For many Penn students—especially those new to campus and University City at large—breaking out of the so–called Penn bubble and exploring the city beyond campus can seem daunting. Philadelphia has become largely safer in recent years, but lingering myths about the city still persist. Beyond that, the plethora of options may be overwhelming, especially without solid recommendations on which places to avoid and which to plan an afternoon around. 

Fortunately, students don’t have to travel far in order to get off campus and see a new array of culinary options. Instead, one of the things that makes Penn unique and wonderful is that University City isn’t just home to Penn; Drexel also calls this neighborhood just west of the Schuylkill home. And in the land of the Dragons just across Chestnut Street, there are plenty of options for hungry Quakers to indulge in. 

While there are plenty of sit–down and chain restaurants around Drexel—with Sabrina’s Café being an excellent place for brunch if you can get a table and the Chipotle at 34th and Lancaster somehow always seeming to give larger portions than the one at 40th and Walnut—this area is also home to tons of food trucks and quick, independent eateries that warrant exploration. 

Many of these trucks are concentrated along 33rd Street, just south of Market Street. Despite it being only a few blocks away from Penn buildings, it seems distant from the shadedness of Locust Walk or the bustle of College Green, with the more modern architecture of Drexel’s campus soaring into the air. But in this corridor of concrete is an oasis of culinary expression. 

Just like many of the places on Penn’s campus, a common breed of cuisine here is what students colloquially call “halal.” While most trucks known as serving halal cuisine likely do obey that set of Muslim dietary restrictions, including not using pork, halal food typically includes dishes like spiced chicken, falafel, or lamb served over rice or in a gyro, often alongside a salad and topped with various sauces. 

And similarly to the halal trucks on campus, some of the ones here on 33rd Street have simple—yet vague—names like “Philly Halal Gyro” or “Famous New York Gyro.” The two that are particularly worth frequenting are both on the east side of 33rd, close to Market. There, you can find excellent chicken over rice, gyros, and always a friendly face. Another bonus is that they give some of the largest portions that can be found among halal carts in University City, providing solid bang for buck on a student’s budget. Plus, these carts are typically open later in the night than some of the options closer to Penn’s campus, making them optimal as a late meal after a study session in DRL or catching a game at Franklin Field or The Palestra. 

But what truly makes this cordon different from several other areas on or around Penn’s campus is the diversity of food. Alongside those carts serving halal food are a variety of other trucks and carts featuring diverse cuisines from disparate regions around the world, and it is this facet which breaks up the delicious–yet–monotonous experience of repeatedly eating halal food. 

There are two particular trucks that warrant special mention in this regard. The first is Dos Hermanos, which serves a variety of Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos. Coming from Los Angeles,—a city with excellent Mexican food—theirs is one of the few places in Philadelphia up to par. Particularly good is their mole sauce, which, when combined with carne asada in a burrito, produces a flavor combination that is extremely worthy of a chef’s kiss. They can be found in a blue truck on the side of the block closest to Chestnut Street. The other is a Korean food truck known as Kami, which is normally parked on the east side of the street near Market. They also have many items on their menu that other food trucks in Philadelphia don’t often offer, ranging from delicious takes on staples, such as kimchi fried rice or their fried dumplings, to a variety of incredibly Asian–spiced chicken dishes. 

For many Penn students, this block is far from their normal stomping grounds and requires a deviation from their daily routine. But once one heads east, past Hill and Lauder, and takes those first bites from a food place on the Drexel side of Chestnut, their taste buds will be well rewarded.