mostly vinyl DJ crowd. I suggest Repo, of the two. Philadelphia Record Exchange is all used, and may have some indie if it is older than a couple of years.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:30 AM on May 25, 2005

Sounds like you want to go to South Street with all the other hippies. It has a bunch of record stores, book stores, condom stores and is just fun to walk around in general.

A couple restaurants I liked during my fours years at shool there that are not strictly vegetarian but have a good vegetarian selection:

Astral Plane

Continental Midtown- Kinda pricey but worth it, especially if you like martini's and sitting in swinging chairs suspended from the ceiling

Also, check out chinatown, a lot of the chinese restaurants have a great selection of mock food which I know prefer to the real thing. Also, Philly's page is great for finding restaurants with extensive reviews
posted by slapshot57 at 9:38 AM on May 25, 2005

There's a Thai restaurant down the same side street from Philadelphia Record Exchange. Great tofu curries, if you likes the spices -- and very reasonably priced, too. There's also Tamarind, which is also around South Street, closer to the river.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:45 AM on May 25, 2005

If you are lacto-ovo...
It's absolutely not a vegetarian restaurant but I can highly recommend the 24 hour greasy spoon Little Pete's for breakfast. I ordered the Eggs Benedict without meat there (It's not on the menu; I had to ask for it to be meatless.) and it was easily the best Eggs Benedict that I have ever had. Went back the next morning to repeat the experience.
posted by Morrigan at 9:50 AM on May 25, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone--keep 'em coming! Extra kisses for Alex, for being so thorough. And slapshot, I stopped trusting Citysearch when they claimed that Angelica Kitchen and Zen Palate had edible food.
posted by dame at 10:00 AM on May 25, 2005

Alex - How about that used book store on Spruce between 38th and 40th? I forget the name, but it's good. As for veggie food, the Magic Carpet trucks are the only place I go.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:11 AM on May 25, 2005

And then there's the record store at 40th and Spruce. I know there's got to be a vegetarian restaurant somewhere down Baltimore...
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:12 AM on May 25, 2005

Sorry to be contrary, but I can't recommend Continental Midtown as anything but okay and overpriced.

The Chinatown suggestion is right on. Not just Chinese there, but also Malaysian, Vietnamese, Burmese, and more.

The vegetarian bahn mi (Vietnamese hoagies) are awesome, if you're planning on checking out the Italian Market area (otherwise, it's a bit of a hike.) I like Cafe Nhuy at 8th and Christian, but there's a bunch of places in that neighborhood.

Veggie options have come a long way with our big love for slow food lately. The BYOs will mostly fit your bill in the moderate category.

I second Repo (5th and South) and AKA (2nd above Market) for used, and 611 (4th below South) for where the DJs go. There's a good used bookstore a couple doors down from AKA.

Where are you staying?
posted by desuetude at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2005

You're right, how could I forget! The Marvelous earns its name (and not just because they sell the mag I write for :) Indie lovers will lose hours browsing the racks.

There's a Viet/Thai restaurant on 47th/48th and Baltimore but I doubt dame would want to come into the war zone that is West Philly just for that. Much better food in more interesting parts of the city for around the same price.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:19 AM on May 25, 2005

Best answer: Ah, vegetarians in Philly. My girlfriend is one, so we've spent a hell of a lot of time figuring out where to eat. To that end, I second the nominations of:

The Pour House (10th St b/t Spruce and Locust)
Astral Plane (Lombard b/t 15th and 16th)

Both are great, the former for brunch/lunch, and the latter for excellent veg-friendly dinners. Also:

Nodding Head (Sansom b/t 15th and 16th): great brewpub with veggie burgers and sandwiches among other meat dishes.
Beau Monde (6th and Bainbridge, I think): French creperie with a lot of vegetarian options.
Santa Fe Burrito Co. (11th b/t Locust and Walnut): lots of veg burrito choices.
Azure (2nd b/t Laurel and Poplar [Northern Liberties]): huge veg selection of tropical kinda food.
Kingdom of Vegetarians (11th b/t Arch and Race [Chinatown]): Vegan chinese. $10 AYCE dim sum. Check it.
Rx (45th and Spruce): New American BYO; they usually have one vegetarian option per day, but the menu is constantly changing and every veg dish is great; they also have a ~$20 3-course prix fixe Tuesday through Thursday.

By far, though, the absolute best all-vegetarian in Philly are the Magic Carpet food trucks around the Penn campus. One is at 34th and Walnut, the other at 36th and Spruce. The range of options is mind-boggling, everything is great, prices are all between 3 and 5 dollars.

Used books: I'm partial to The Last Word on Walnut b/t 39th and 40th.

Records/music: Repo is great, as mentioned above, and Spaceboy is good also, around 5th and South. If you have more mainstream tastes, the Tower on Broad and Chestnut is superior to the one on South. If your tastes run more indie, and you like concerts, check out R5 Productions, who promote nearly all of the indie concerts (national and international acts, from indie rock to hip hop to whatever) in the city. The Marvelous, mentioned above, is alright, but the music selection is relatively slim compared to other places.

And on South Street: it sucks. It's where 16 to 19 year olds hang out, a ragtag collection of fratty bars, head shops, and extremely kitchy condom stores. If you're much above that age group, you'll probably find the place extremely tiring.

On preview: West Philly a warzone? I disagree completely, having lived here for two years (moved from Brooklyn, by the by), but that's just my opinion.
posted by The Michael The at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Veggie options have come a long way with our big love for slow food lately. The BYOs will mostly fit your bill in the moderate category.

Dame, if you want a treat, another idea is Audrey Claire on 20th and Spruce. The grilled artichokes are outstanding, and there is a mushroom entree if you wanted a full meal. It's a cash-only BYOB, though.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:29 AM on May 25, 2005

On preview: West Philly a warzone? I disagree completely, having lived here for two years (moved from Brooklyn, by the by), but that's just my opinion.

I've lived on the 4700 block of Cedar for the last year and a half. West Philly around Penn has been cleaned up a lot in the last three years. But get past 47th or so and it gets very rough in some areas.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:32 AM on May 25, 2005

Yeah, I've spent a decent amount of time out there (a bunch of friends live b/t 47th and 50th) without a problem or ever really feeling unsafe, but hey... six of one, half dozen of the other, right? Incidentally, the only crime I've ever experienced was once on Broad and Locust, and once on Walnut by Washington Square (both times attacked randomly...).
posted by The Michael The at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2005

Rx (45th and Spruce): New American BYO; they usually have one vegetarian option per day, but the menu is constantly changing and every veg dish is great; they also have a ~$20 3-course prix fixe Tuesday through Thursday.

I second Michael's recommendation. The food at Rx is great. If you don't get the prix fixe it is rather expensive, though, so plan reservations.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:45 AM on May 25, 2005

Go to a Metropolitan Bakery. Get yourself a chocolate cherry loaf. Thank me later.
Actually, get there early, because they sell out every day.
posted by willpie at 11:05 AM on May 25, 2005

I'm in West Philly as well.

The Last Word is an excellent bookstore, as is House of Our Own (39th and Spruce) which has a used section upstairs. The Penn Book Center (34th and Sansom) is a little more pricey but the people who work there are very knowledgable.

Rx is wonderful. You also may want to try Scoop de Ville (located in Houston Hall, at 36th and Spruce) for an orgasmic dessert treat (they basically have every topping and they creamily mix it and I would recommend Nutella and the Peanut Butter chocolate chip cookie dough mixed with chocolate yogurt, yum)

The Magic Carpet cart is delicious too (try the Bedouin or the Magic Meatball).

And if you're there this week (in West Philly), pick up a Daily Pennsylvanian :) It's a good read.
posted by moooshy at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2005

The Michael The
you might be right about south street, the only times I ever went there was for lorenzos and the really good rollerblade shop they used to have down there. It just seemed like the type of area dame was looking for

And as for West Philly being a warzone, I went to Penn undergrad and was horrified by the Hopkins med campus. You want warzone, Baltimore's your warzone. I'll give Judy Rodin her deserved credit, the campus and the surrounding area is ridiculously nicer than when I started in 99.
posted by slapshot57 at 11:19 AM on May 25, 2005

FYI, it's Tenth Street Pourhouse. In that neighborhood there's also a Whole Foods (10th and South) with decent counter seating.

I second Santa Fe. There are also very good Cali-Mex burritos to be had at El Fuego (7th and Walnut.) Their veggie burritos are so good that omnivores like me can't resist 'em. And they're huge. And they're like $5.50.

Also in West Philly are a couple of great Ethopian places with good veggie options, if you have any reason to head over in that direction. I always go to Dahlak. The earthmomma of our sustainable/organic/buy local movement is White Dog Cafe, also in West Philly. Needless to say, good veggie options.

Speaking of...also head to Reading Terminal Market for food of every type.

And on South Street: it sucks. It's where 16 to 19 year olds hang out, a ragtag collection of fratty bars, head shops, and extremely kitchy condom stores.
Agreed, but with some notable exceptions/destinations:TLA (Live music venue. I just saw Gang of Four there) and Tattooed Mom's (the bar where everyone goes who isn't into the South Street BS.) During the day you don't have to wade through all the kids, which would be the time to check out out all aforementioned South Street-area record stores. While Good area following restaurants: Latest Dish (lounge vibe, good drinks and small plates) and
Alyans (Middle Eastern)
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on May 25, 2005

As for the bathroom stops along the Jersey turnpike -- at least a few years ago the Walt Whitman service area had dozens of fresh-cut roses in the ladies' room, and was at least as clean as a decent restaurant. I'm not sure if it was a special occasion, if it's like that all the time, or if they were just trying to hide something.
posted by lisa g at 11:50 AM on May 25, 2005

In Chinatown, Kingdom of Vegetarians (on 11th between Arch and Race) is absolutely fantastic. They've got an all day, all you can eat dimsum special for $10.

Further up 13th between Race and Vine, is Vietnam Palace (NOT Vietnam restaurant across the street). They're surprisingly inexpensive (most of the menu is under $10). They've got a great vegetarian selection also. I eat there at least once a week.

Also, down in the South Street Area on 6th between South and Lombard, is Gianna's Grille. Great vegan and omnivore food. It almost makes me wish that I still lived in that neighborhood.

Also, Passage to India, on Chestnut between 13th and Broad, has a great vegetarian selection.

As far as Indian food goes, Samosa, between 11th and 12th on Walnut, is pretty good. They've got $6 buffet and a decent vegetarian selection.

El Azteca, between 7th and 8th on Chestnut, has some good Mexican food.

That's really just the tip of the iceberg. You can drop me an email if you need a more comprehensive list.
posted by Jon-o at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2005

Damn. I noticed the Michael beat me to The Nodding Head but I didn't notice Kingdom of Vegetarians. Two points to you.

ps. Are you stalking me? I've been to both those places in the past week...
posted by Jon-o at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2005

Oh boy.

I can't believe no one has mentioned Robins Books! They're super friendly and socially conscious. I believe they're located at 13th and Sansom in the "gayborhood" in Center City however I may be off a street or two.

I second the recommendations for the Last Word and House of Our Own. The House of Our Own is in a heavy frat area though.

Book Traders was another great used book store, but they moved from South Street to I think 2nd street. I don't know the exact location though so if someone has it, please post it. (They have cats that walk around the store, so be aware if you're allergic.)

The Wooden Shoe Book Store is just above South Street on 5th and while they may not be a used book store, they have a definite Indie vibe going on.
posted by tozturk at 12:17 PM on May 25, 2005

Best answer: I'm in Center City/Northern Liberties (12th and Spring Garden). For coffee, I like the Last Drop at 13th and Pine. Right catacorner from the Last Drop is Dirty Frank's, which happens to be my favorite bar--$7 for a pitcher of Yuengling.*

For veggie food I recommend the following:
  • Gianna's Grill- quite good vegan "fast food". Cheesesteaks, cheese fries, pizza, desserts, and various other tasty bites are all offered in both vegan and non-vegan variaties, along with a good selection of random ethnic fast food. Also, while it may sound gross that they serve both meat and vegan food, keep in mind that they are very, very clean about the whole process. Non-smoking
  • Kingdom of Vegetarians- tasty vegan Chinese food. Has all of the standard Cantonese classics in vegan form. No meat is served at this establishment whatsoever. Non smoking.
  • Santa Fe Burrito- very good Mexican-influenced tortilla wraps. They're really something that's very nearly, but not entirely, unlike a burrito. They taste great, they can be ordered spicy, and they're not horribly expensive. I recommend them. Oh, and it's about the only place I know in the city that gives free refills on soda.** Non-smoking
  • If you're 21, or it's early in the evening on a weeknight, there are several bars that offer decent veggie options (all of the following allow smoking): Nodding Head (warning, slightly irritating site) has a veggie burger that is really top-notch. And if you ignore the mayonaise and use the ketchup, the fries are vegan, too (although I don't know about their fryer practices). Also, Moriarty's has some veggie (not vegan) options, side dishes and such, if you're in a bind--but, they're expensive as shit, and waaaay too crowded due to overseating the place.
  • I personally pledge my life to the continued worship of a little Indian (Punjabi, I think) place called "Menhir Palace" (or something like that) on Sansom Street, between 16th and 17th on the North side next to a vacant field. You're guaranteed lots of good vegetarian options--not necessarily vegan, so you might ask (they'll understand, don't worry). They also offer many very good meat options (I ate there continually before I went veggie). The food is perfectly, and heavily, spiced. Best fucking somosas I've ever had, and I eat a lot of Indian.
For records, I'm a great fan of AKA Records on 2nd Street, a half a block up from Market. All sorts of great shit, lots of used. Lots of good indie shit, too. There're also a few record stores on South Street, but they're often overly expensive--like many stores on South Street.

*A note on Yuengling you'll want if you're not from PA: The particular brand Yuengling is referred to simply as "lager" around here, everybody has it. It's usually fairly inexpensive, and is really pretty damn tasty.

**There's some contention on this point, since they had posted, for a period of time, a sign on their soda fountain forbidding refill-related activities. The sign's gone now, but for all I know the tape just lost its stickiness and they never got around to hanging it back up. I consider this a repeal of the non-refill decision.
posted by Netzapper at 12:18 PM on May 25, 2005

Tons of great suggestions in this post! Some additions:

My favorite record store is AKA records on 2nd street- and it's just next to a great book store, Book Trader.

My man and I love to eat Indian buffet at New Delhi (40th and Chestnut).

I'm a big fan of Marathon Grill (locations all over downtown, plus one at 40th and Walnut).

For Ethiopian, go to Dahlak (47th? and Bmore) or Abyssinia (45th and Locust). The jury is still out on which one's better.

Places suggested that I would NOT suggest:
-Samosa (it's not very good, IMO)
-The Marvelous (their selection is pretty crappy).

As you can tell, I'm partial to West Philadelphia! The UPenn students (many of whom tend to be fuckheads) are all gone for the summer, making it even better vibewise than it is during the school year. I can't wait till the weather is nice so I can get my Marg on at MadMex!

OHHHH and I almost forgot: MONK'S for excellent vegetarian selections AND EVEN BETTER BEER!
posted by elisabeth r at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2005

Netzapper: I think it's "Minar Palace". The last time that I was in there, they served everything on paper plates with plastic utensils. They're really good but I don't think they expect much "eat-in" traffic. I'd recommend take-out.
posted by Jon-o at 12:27 PM on May 25, 2005

I lived in Philly for 5 years and essentially have nothing to add, but to second pretty much all of the above. Especially props to White Dog, Astral Plain, and Audrey Claire for good veggies. Dahlak is some of the best Ethiopian I've had. For breakfast, may I recommend Morning Glory Diner -- my favorite joint in all of Philly, and perhaps the best scrambled eggs and biscuits in the universe.

Also second AKA, and the bunch of record stores around South Street (Spaceland being my fave).

Small derail... Whatever happened to the crepes truck outside of UPenn run by those crazy Albanian guys ("Hey buudddy?")? I visited a few months back and random strangers on the street told me they moved into a real place, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
posted by drpynchon at 12:29 PM on May 25, 2005

Also, the mayo-dressing for the fries at the Nodding Head is so good that some of my vegan friends make an exception for it.
posted by Jon-o at 12:31 PM on May 25, 2005

I have no idea how I forgot, but Sabrina's (Christian b/t 9th and 10th, right by the Italian Market) is great for brunch. Lots of veg stuff (tofu scramble), and the french toast and pancake specials are superlative. The only downside are the hordes of people that descend on the place on the weekend; it seems like people go there to see and be seen, which is weird given that the place is a ragtag little brunch cafe. Regardless, if you go early (by 11) or late (after 1:30 or 2), you'll likely be seated right away.

One other place with great vegan burgers, fries, and mayo is Grace Tavern at 23rd and Gray's Ferry Ave (essentially South St, right near Bike Therapy). A sweet neighborhood-type bar with some great beer selections and great prices. The place is owned by the same bunch that own Monk's, Fergie's, and Nodding Head.

drpynchon: I think it moved into Houston Hall.

Jon-o: nope, no stalking. Just good taste.
posted by The Michael The at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2005

Jon-o: Oh, you're right about the name. They've always served on paper plates, and you're right, they're not a fine dining experience. But, when I can get a top-quality example of my favorite sort of food for around $6 a plate, I'm willing to overlook the lack of candles on the tabletops. :)

Oh, man, if I had more than $4 to my name, I'd so go there right now. Hrmm... I wonder if I can scrounge up $10 somehow--gotta have somosas, too.
posted by Netzapper at 1:29 PM on May 25, 2005

Also, for the guiltiest pleasure in the world, you can get a deep-fried snickers bar with ice cream at the Tritone (15th and South)
posted by Jon-o at 2:02 PM on May 25, 2005

elisabeth r,

we're not all fuckheads :)
posted by moooshy at 3:41 PM on May 25, 2005

Mmmm delicious vinyl. For some good digging I'm always finding cool stuff for cheap at AKA and The Marvelous. Cue and Spaceboy can be really great but I feel like they tend to know too much about what their shit is worth. 611 was bomb when they used to sell used records, but now its all new and top dollar.

You might feel like checking out Armand's Records at 11th and Chestnut. It's mainly a rap and reggae spot (and excellent at that) but they have a decent amount of other stuff, and since the indie kids and the ravers all go to South St. for records, theres some pretty well undug electronica, house, rock and whatnot. I bet you'll find something hot there. They could prolly care less about electro and they definitely have at least some laying around, so you might luck out.

And near enough to Armands that it's worth a peek in there is Funk-o-mart (11th or 12th on Market). They can have some real gems, again mostly rap and r&b and funk and disco and a smaller selection of "other", and you can't play records there and they been know to sell you some busted stuff. It's risky, but I've got the total hookup as much as I been burned. There's also Sounds of Market right near there (I think 11th btw. Market and Chestnut) but they kinda fell off in the last few years in my opinion. Worth a look if you're near there though.

W/r/t food...when you're near AKA Records Soho Pizza is right near there on MArket and they do a good slice. (Oh and the Book Trader is basically right next door to AKA for that). When you're by the Marvelous, Rami's Falafel cart is down the block at 40th and Locust and New Delhi Indian Buffet is on Chestnut btw. 40th and 41st. New Delhi is definitely preferable to Tandoor and you must know this because you will need to walk past it on your way to New Delhi and you must not be swayed. Down on South Street the classic thing to do is get a giant probably undercooked slice at Lorenzo's (btw. 3rd and 4th), but the pizza spot on the corner of 4th and South is fighting back by matching Lorenzo's slice size and tending to cook it longer so I'd say go there. There's a good Middle Eastern place kitty corner to that too. Armands is near Chinatown and there's some nice veg. restaurants up that way. But whatever, I'm more about getting a couple slices or a cheese hoagie at the Wawa and spending the extra on more records :)
Enjoy our city and whatever you do, don't get on the Duck!
posted by 31d1 at 4:12 PM on May 25, 2005

Yeah. Avoid the Duck-boats. Or be marked for death.
posted by Jon-o at 4:24 PM on May 25, 2005

Speaking of...also head to Reading Terminal Market for food of every type.

A bit out of the way, but if you want to go around South Street, you might head out to the Italian Market in the late morning or early afternoon, and follow that up with South Street, since they are so close to each other. This is a pure working class farmer's market, unlike the more upscale, trendy Reading Terminal Market, where you'll pay up to $20/lb for European cheese. On the other hand, RTM is indoors, so you can grab a bite to eat and sit down inside.
posted by AlexReynolds at 6:14 AM on May 26, 2005

I lived and worked in the Italian market for years. Let me tell you, the quality blows. A lot. Hard.

They manage to keep their produce so cheap primarily by buying the cheapest produce from their distributors, often the stuff that's literally 24 hours away from starting to rot. Most of it's pretty damn good the day you buy it, but it will not keep since it's at the end of its fresh lifetime by the time the Italian market gets it.

Also, we're not talking about an organic, green, environmentally-friendly farmer's market. Everything is grown "conventionally".

That said, it's fun as hell to spend an afternoon there. Furthermore, there're some excellent stores in the area. I strongly suggest you go to The Spice Corner on 9th Street, a half a block South of Christian. Best selection and prices on bulk spices I've ever found in the city--I also used to work there, and despite terminating employment on bad terms, I still recommend it.

On preview: the quality of the produce seems to be directly proportional to the cost of the premises. That is, trust a big place with an actual building over a street cart.

Also, the big seafood place on 9th and Washington has some great aquatic produce--crabs, shrimp, fish, etc.
posted by Netzapper at 7:22 AM on May 26, 2005

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