is a Philadelphia staple. Established in 1893 and housed in a National Historic Landmark building, Reading Terminal is among the oldest, largest, and most famous food halls in the country. Needless to say, the market is a necessary destination for any tourist or Penn student who has yet to visit. However, the giant maze of sit–down eateries, to–go stands, produce shops, butchers, and bakeries can be overwhelming for both newcomers or regulars. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
A quintessential Jewish deli, Hershel’s sells all the classics including latkas, kugel, matzo ball soup, potato knishes, and, of course, all the meat sandwich varieties a bubbe could ever want. It rivals the best Jewish delis in New York City, probably because its founder, Hershel, was a chef at Katz Delicatessen () for more than 40 years. Although I’m Jewish, I’ve never been a big fan of deli meat. However, I was blown away by the Famous Rachel Pastrami Sandwich. The pastrami meat is home–cured and slow cooked for 18 hours, making it more flavorful and tender than any pastrami I’ve had before. The “Rachel” is unique in that the classic sauerkraut topping is substituted for coleslaw, adding a creamy crunch to sandwich. This sandwich is famous for a reason and is a definite Reading Terminal favorite.
Baked homemade with a family recipe, Famous 4th Street cookies are soft and chewy—the way a cookie should be. Although there are more than a dozen different flavors, I tried their most popular one, the original chocolate chip cookie. With the ideal chocolate chip ratio, the cookie almost melts in your mouth—it's that soft.
Tucked into the Amish corner of the market, the Dutch Eating Place is an iconic Reading Terminal diner. Like a piece of Lancaster in the middle of Philly, everyone who works there is Amish; in addition to diner food, they serve Amish classics like scrapple, creamed chipped beef, and Pennsylvania Dutch–style chicken pot pie. I ordered the scrapple and the famous apple dumpling. Although I wouldn’t order scrapple again, I am glad I got to try something traditional that I'd never eaten before. After the scrapple came the apple dumpling, and it was like an apple pie on steroids. It tasted like an extra gooey apple pie with a doughy crust that melted into cinnamon heaven in your mouth. Forget the pie this Thanksgiving and bring these dumplings home to your families (they offer to–go boxes of apple dumplings in packages of three.)
Flying Monkey is a bakery famous for its whoopie pies and buttercream cupcakes, but really excels in any and all baked sweets. While I can attest that their whoopie pies and cupcakes are above average, the real winner is their butter cake. More like a blondie than a cake, this bar of butter and sugar is the sweet treat you need in your life. Perfectly cooked to a smooth rather than crumbly consistency, it could almost pass for fudge. It is rich and thick and will satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth.
What started as a family butcher shop in South Philly that sold sandwiches out of the garage is now, four generations later, one of the most famous stalls in Reading Terminal. Famous for its roast pork and roast beef sandwiches, DiNic’s serves traditional Italian sandwiches as well as some more modern options. Instead of the roast pork, I opted for a less–celebrated, but equally delicious menu item—the pulled pork sandwich. Topped with provolone, the sandwich was cooked to perfection, not too dry and not overly juicy. With such expertly carved meat, it is easy to see why the lunch rush line extended far down the aisle. Get there early to beat the crowds.
Valley Shepherd Creamery and Meltkraft is a longtime favorite of mine. The stand sells cheese, charcuterie, raclette and my personal favorite, grilled cheese sandwiches. They make all the cheeses they sell and turn into grilled cheese on their dairy farm in Long Valley, New Jersey. As much as I want to try new things, almost every time I come to Reading Terminal, I cannot resist the urge to order the same thing over and over—the Brielle. This decadent grilled cheese is filled with brie, cranberry chutney, caramelized onions, and pine nuts. And obviously, I always add truffle oil because the extra $1.50 is beyond worth it. Some other highlights of the menu are their Valley Thunder grilled cheese with brisket and mac and cheese and, of course, their Shepard Classic with a three cheese blend and nothing else. And if my description wasn’t convincing enough, take a look at that cheese pull.
Pennsylvania General Store prides itself on selling all Pennsylvania–made products. But although the Pennsylvania General Store sells a vast array of souvenirs and snacks, Hope’s Cookies are the main attraction, a can’t–miss on any visit to Reading Terminal. Crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, these cookies are a moist, buttery dream. I stick with the classic chocolate chip, but you can’t go wrong with any of their incredible flavors.
Any Reading Terminal roundup would be remiss if Beiler’s did not make the list. Although they now have a location on Penn’s campus, the Reading Terminal location is the OG and has a special place in my heart. I have never tried a better doughnut, and the ever–present line at their Reading Terminal location is proof of their superiority. Run by generations of the same Pennsylvania Dutch family, they serve traditional fried dough like apple fritters and classic glazed, but they also get creative with doughnut flavors like Elvis Delight, Fruity Pebbles, and S’mores. While their award–winning doughnuts have made Beiler’s famous, their bakery has an assortment of equally delicious baked goods, and you can’t go wrong with their pickles either.
TL;DR: Come with an empty stomach and friends who love to share. Do not miss the Amish desserts or the Famous Rachel Pastrami Sandwich from Hershel’s. There is something for everyone at this famous American food hall.
Location: 51 N 12th St.
Mon–Sat: 8 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sun: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.