Philly's Best and Brightest
Where to dine, imbibe, roam, and more.
by Bill Donahue

Philadelphia has shaped me in every way. I spent the first 13 years of my life in the city, going to Philadelphia schools. I visited weekly in my mid- to late teens to partake in its vast cultural riches. I chose to finish my last two years of college at a Philadelphia-based institution of higher learning.
Even so, a big part of me yearned to escape Philly, to see what other parts of the world had in store. After spending 10 years of my career traveling to all but one of the Lower 48 states, with Chicago becoming something of a second home, I found myself drawn back to Philly and its people. (I credit the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers team that went to Stanley Cup Final but ultimately fell to the Chicago Blackhawks.) Of all the periods of my life, I think I’m most fond of Philadelphia now. I return as often as I can, as a visitor, but it will always be my home.
While cheesesteaks, Rocky, the Liberty Bell, and Jason Kelce wind up getting the lion’s share of the press—and we love all of them, too—there’s so much more to Philly. On the following pages we celebrate a small sampling of the many things that have helped make Philadelphia such a remarkable place for so long.
There’s nothing quite like breakfast, lunch, or brunch at Cake, a BYOB restaurant and bakery in Chestnut Hill. The menu is terrific, with atmosphere to match. How often do you have the opportunity to take a meal in a greenhouse? Also, given its name, be sure to save room for something sweet at the meal’s conclusion.
Manhattan has Central Park. Philly has gems like Forbidden Drive, a miles-long ribbon of crushed gravel ideal for walkers, bikers, joggers, and equestrians. Located in sprawling Wissahickon Valley Park, adjacent to the burbling Wissahickon Creek, Forbidden Drive is a picturesque and peaceful antidote to traffic, cellphones, and other manmade ugliness. Recommendation: Finish or start your jaunt by taking a seat on the outdoor patio of the historic Valley Green Inn.
In 2015, when the longtime owner of Friday Saturday Sunday announced the restaurant would be sold, patrons were heartbroken. A lot can happen in a few years’ time. In 2023, the Rittenhouse restaurant earned one of the culinary industry’s highest honors by taking home a James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award. Anyone who paid a visit in recent years knows that such honors are deserved. The tasting menu, featuring creative American cuisine big on seasonality, is well worth the $165 price tag.
Head House Books, located in or around Society Hill, has been playing a role in Philadelphia’s enlightenment for almost 20 years by way of a “fiercely curated” selection of diverse voices in literature and nonfiction. It strives to serve a purpose beyond simply helping people buy books; rather, it hopes to build community, stimulate the senses, and, at its best, influence the way we view the world.
Who says murder and amusement don’t make good bedfellows? Aptly named Red Rum Theater on Walnut Street hosts a lively lineup of murder-mystery events, each based on some icon of pop culture. Upcoming shows include those inspired by characters from Friends, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, and Sex and the City—even The Brady Bunch. Each event offers hours of performative storytelling and sleuthing, and the thematic cocktails are pretty good, too.
Anyone who appreciates the history of the written word will want to patronize the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Rittenhouse. Its collection of rare books, maps, and manuscripts include those penned by the likes of Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce (a manuscript of Ulysses is among the Rosenbach’s most beloved prizes), Maurice Sendak, Bram Stoker, and George Washington. Not only is the list long, but it also continues to grow.
Fishtown’s Suraya earned “restaurant of the year” honors not too long ago, and the Lebanese restaurant continues to thrill. The menu is simply luminous, with dishes featuring interesting textures and vibrant flavors from the other side of the world. Describing a straightforward dish like hummus as transcendent would be silly and overwrought anywhere else, but not here.
The Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre shares the stories and struggles of an array of Philadelphia voices in a modern yet intimate setting. The performances cover a lot of territory, ranging from poignant plays to comedic works to spirited musicals; some shows hit multiple notes all at once. Take La Egoista, which is due to grace the stage later this year, as an example. Both funny and touching, the show focuses on the life of a standup comic from Philly who has to come to terms with her mother’s death, among other challenges, just as she’s finding her footing in her career.
Whether you prefer folk music or punk, thrash metal or indie, or pretty much any other genre of music, Union Transfer in Callowhill has the ticket. The sound and setup—including that lovely balcony—provide a setting that feels both intimate and well produced. Mark your calendar: The Buzzcocks, godfathers of British punk, take the stage on Sept. 8.   
Philly abounds with excellent plant-based dining options—Bar Bombon, Charlie was a sinner, Monster Vegan, Pietramala, Primary Plant Based, The Tasty—but Vedge is in a class by itself. Owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby seem to have more in common with alchemists than with their fellow chefs, because they make magic out of asparagus, carrots, and Romanesco, among other veggies. They transform the unremarkable into the extraordinary.
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is the perfect kind of museum: Its walls are alive with world-class art, all presented in a small-enough format to manage in a couple of hours. The Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill is much the same, with featured paintings, sculptures, and other works from artists who have deep Philadelphia roots. That said, the Woodmere is going to get a bit bigger in the near future, courtesy of a bold expansion project due to wrap up in spring 2025.
Brewing in Philly since the early 1990s, Yards Brewing Co. has gotten better with age. Its brewery and taproom in Spring Garden serves up a hearty menu of longtime favorites (Philadelphia Pale Ale, Brawler) and small-batch seasonal brews (Watermelon Crush, Philly Standard Punch). A food menu of the brewpub sort includes standouts such as the falafel gyro, Cajun salmon and grits, and pork belly bao buns. Cheers!
Besides the standouts already mentioned, the following institutions, professionals, and service providers add to Philadelphia’s remarkability: Candice Adler’s interior-design firm Adler Designs Inc. (, Patti Brennan, CEO of Key Financial Inc. (, Jason Fine of J. Fine Law (, and Roxborough Memorial Hospital (
Did we miss one of your favorites? If you have a suggestion for a can’t-miss restaurant, shop, cultural icon, or other “must” destination (in Philly or elsewhere), let us know. Email us at
Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, June 2024.