Just across the Schuylkill River from the cosmopolitan sheen of Center City, University City boasts perhaps the most dynamic neighborhood of any area in Philadelphia. U-City, anchored by the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, teems with students and young people who drive an atmosphere of innovation and cultural exploration. Check out what to explore in University City.
REQUIRED COURSE: TOP-NOTCH EATS
U-City’s population is culturally and socioeconomically diverse, and the impressive amount of street food and well-known establishments reflects that range. Whether it’s the food truck lineup on 35th Street or the restaurant of an Iron Chef, there are enough cuisines to satisfy both the traditional eater and the adventurous epicurean. Our favorites are:
Jose Garces offers a slice of Mexico City at this trendy, modern cantina. Over 250 tequilas options can complement a variety of Mexican tapas like wild mushroom tacos, crab enchiladas, and a short rib Mexican flatbread with three chile barbecue sauce. Funky decor like colorful wrestling masks and a four-seat booth made from a Volkswagen Beetle (a typical Mexico City taxi) complete one of the neighborhood’s top restaurants.
This repurposed brownstone now serves as the go-to BBQ joint in U-City. Drop in and relax at this laid back, home-style spot with a plate of Memphis-style ribs, pulled pork slow roasted in Guinness, or pepper-crusted sliced brisket. Fixin’s like macaroni and cheese, okra, cornbread, and collard greens help to create the perfect Southern meal.
Cantonese and Shanghai style dim sum are served during regular hours and late-night until 2 a.m. at this Chinese hangout. A pool table, mood lighting, and sleek artwork create a relaxed atmosphere. For eats, enjoy bao with pork belly, mustard greens, and Shanghai bok choy, or ginger scallion lobster with kung-fu-movie-named cocktails.
West African fare shines at this Sengalese-focused restaurant. Colorful walls, casual dining areas, and large portions create a relaxed, home-like environment. The yassa chicken, with mustardy and sweet onion flavors, and the crispy whole tilapia are favorites, as is the refreshing ginger yaye drink. And of course, the crispy, caramelized fried plantains are a must.
SECOND TERM: ART & ARTIFACT APPRECIATION
Students aren’t the only ones doing the learning in University City. Penn Museum has sponsored worldwide scientific exhibitions for over 100 years, and the museum galleries house the ancient treasures of those endeavors. Artifacts from around the globe, like Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets, West African masks, and 4,500 year-old jewelry are just some of the fascinating items that guests can peruse.
For more modern intellectual pursuits, head to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Since 1963, the ICA has been a trailblazing institution, showcasing the hottest trends in contemporary art. The ICA hosted the first museum shows of great artists like Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, and Agnes Martin. The spacious, high-ceiling building on Penn’s campus houses multimedia installations throughout its galleries, and admission is free for all visitors.
EXTRA CREDIT: OTHER THINGS TO DO
Besides great food and world-class museums, University City has a number of other exciting venues.
This tiny shop on Sansom Street houses international coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and tea, as well as a variety of postcards and paper. Newspapers, academic journals, and high-end fashion magazine from Europe, China, Israel, and more are also for sale.
Guests can dine on casual American fare at this bistro-style, multi-level concert room. Muted colors and contemporary design create a more sophisticate space than most concert venues, providing listeners with a casual but enjoyable experience.
Nestled between Penn’s campus and the Schuylkill River waterfront, Penn Park is a sprawling green open space that is open to the public until midnight. The park offer spectacular views of the Center City skyline.