Yes, it's that time of year again: when the people of Penn dutifully cast their votes for the best eateries, shops and (yes) book stores on and around campus. In the categories below, you'll see what you all voted to win our 20 Best of Penn categories.
It’s always a struggle for Penn students to get out of bed early, but not for those who wait in line for Lyn’s. Located on Spruce Street in front of the Quad, Lyn’s attracts foodies with its hearty, filling sandwiches. The truck operates from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, offering inexpensive breakfast and lunch options. Vegetarian or not, you can’t go wrong with any of the egg sandwiches, with toasted wheat bread, gooey cheese and scrambled eggs mixed with veggies. Lyn’s special Eggplant Spinach Parm never fails to satisfy, and a choice of pita bread is also available. For healthy food lovers, you can also order egg whites. Start your morning with a hot bacon, egg and cheese bagel. Or if you want a meaty sandwich before your next class, the sausage and meatball sandwiches hardly disappoints. And what’s better than a fresh sandwich? A smiling woman like Lyn, who moves like lightning and remembers your regular orders.
Every school has its landmarks, and Penn's are almost all food related. But there's always one food truck to rule them all — and it is by no doubt Magic Carpet, home of the banana chocolate chip cookies and falalfel rice bowls that students will stand in line for until the day they die. If you're in line by 12:50, you're semi safe. You still have a day ahead of you. If you get slowed down on Locust for just two minutes and roll up at 12:52, you might as well set up camp. The line will probably start somewhere in the Quad. Is it worth it? That's the dumbest question you'll ever ask yourself after finishing the Trojan Bowl or getting knee deep in the spinach pie. This savory goodness is the one thing people won't get mad at you for eating in the huntsman QSR. Because they understand. Mag Carp will forever remain an anomaly in the food truck world, pleasing bougie Manhatten-raised Penn kids until the day its bright green awning turns the color of College Hall.
Situated at the end of Locust Walk, facing College Green, this chalky-red terra cotta fortress is home to Penn’s most aesthetically pleasing study space. Fisher Fine Arts Library, best known as Penn’s silent library, is a second home to many students during finals week. The picturesque main reading room is flanked on either side with large stained glass windows, providing ample light for students hard at work. This Gothic structure was first completed in 1890 under the name of a homegrown Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness, with the aid of the king of libraries himself, Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System. Penn's first library, Fisher Fine Arts also houses the University's art collection, the Arthur Ross Gallery.
Imagine a beautiful building on Penn's campus. Come on, just close your eyes and do it. I know you're thinking of the same place I am — the towering Gothic structure made of green serpentine stone that was the first building on Penn's new campus when it moved from Center City. College Hall is the literal and spiritual center of the University, the green heart at its center. You can snap gorgeous pictures of the flowering trees that bloom against the building, or get creative with your photographic framing and capture the homophobic protesters against a backdrop of its historic architecture. Inside, look out for the Office of Admissions, the magnificent cavern that is College Hall 200 and the collegiate secrecy of the Philomathean Society. All are aesthetically pleasing options for proving to your followers that Penn can look like an actual Ivy League school.
Back during freshman year, the only reason you would be jealous of your friends living in Hill (or as freshmen now know it, the sad pile of bricks in New College House's backyard) was that they were that much closer to the sweet, sweet taste of Sabrina's french toast. Philly can come up with as many gimmicky brunch restaurants as possible, and while we'll probably still try them all, you can't top a classic. I don't want to sound dramatic and say that the first time you take a bite of Sabrina's stuffed challah bread french toast is actually a religious experience — but I'm also not not saying that. And if you somehow get sick of the Sabrina's classic (is this a possibility even? Let us know.) the weirdly-specific themed menu for specials always keeps things fresh. Also can I take a second to appreciate the fact that you can CALL AHEAD at Sabrina's to avoid the line? Given the perfect inverse relationship between brunch satisfaction and wait time, that's a true game-changer. It's just another reason why Sabrina's is on a whole other level.
Every freshman can recount their first BYO at Banana Leaf — knocking elbows around long tables, shouting to be heard over the rowdy chatter and downing green cups of Sunset Blush.
Situated a SEPTA ride away from campus in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, the dimly lit restaurant is a favorite for large get-togethers and a default for those craving Malaysian food. After a short wait time, you might hear the platters of beef still sizzling from the pan, gawk at the rice-filled pineapple being carried to your table and lick your lips at the sweetness of mango-curry-covered tofu. The minimum order payment might have you banging your head on the table at the math you have to decipher outside of MATH 104, but hey — what could beat the feeling of a stomach full of hot food, laughter and good company?
Nestled in the heart of Chinatown, Dim Sum Garden is the gold standard for BYOs. From the lively camaraderie to the delicious Chinese soup dumplings, Dim Sum Garden is the perfect place to drink Franzia and bond with those club members whose names you still don't really know. From Thursday to Sunday, the place is pretty packed, so plan accordingly if you have a big group and want to be seated quickly. If you really want to avoid the crowds, try coming in during brunch time. The service is fast and the food is delicious and reasonably priced, making Dim Sum Garden a great place for a casual bonding sesh. There is, however, a credit card minimum — so make sure you have some cash if you play on splitting the bill. If you're feeling adventurous, try Shanghai pan fried pork dumplings for a twist on the traditional soup dumplings or the Scallion pancakes for a savory Eastern take on a traditional Western breakfast staple.
Although weekend brunches may be the only time some of us get to enjoy the culinary delicacies the morning has to offer, there's a special place in our hearts for a more casual breakfast. Metropolitan Bakery and Café comes out on top for our choice breakfast on campus. Strong coffee with cheap refills with freshly made pastries and bagels make Metro hard to beat. Metro's selection leaves little to be desired, with classic sweets like lemon bars and even dog treats, there's bound to be something here for anyone to enjoy.
But let's face it: although Metro's baked goods and bagels may be a cut above the rest, there's more to the best breakfast than that. It's about atmosphere. Breakfast is a time for gathering yourself for the morning ahead, and Metro's laid-back vibes and lack of wifi make it the perfect place to have a calm start to your morning. Rather than the hustle and bustle, grab and go vibe that too many coffee shops and bakeries embrace, Metro takes a classic approach to the morning. A cup of coffee, small talk and something sweet — a formula that's hard to master, but Metro delivers.
Sometimes eating your food can seem like enough of a job itself. As for actually getting that food — well, you can't even imagine walking those one or two blocks. Enter Grubhub, the delivery service that is by your side during your Parc craving, french fry fiending, boujee in-home brunching, time of need. Grubhub offers delivery from a variety of restaurants that all vary in prices for minimum purchase amount and delivery fees. Catch a case of the late night drunchies, but forget to stop at Allegro on the way home? Enter your address and see what pizza places are near you. Once you've placed your order, you can start tracking your delivery man. We don't mean stalking him in a creepy way — we're less concerned about the person and more worried about the food. By looking at the track your order page you can see just how fast your food will be at your door. And honestly, what more can we ask for?
Since Saxbys reopened last school year, it has reaffirmed its place as the best coffee house/study location/SABS spot on campus. Come for the espresso, stay for the eclectic playlist, featuring EDM stars like The Chainsmokers and throwbacks like The Beatles, hand-picked by manager Emma Rooney. The baristas are incredibly helpful and always happy to help you find your new favorite drink. “The main reason we always have a smile on our faces and keep the place looking semi-decent is you guys,” barista Emily Heller said. “Penn kids are incredibly loyal. Know that if you are having a shit day you can always come by and get a coffee if that’s your fix. We want you guys to stay here forever. Or at least till 11.” The avocado toast is a bit pricey but is a perfect snack in between classes.
If you're on a dining plan, you've probably noticed that La Colombe has replaced Rival Bros. as Houston Market's coffee supplier. Which is good news — because La Colombe is the strongest and richest coffee available on or near campus. In addition to providing high-quality coffee, the company has made some pretty creative strides in crafting coffee drinks. The Philadelphia-based company is probably most famous for their draft latte on tap: frothy, creamy cold lattes which come out of a beer-style tap. La Colombe has also come up with their own tap version of cold brew, called Pure Black and Pure Black and Tan, which is half Pure Black and half a draft latte. You can now get canned Pure Black and draft lattes at Houston, including vanilla and mocha-flavored draft lattes.
This converted Radio Shack nail salon, which opened this past September, is the newest place to treat yourself on campus. Situated right next to HipCityVeg and Ben & Jerry’s, the nail salon has over 500 gel colors to choose from. With manicures starting at $15, pedicures at $30 and a variety of waxing services, Luxe Nail Bar is the perfect place to hit up before your next date night, formal or just for some well deserved pampering. And the best part — the store offers complimentary Franzia, coffee and hot chocolate for all customers. What more could you ask for?
On a busy pamper day, Adolf Biecker should be your go to for on-campus beauty and relaxation. Located on 34th Street, the salon services your entire body, boasting luxe treatments for everything from hair, to nails, to even full body massages. Though definitely on the pricier side, you get what you pay for at Adolf Biecker — the staff are pleasant and well trained, and the spa offers complimentary coffee and biscuits. You can get a classic manicure for $20, a haircut for $55, and an eyebrow wax for $25. Sometimes, if you're lucky, they'll even throw in a free hand and scalp massage to boot.
Let's face it, you've had a long day. Your Soul Cycle class was at 8 a.m. this morning because you had to make it back in time for your 10:30 class in Annenberg, Magic Carpet ran out of veggie burgers and banana-chocolate chip cookies by 1 p.m., and you don't even want to think about how you have absolutely nothing to wear for your mixer tonight. Luckily, the luxurious Radian is there to welcome you and your long day with a well-earned nap. Home to some of Street's best Overheards, the Radian has everything: apartments, floors, doors and all of the other stuff that makes it worth the rent every month. Only a 30-second walk from Sweetgreen, 3925 Walnut Street is the place to be at all times of the day, especially with its 24/7-ish security.
As you move into your room in the Quad, you may grimace at the minuscule space between the desk and the bed and the squeak of the rickety furniture. As you move out, you'll tear up over the small sink you took your makeup off at 4 a.m. and the lounge you piled into during NSO.
No matter how many new dorms are built on Penn's campus, the Quad remains the best place to live. It has all the essentials: air conditioning, personal sinks, a dining hall, libraries and a gym. It's the simplicity of the Quad that gives freshmen what they need most: community.
From your first day to the last, there is something comforting walking into the Quad and knowing you're entering a space where (almost) everyone is a freshman like you. The University suddenly feels small and united. At one end, students play catch on the grass; on the other they run back and forth between laundry. Residential programs and study breaks thrive with abundant baked goods (two words: Cookie Night). The laughter and shouts of fellow freshmen stumbling back home after a night out will seep through thin windows as both a menace and lullaby.
At the end of the day and through the end of senior year, Penn life still revolves around those three initials, UQG (Upper Quad Gate). It's where the Ubers are hailed, the Fling crowd enters, the Hey Day revelers march. Moving into some spacious high rise or off-campus apartment, you will laugh at how you crowded into the Quad, but know you wouldn't have done freshman year any other way.
Smokes' is the bar for everyone — the place where Penn can come together and do what we do best: get our drank on. With a $1 cover most nights and a guarantee that you'll run into someone you know (Oh my gawd, girl from freshman year philosophy recitation, we know, it's been so long!), Smokes' is simply the place to be. Come to Kweder on Tuesdays and Sink or Swim on Wednesdays (though the 50 cent drinks ensure you'll probably end up sinking). The Pennstitution offers a variety of drinks, from pitchers of Yuengling to the notorious Blue Drink. And Smokes' plays all the essential jams: Mr. Brightside, Sweet Caroline, Mambo No. 5 and of course, Party in the U.S.A. Smokes' is where you run into the baseball team, the entire class of 2017 and the girl you talked to once on your freshman hall and never again. As Carly Rae Jepsen sang, whoa–uh–oh [Smokes'] is always a good time.
Every hour is happy hour at Copabanana, and for the second year in a row, Penn students agree. Affectionately called Copa by those who know it, University City’s legendary margarita joint never fails to satisfy, with $3 cocktails and $6 nachos and chicken and vegetarian quesadillas, for its happy hour from Monday to Thursday from 5-7pm and Friday from 4-7pm. Not one to get in the way of your weekend fun, when you order your favorite drink at Copa, you don’t only get one glass: You get an entire shaker. In addition to student budget-friendly drinks, Copa offers quality comfort food. Little known secret, if you’re a brunch person, Copa has you covered. Don’t stress about making the trek to Green Eggs or Sabrina’s. Every Saturday and Sunday Copa serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with $3 Bloody Marys and mimosas.
Under or over 21, you can find the happiest of happy hours at Distrito. Located on the corner of 40th and Chestnut streets, this self-described modern Mexican small plates restaurant offers a great happy hour special from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week.
For just $5, you can enjoy a substantial serving of chips and salsa — enough to share with a friend or two! Or, for $7, you can indulge in veggie nachos with queso mixto, rajas, black beans, chile de arbol and crema. Note that on the regular taqueria menu the larger super nachos cost $12 and are typically too much for one or two people. The happy hour option is ideal for a smaller group!
Now, for those who are 21, Distrito's happy hour is even more enticing. Margaritas and sangria, which typically sell for $9 a glass, cost just $5 and $6, respectively. And the margs are strong — the perfect concoction to get your night going. Select beers also go for $5 a bottle.
Fro-yo, ice cream, gelato – at Penn, they're all basically the same, which is why we're going with Capogiro's gelato for this category this year. As the weather gets warmer, it becomes more important to stay cool with refreshing gelato. And with so many colorful and delicious flavors to choose from, there's certainly gelato to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth.
While enjoying chocolatey or fruity flavors, Penn students can SABS at the tables in Capogiro in this convenient location on Walnut. Students who miss their Italian gelato from study abroad enjoy this authentic tasting frozen dessert when back on campus. Likewise, students who never got the chance to go to Italy can imagine they are there when they taste this delicious gelato.
Do you want your ice cream served in a Chinese food takeout box at a classy, soda-fountain-style setup? Of course you do. Well, look no further than a true establishment in Philly's frozen treats scene: Franklin Fountain. It's located in the heart of Old City — less than a minute’s walk from the 2nd Street stop off the Market Frankford Line — so you have no excuse to not go. Since 2004, Franklin Fountain has been serving up everything from classic flavors like Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream and hydrox cookie, the OG cookies and cream, to some more unique flavors, like green tea and teaberry gum.
To walk into an often understandably busy Franklin Fountain is to step into a moment of pure American nostalgia. It's the kind of place that you'd imagine your grandparents going on a date and that Lana Del Rey would probably wistfully croon about. With employees dressed as old-timey ice cream parlor workers—bowties, hats, white coats and aprons — and impeccably curated décor with beautifully tiled floors and plenty of dark wood, Franklin Fountain is as much an aesthetic experience as it is a good time for your taste buds. Along with a variety of delicious standard flavors, Franklin Fountain also serves seasonal sorbets and featured flavors that shift in and out, as well as sugar free and non-dairy varieties for those with dietary restrictions.
Zesto Pizza & Grill takes the top spot for a second year in a row. Its signature gourmet pies are hand-tossed and stoned fired, while have toppings that range from pesto sauce to grape tomatoes and ricotta cheese to baked penne and meatballs. It offers stromboli and calzones stuffed with Italian meats, buffalo chicken or of course, Philly cheesesteak. And you haven’t truly experienced University City food until you try “Zesto Fries,” which are smothered in bacon, mozzarella and classic cheese whiz. All of this coupled with its convenient location right on 40th Street makes Zesto an easy choice to repeat as Penn’s primer pizzeria.
At Penn, we take our pizza seriously. We swear by our slices as a late night order, a hangover cure, a dinner to take to Huntsman and a drunchie to soak up the booze. And we tend to scour the city for the best pizza joint — the bigger-than-your-head slices downtown, the eclectic West Philly pizza confections. But one spot stands far above the rest — good ol' Smokey Joe's. There's still an alarmingly large number of students on campus who don't know that beloved Smokes' is home to Enjay's Pizza, the best pizza in West Philadelphia and just as good (if not better) than anything you can find in Center City. Smokes' pizza strikes the perfect balance between that upscale feel and adored grimy vibe—the pizzas are wood-fired and crisp, but still served in a dimly-lit bar. Enjay's certainly doesn't slack on toppings—you can go classic with cheese and pepperoni, or go fancy with caramelized onions or cremini mushrooms. At the end of the day, there's something for pizza lovers of all kinds at Smokes', making it hands down the best pizza on campus.
We all know that when our parents come to town, it's time to splurge on food, of course. After going on a nice walk down Locust Walk or a family shopping trip at the bookstore, top off the night with dinner at the White Dog Cafe. Whether you want one of their various, delicious fish entrees or their decadent Green Meadow Double Cheddar Burger, don't forget to order the parmesan truffle fries. I promise you will regret it if you don't. Serving dinner from 5-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, it is the perfect place to enjoy an early, pre-mixer dinner with the fam surrounded by adorable portraits of dogs. I mean, what parent can stay mad at a failing Math 114 grade with a cute French Bulldog staring at them?
It's been a year, and Street still hasn't changed its mind about Parc. If there is one place that can take away the pain of an uncomfortable family interaction, it's Parc. There is a reason this place is quite possibly the SABSiest eatery off campus. The only thing more addicting than the food is the ambiance. This bougie brasserie makes Rittenhouse Square feel like the streets of Paris. It is the quintessential crowd pleaser for any meal: breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner? (Sorry, I'm inventing more meals in the day so I can come here more often), dinner, and dessert. It's a good thing calories don't count when the food is free (or, at least, on your parents' card), because this is the place to indulge yourself. If the macaroni au gratin doesn't cure your midterm blues, the profiteroles most certainly will.
An essential part of the Penn experience is spending late night hours in Allegro. On weekends, this pizzeria is packed with college students craving carbs after a night out. The brick-oven pizza and vast beer selection are well worth the calories. Students often spend long periods of time sitting in the booths or at the tables chatting — sometimes with strangers.
Some students felt so at home there that they would fall asleep, and the restaurant is consequently no longer open 24 hours a day. But while the hours have changed, the constant flood of intoxicated students through its glass doors late at night remains the same.
This is an obvious pick. Not only is Wawa paramount to Pennsylvania and the general tri-state area, it's also a staple of dear old Penn. You've been coming to Wawa since your first day of NSO freshman year, when it was the only food source you were competent enough to walk to without using Google maps. At the end of a hot August day of classes, their milkshake machine will always have your back. At midnight on a Tuesday, when you're walking back from a pre-midterm cram session, their candy section is your refuge. Their coffee will never overcharge you, and their doors will never shut on you. Plus, any hoagie inevitably tastes better when you've ordered it from a touch screen.
Whether you choose to go for their lunch/dinner buffets or order directly off of the menu, Sitar provides good service and high quality food. The sheer number of Indian restaurants in University City made this a challenging victory for Sitar. Although Ekta, formerly known as Tandoor, is famous for being a nearby BYO spot and Dana Mandi, located on 42nd and Chestnut streets, is recognizable for their Indian grocery store, Sitar came out on top as the most popular Indian restaurant for Penn students.
Being one of the few Indian restaurants to partner with GrubHub, Sitar is the perfect restaurant to choose if you need for during a late night of studying. Popular for its Garlic Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala, Sitar has a variety of options for all tastes.
As you step foot into Dana Mandi, the smoky aroma of spices hits you like a wave. You're instantaneously transported from 42nd and Chestnut, to a snack–filled haven and specialty grocery store.
Tucked away behind the grocery store is the kitchen. In all honesty, figuring out how to order will take you as long as it did to find out where your Williams recitation room was, so I'll help you out. As you weave your way through the aisles, you'll reach the restaurant portion, set up with tables and an open window through which the kitchen is visible. You take an index card, write down what you would like, and then hand it to the person waiting to collect your order. Highlights include the cauliflower stuffed paratha, chicken biriyani and palak paneer.
This all-encompassing grocery store has filled our cupboard, powered our kitchens and supplied much of our food, drinks and everything else we need. When we’re not eating at Sweetgreen or Honeygrow or any other restaurant, we’re likely chowing down on something — snacks, fruits, desserts — that we got from our constant runs to the Fresh Grocer. While the grocery store may not be as beloved by Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services, if it eventually leaves, we’ll miss running to get food at 3 a.m. or trying to navigate our way around those oddly-angled aisles.
The Trader Joe's on 21st and Market Streets always comes up with some new type of salsa you weren't planning to buy. And they're offering you a taste for free. Trader Joe's might actually be the best place to go for lunch, since you're almost guaranteed unlimited samples as you wind your way through a line that often snakes around the entire store. Exiting the doors with eats for the next two weeks, you will also come away having had the friendliest conversation with the grocery bagger you've probably experienced all day.
From Monday to Thursday, we eat the chipotle chicken sandwich from Frontera for lunch. No exceptions. I have back–to–back classes from 10:30 to 1:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I need to grab something on the run between the two or I'll end up eating one of my classmates in Language & Thought class. Thanks to Tapingo (by the way, can we agree to pronounce this app tuh–PING–o and not tap-in–go? It sounds way cooler that way), I can order my sandwich in Spanish class and pick it up on the way.
Let's talk about why Frontera is awesome. First of all, it provides you the option to SABS — but also gives you the opportunity to chill on a comfy couch inside if you don't want to see and/or be seen. Secondly, it's convenient to access many of Penn's student cultural centers in the basement. Finally, the food is good as fuck — and that's probably because legendary chef Rick Bayless is the man behind the curtain (Ed. note: did you know Rick's brother is the famously annoying Skip Bayless from ESPN’s First Take? Any sports fans reading this? Hello? Is this thing on?).
Frontera also has less annoying hours than Houston, more variety than Joe's Café and you don't have to sell your soul and enter Huntsman like you do with Bridge Café. Chips and guac are an easy go–to if you don't want a full meal. The horchata drink thing is fire too. Honestly, the entire menu is fire. One time they fucked up and gave me the wrong sandwich and I didn't even mind because the wrong sandwich was pretty damn good too. Never change, Frontera. I'll remember you more than most of my acquaintances here.
Nestled on the corner of 36th and Walnut streets, the Penn Bookstore is the go to place for all your course books, the latest Quaker apparel and those infamous “Penn Mom” mugs. While some might associate the bookstore with prospective student tours and obligatory parent’s weekend visits, the store actually offers variety of resources for the typical Penn student.
For many freshman, the Penn Bookstore acts as a key start to their Penn experience, whether it is buying a computer or trying on a Penn hat. The bookstore is also the destination for anything and everything involving Penn Cards, whether students are looking for a replacement or wanting to link it with a bank account. It also is one of the best places to easily order and pick up course textbooks at the start of each semester.
Some professors will even require students to purchase a bundle of textbooks that can only be found at the Penn Bookstore. Besides offering these student essentials, the store also houses a cafe that serves Starbucks coffee and is a quiet, quaint place for a perfect study spot.
Warm, cozy and quiet — all qualities that make up a perfect bookstore. The Penn Book Center is all of those things. The store is an inviting sort of space, and it smells like a bookstore should: like old pages in old books. You've probably made your way to the little shop on the corner of 34th and Sansom at some point to buy books for an English class. You were greeted with a nod, or maybe a hello. You found your professor's name on the big white board in the center of the store, and got your books from the corresponding section on one of the shelves near the back wall. You likely left with an armful of books.
The Book Center is never too crowded or overwhelming, and the whole process usually takes about five minutes. The store's system makes finding what you need easy and stress-free, but if you still need assistance the staff will be more than happy to help. The people who work at the Penn Book Center are plenty friendly. They aren't at all pushy or too in-your-face, but they're friendly and receptive to conversation.