Elyse Castillo is the Founder of Chew Philly Food Tours, an experience which invites locals and out-of-towners to savor classic Philadelphia foods on a progressive lunch-style tour. We asked her a few questions about the Philadelphia food scene…
1. What neighborhoods should foodies explore when they come to Philadelphia?
The best food is off-the-beaten-path. Foodies should head to Manayunk, Mt. Airy, and West Philly/University City for a unique blend of foods. The food scene in these neighborhoods represents familiar Philadelphia flavors as well as new ethnic eateries and up-and-coming chefs.
2. What’s the secret to a great cheesesteak?
The secret to a great cheesesteak is authenticity and simplicity. The steak portion of the cheesesteak must be ribeye, partially frozen when thrown on a flat grill, and preferably sizzled in butter as it’s being cooked. The hoagie roll needs to be soft, with only the tiniest hint of crust and a slight chew to it…and of course prepared fresh the morning of by a bakery, (preferably in Philadelphia). The high quality, local cheese needs to be melted into the steak just before being taken off the grill – this is for optimal taste and texture. Lastly, we always recommend keeping the cheesesteak to it’s essentials, (meat, cheese, and bread), to fully enjoy the blend of flavors that has brought this humble hoagie it’s enduring fame.
3. What can people expect on your food tours?
Participants on our culinary food tours can expect to taste substantial servings of authentic Philadelphia flavors from family-owned delis, bakeries, and specialty shops along a scenic tour route on the famous Manayunk canal. Our carefully selected tasting locations represent the absolute best cultural Philly foods, served with a side of cultural and historical facts of our 300-year-old neighborhood.
4. What is the food truck scene like in Philadelphia?
The food truck scene is booming in Philadelphia. If you’re going to seek out a specific truck, we recommend Farm Truck Philly for not only their flavors, (homemade rosemary honey mustard, anyone?), but also for their strong commitment to providing healthy food to Philadelphians. For a taste of the best food trucks, make plans to visit a Night Market. These food truck festivals are organized by The Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food. Their altruistic goals do not dilute the diverse food and drinks featured at these frequent events – in fact, The New York Times called it the “Best way to experience Philadelphia’s still surging street food scene”. We never miss a Night Market, and also donate annually to The Food Trust because we truly believe in their mission.
5. Which Philadelphia chefs should we be watching?
Our current Philadelphia chef of choice is Tim Spinner, owner of Cantina Feliz, La Calaca Feliz, and Taqueria Feliz. Spinner is switching gears to open Beast & Ale in Manayunk. What to expect? Lots of meat – burgers, roast beef, and the like…but with his characteristic punch of creativity.
Another long-standing favorite chef of ours is Moon Krapugthong of Chabaa Thai and Yanako. Complimented by Craig Laban and a James Beard Award Finalist, we have never ever been disappointed by any of her culinary efforts as she is continually reinventing her cuisine.