A Guide to University City

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Just west of the Schuylkill River is a beautiful neighborhood in the easternmost part of West Philadelphia called University City. The area gets its name from several institutions of higher learning in its environs—most notably University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, Lincoln University’s Urban Center, Community College of Philadelphia’s West Regional Center, and University of the Sciences.

Credit to @phillybyair for the great shot.

A photo posted by University City District (@universitycity) on

University City is also home to world-class arts and culture institutions, farm-to-table dining, independent coffee shops, farmers markets, and gorgeous outdoor spaces. It’s also super easy to navigate! You can walk easily from Center City and across the river to the neighborhood in under half an hour or you can take SEPTA’s trolley routes, bus lines, or the Market-Frankford elevated subway. You’ll also note that a large number of residents will be on bicycles throughout the neighborhood.

To get a full picture of the neighborhood visit the official website for the University City District, but listed below are my top picks.

FOOD
Distrito
3945 Chestnut Street
Iron Chef Jose Garces’ nod to the cuisine of Mexico City via small plates and premium tequila.

Han Dynasty
3711 Market Street
Beloved small chain institution for Szechuan cuisine. The U-City outpost is also gorgeous.

Marigold Kitchen
501 S. 45th Street
This BYOB offers New American cuisine via an ever-changing tasting menu in a beautiful setting.

Pod
3636 Sansom Street
Pan-Asian fusion cuisine (leaning heavily Japanese) in a futuristic setting with a sushi conveyor belt and inventive cocktails.

Vientiane Café
4728 Baltimore Avenue
Lao-Thai cuisine featuring vegetarian and gluten-free options.

White Dog Café
3420 Sansom Street
Early progenitor of farm-to-table dining featuring inventive American cuisine and cocktails.

ARTS
Institute of Contemporary Art
118 S. 36th Street
Free for all every day. World-renowned museum dedicated to under-recognized contemporary artists. Known for presenting Andy Warhol’s first solo museum show.

Penn Museum
3260 South Street
One of the world’s greatest archaeology and anthropology research museums, it is the largest university museum in the US and houses nearly 1 million objects.

Ellen Powell Tiberino Museum
3819 Hamilton Street
A unique memorial and art museum created for the late artist by her recently deceased husband, also an artist, featuring work by their entire family.

World Café Live
3025 Walnut Street
One of the very best places to see live music in the city from emerging acts to established artists. Also housed in the same building as NPR-affiliate WXPN.

SNACKS
Federal Donuts
3428 Sansom Street
Philly’s own fried chicken and donuts purveyors with assorted flavors and fresh donuts made to order.

Lil Pop Shop
265 S. 44th Street
Artisanal popsicles made in small-batches with local, seasonal ingredients.

Little Baby’s Ice Cream
Cedar Park Embassy
4903 Catharine Street

Imaginative ice cream and sorbet flavors offered in season.

Shake Shack
3200 Chestnut Street
Latest outpost of the national chain serving old-school hamburgers and milkshakes using fresh ingredients.

COFFEE
Green Line Café
Several locations
This local chain is dedicated to coffee, culture and conversation. They serve organic beans from Equal Exchange and feature local artists on the walls.

Joe
3200 Chestnut Street
Specialty coffee shop from NYC serving their custom blends.

Kaffa Crossing
4421 Chestnut Street
Serves specialty coffee drinks and delicious Ethiopian food.

United by Blue
3421 Walnut Street
Craft coffee, filled donuts, cronuts, and organic breakfast sandwiches, served alongside responsible, durable fashion and accessories


Maori Karmael is director of Public Engagement at the Institute of Contemporary Art (@icaphiladelphia). She is also the founder/artistic director of BlackStar Film Festival (@blackstarfest). A native of Los Angeles, Maori has lived in Philadelphia for over 14 years and continues to be impressed by its ever-expanding food universe and cosmopolitan populace.