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August 2, 2013

Philadelphia Neighborhoods: Our Guide To The Restaurants, Bars, Markets And Cafes In The Northern Liberties Neighborhood Of Philadelphia

Have a ball at the 2nd Street Festival, then continue to explore the Northern Liberties neighborhood's restaurants, bars and shops galore. (Photos by J. Fusco for GPTMC)

[This spring, Visit Philly launched a new effort to promote 14 different neighborhoods surrounding Center City Philadelphia. With our new complementary "Philadelphia Neighborhoods" post series, Uwishunu is teaming up with Visit Philly to promote all the awesome dining, shopping, arts, nightlife, events and more within Philly's many exciting neighborhoods.]

This weekend, the music, food and shopping of the 2nd Street Festival is set to bring thousands of festival goers from all corners of the city to experience the vibrant dining and eclectic culture of the Northern Liberties neighborhood.

Once considered Philadelphia’s favorite up-and-coming neighborhood, Northern Liberties has officially arrived, evidenced by the international restaurants, respected gastropubs and trendy boutiques — all this while maintaining the artistic vibe that made it so cool in the first place.

The neighborhood lies north of Old City, and its borders (depending who you ask, of course) are Girard Avenue to the north, Callowhill Street to the south, 6th Street to the west and the Delaware River to the east. To get from Center City to Northern Liberties, people can hop in a cab, or take “the El” — Septa’s Market-Frankford line — from any of the Market Street subway stations to the Spring Garden Street stop.

Head out to the festival this weekend, then stick around or make a return visit to experience the eclectic dining offered up in our Northern Liberties neighborhood guide, below.

To explore more in Northern Liberties, and to view these places on a interactive map of Bella Vista, check out the full Northern Liberties guide in the new Philadelphia Neighborhoods section on visitphilly.com.


Restaurants & Cafes

• Abbaye: Living up to the neighborhood standard, the Abbaye boasts a fine draught and bottle beer list to satisfy the thirsty locals. Any menu with mouthwatering mac and cheese is sure to be a good one, and the local ingredients add another reason to love it.

• Bar Ferdinand: Dried roses, Picasso-inspired paintings and a sherry wine list inspire patrons to unleash their inner matadors at Bar Ferdinand, a Spanish-inspired tapas venue. Diners snack on small hot or cold plates, munch on churros and take in the Liberties Walk scenery either indoors or out.

• The Blind Pig: With an impressive canned beer list and menu items that include Thanksgiving Balls (a full Thanksgiving meal in a ball), oyster sandwich and veggie spaetzle, The Blind Pig opened to a very neighborhood welcome in 2011. A separate kids menu and specialty and local pops — yes, they call it pop — keep it kid-friendly for hip family units.

• Brown Betty’s Dessert Boutique: No ordinary pastry shop, the flagship locale of an edible empire—named after the owners’ sassy female ancestors—specializes in delicious-tasting and-looking cakes. The “Hey Thelma” chocolate buttermilk cake comes with pecan and coconut filling and a semi-sweet dark chocolate glaze.

• Cantina Dos Segundos: Like its Passyunk Avenue sibling Cantina Los Caballitos, the second Cantina serves up creative Mexican fare such as vegan “beef” tacos and slow-roasted goat, along with flights of tequila, 11 different margaritas (think prickly pear, blood orange and guava) and a fiesta-like atmosphere.

Circles Contemporary Thai Cuisine: A more upscale version of its South Philly restaurant, Circles delivers Pad Thai, curry and fried rice dishes with varying degrees of heat—from mild to Thai hot and everything in between. Saturdays and Sundays take on an Eastern Hemisphere flavor thanks to the weekend brunch.

Darling’s Diner: Berry cuvée with guava and bananas foster are two of several exotic cheesecake flavors available ’round-the-clock at this retro-themed diner that’s credited with inventing the Philly cheesecake, a lighter version of the New York classic. Indoor and outdoor seating, Piazza room service and breakfast anytime explain why Darling’s has established itself as a Northern Liberties staple.

Standard Tap is a go-to gastropub in Northern Liberties. (Photo by J. Fusco for GPTMC)

Dmitri’s: Philadelphia’s third location of this mini Greek chain sports a BYOB policy (like the original in Queen Village) and serves classic Greek dishes, including lamb, kebob, grilled octopus and spinach pie. The food at Dmitri’s tastes like it’s straight from Mount Olympus, but when perched at an outdoor table, diners enjoy the Northern Liberties vibe.

El Camino Real: Texas or Mexico? Seitan or sirloin? Local brew or Dos Equis? The menu options seem endless at El Camino Real, Bar Ferdinand’s progeny that splits allegiances as a barbecue post and border bar.

The Foodery: A stalwart for discerning drinkers, The Foodery packs its refrigerators with more than 800 bottled craft beer varieties from around the world. Regulars snag candies and sandwiches along with their six packs.

Green Eggs Café: Enter yet another South Philly eatery now serving up its eco-conscious and delicious breakfast, lunch and brunch specials north of Spring Garden. Can’t-miss menu items at Green Eggs include red velvet pancakes and the “kitchen sink,” eggs scrambled with cheese, potatoes, peppers and onions and topped with a biscuit and pork sausage gravy.

Gunners Run: Vegetarians and vegans can accompany their meat-eating friends to Gunners, named for the natural creek that originally bordered the neighborhood. The buzzed-about Bloody Mary bar tempts weekenders with its bottomless drink option, and the outdoor tables provide perfect seats for catching a game in the Piazza.

Higher Grounds Café: Green tea lattes, 16 loose leaf teas and coffees from the Americas, Indonesia and Ethiopia, along with late hours, local artist exhibits, musical performances and free Wi-Fi, make Higher Grounds a popular choice for the caffeinated and decaffeinated set.

Honey’s Sit ‘N’ Eat: Each plate served at this homestyle Southern-Jewish spot is like its own U.N. summit. Latkes nestle grits, and challah French toast hugs drop biscuits with sausage gravy. To wash it all down: orange juice that’s squeezed fresh upstairs.

For more NoLibs restaurants, bars and nightlife, see below.

King’s Oak: With $3 happy hour pickle shots, $2 PBR draughts all day every day and $20 bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys for brunch, the budgeting crowd gets their cheap drink on at King’s Oak. The $.50 wings and half-priced sliders during happy hour, as well as the pizzas and the $26 all-you-can-eat crab night on Tuesdays, soak up the liquid delights.

Koi: The guests at this BYOB follow up a Bento box with a dish of fried green tea ice cream drizzled in chocolate at this popular sushi venue. Bright red counters, shiny copper fixtures and molded plastic chairs lend a futuristic vibe. 604 N. 2nd Street, 215-413-1606

Las Cazuelas: Those hungry for south-of-the-border far can satisfy a craving for mole, sopes, tamales or mixed-to-order margaritas at this authentic Mexican BYOB spot, where Saturday and Sunday brunch goes for the spice. Hint: Go all-out la vida Mexico by bringing a bottle of tequila.

Liberties: Yesterday and tomorrow mix seamlessly at Liberties tavern, featuring original fixtures dating back to the mid- to late-19th century along with inventive American fare. Cheesesteak lollipops, nacho waffle fries and pretzel chicken headline the menu.

Modo Mio: Neighbors come to Modo Mio with a bottle of wine (it’s BYO) and settle in for a tour of all the variations of cuisine that Italy has to offer. Particularly popular are Sugo (Italian for sauce) Sundays, when $33 gets diners an antipasti, a pasta, a meat, salad and dessert, all served family-style.

North 3rd: This moody neighborhood eatery keeps the crowds coming with its casual menu of bar classics—Asian-style Buffalo wings, potato pierogies, veggie spring rolls and one juicy burger. Also on tap at North 3rd: solid drink offerings that come in the form of blood-orange margaritas, stoli dolis, red sangria and an extensive beer list.

Paesano’s: The offerings at this sandwich shop are decidedly new school: Daddy Wad marries mortadella with pistachios, genoa salami, sopressata, capicola, prosciutto and sharp provolone with arugula, tomatoes, onions and sweet and hot peppers. Not surprising to local fans, Paesano’s namesake sandwich beat out Bobby Flay’s brisket grinder on Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

Check out Silk City in NoLibs after dark for alfresco beers or late-night dancing. (Photo by J. Fusco for GPTMC)

Pura Vida: Its name comes from a Costa Rican slogan that roughly translates into “this is living,” and the homey food at this bare-bones, pan-Latin BYOB is indeed life-affirming: corn patties stuffed with pickled vegetables, chorizo tacos and ginger chicken soup. The staff will even mix mojitos or sangria for patrons who bring their own spirits. 527 Fairmount Avenue, 215-922-6433.

PYT: Burger gourmands flock to this self-described home of “America’s Craziest Burgers.” The Korean short rib with sweet ginger and the Krispy Kreme burger are just two concepts that get the bun treatment here. A small Piazza spot, PYT practically doubles its space when it goes alfresco in the warmer months.

Silk City: One-third diner, one-third club and one-third beer garden, Silk City’s American fare with flair has been featured on the Food Network’s popular Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Philly native Questlove of The Roots occasionally spins here when he’s in the DJ mood.

Soy Café: It’s in the name, so patrons know that fresh soymilk is always available at this bistro, which also whips up smoothies, light sandwiches and vegan-friendly cinnamon buns. In support of the local arts scene, Soy Cafe hosts monthly gallery shows and carries vintage pieces by area designers in its boutique.

Standard Tap: In a show of Philly pride, this draft-only pub’s menu spotlights local brews among its daily rotation of more than 20 beers. Plus, area environmentalists have given Standard Tap a green thumbs up for its eco-friendly habits, including a green roof to circulate sunlight and fresh breezes throughout the pub.

Tiffin: Many Philadelphians swear by the food at Tiffin’s six BYOB locations in and around the city, and the Northern Liberties spot is no exception. Run by a Wharton MBA, Tiffin prides itself on carefully curated dishes, such as the Malai Kofta and vegetarian meatballs in a cashew sauce.

Bars & Clubs

• 700 Club: Good music, good beer and good times abound at this bi-level spot, which looks like a club built inside a house (because that’s what it is). DJs mix it up throughout the week, and there’s never a cover charge at the 700.

• Electric Factory: This celebrated music venue draws national acts that attract crowds in the low thousands. Standing room at stage level is typically all-ages, while the Factory’s balcony with unbeatable views and a full bar accommodates the 21+ crowd. Past headliners include Weezer, Neil Young and Wu Tang Clan.

The Fire: A small and unassuming venue with an eclectic lineup of nightly music—rock, folk, country, indie rock, punk, hip-hop and everything in between — The Fire houses a full-service recording studio, meaning they can capture the live shows. The venue/bar also plays host to the annual Northern Liberties Winter Music Festival.

• North Bowl: Seventeen regulation bowling lanes on two levels, an old-school photo booth and a billiards area makes this throwback spot a perfect pick for noshing with friends, a date or a family outing. Tater tots served nine different ways seals the deal.

 Ortlieb’s Lounge: A former jazz-only haven, the revived Ortlieb’s stages a new entertainment lineup, featuring live rock, soul, funk and, of course, jazz. The Tex Mex menu includes tacos, nachos and burritos, and the full bar comes with specials such as $2 PBRs every day.

Rebel Rock Bar & Bites: In addition to showcasing rock music seven nights a week through live performances, DJs and a regular songwriter showcase, the new Rebel quickly built a reputation as a bar where the patrons do half the work. Enter the state’s only fixed tap tables. Rockers who take a seat at one of the booths can pour from the two taps right at the table.

• RUBA Hall: This is no contrived dive bar — it’s the real thing. Low-cost beer, pool tables, ping-pong and after-hours fun bring a mixed crown (and all nationalities) to the Russian Ukrainian Boating Association.

• SugarHouse Casino: A winning entertainment venue since it opened as Philadelphia’s first and only casino in 2010, SugarHouse attracts crowds eager to pay slots and table games, watch their favorite sports team in action and dine at one of the multiple restaurants on site—one even features outdoor seating that overlooks the Delaware River.

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Rob says:

RIP WineO