Hidden Gems of the Penn On-Campus Food Scene

As a busy college student, I've spent my fair share of time (and, sadly, $$$) on food that I haven't made for myself. In the process, I've learned a lot about the go-to spots for certain types of food, as well as what those very places have to offer that's unexpectedly delicious. I've compiled my top 4 Penn "Hidden Gems" in the food realm.

1) Hot Chocolate- Lil' Pop Shop

While known largely for its unique popsicle flavors like Black Sesame, Coconut Hibiscus, and Birthday Cake, Lil' Pop Shop on 44th and Locust is a campus favorite for the summer treat. But, they also have underratedly fantastic Hot Chocolate. Rich, fudgy, and great on a cold day, their Hot Chocolate is definitely not to be overlooked.

2) French Fries- Allegro

Allegro (or really, Allegro's) is the classic campus late night (or daytime, too) eatery known for its variety of pizza flavors by the slice. However, a trip to Allegro's for me is not complete without an order of their amazing french fries. The perfect balance of starchy and salty, these french fries are a low key on-campus hit. While I myself am not a cheese fan (which is a whole other discussion), word on the street is that also not to be overlooked are the mac n' cheese and mozzarella sticks.

3) Smoothies- Pottruck

If going to the gym in order to get a smoothie is wrong, then I don't want to be right. 

4) Pickles- Jimmy John's 

You may assume a sandwich shop would have decent pickles, and you may assume you wouldn't feel strongly about pickles of all foods, but these pickles are more than "good"- they exceed all expectations.

-Caitlyn R., '16

How to Adult without Really Trying (Cooking in the Dorm Room)

Most of the freshman dorms (Quad, English, Hill, etc.) do not allow access to kitchens for students and as a result many students can find it hard to access healthy, easy to make and good tasting food. Even with a dining plan, there are going to be times where you just want a good tasting snack, or your club’s meeting went past 8 pm and the dining halls are no longer open. Cooking at home is so much cheaper, and preparing your own food doesn’t have to be complicated!

Many times people think they can’t cook without a kitchen, but don’t realize that they have one of the most underrated cooking machines right in their very own bedroom - the microwave. I didn’t realize how awesome my microwave was for meal preparation until I moved back into the Quad to be an RA my senior year. Without a kitchen, I was worried I was lost with how to cook for myself again so I got creative.

One of my favorite breakfasts to make is an egg white ‘omelette.’ I buy egg whites, salsa and spinach to keep in my fridge. In the morning, I just add egg whites, chopped spinach and a spoonful of salsa to a coffee mug, mix it up and less than a minute later I have some awesome and simple tasting eggs to put on a muffin to go! Or if you need something more substantial for lunch or dinner, a sweet potato can be ready in 5 minutes and topped with your favorites (cheese, salsa, lime juice, etc). When in the mood for something sweet, I make a single serve brownie (3 tbsp cocoa powder, ¼ unsweetened applesauce, pinch of baking powder and salt, 1 tsp of vanilla and 1 tsp maple syrup, mix, microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds) and it’s gluten free and vegan!

There is a lot of potential within that microwave for some awesome tasting food from the comfort of your room if you’re creative and willing to look for a few recipes online! Learning to use my microwave has saved me so much time and allowed me to feel like I can cook for myself again.

-Jordi R.

Food Trucks an Introduction to Penn Staple

I grew up in a rural town, so when I moved into the Quad my freshman year I was shocked to see large trucks with large lines of people alongside all up Spruce Street. Upon more investigation, I realized everyone was waiting for one of my favorite things - FOOD.  Even with that required dining plan, it will undoubtedly be difficult to resist the dining staple for Penn students that is food trucks. Philadelphia is filled with these restaurants-on-wheels, and fortunately many great trucks can be found near campus!

Although I was really skeptical at first (I mean, food from a vehicle? Not something I was used to at all), food trucks have become a common part of my daily routine. Not only are you pretty much guaranteed great food, the trucks have a bunch of advantages over the dining hall and other restaurants. First, they’re incredibly cheap. We’re talking breakfast sandwiches for less than $4, Lo Mein for $5, Falafel and rice for $5. On a college student budget, this has saved me from so many meals of beans and rice when the funds are running low. Additionally, food trucks are pretty fast - unless you’re going to a super popular truck, your wait time is usually under 5 minutes. This is perfect when you need to get food on the way to class or running from meeting to meeting (once you start getting involved in student groups!).

Food trucks also offer a ton of variety. My personal favorite food truck is the fruit truck that is parked at 37th and the north of Spruce (with the rainbow umbrella). Their smoothies are amazing, and they always overstuff their fruit salad boxes (only $5.50 for an extra large fruit salad!). Or when you’re in the mood for a gyro, you can find a cart just outside the quad, or in front of Franklin. Kim’s Chinese food is incredible too, and their truck can be found tucked in the parking lot along side of Pottruck. The accessibility, affordability, convenience and great taste make food trucks such a good option for food - be sure to check one out when you come visit!

-Jordi R.

An Ode to Three Course Meals: How to Navigate Philadelphia Restaurant Week

If you're anything like me, you highly value the combination of really good food at a really good price. That's why I always look forward to the two weeks of the season where I can take advantage of Philadelphia Restaurant Week. Some of the most famous restaurants in downtown Philadelphia create a special menu for this week of three courses for $20 for lunch or $35 for dinner. In short, it's awesome, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it to go to all those restaurants you've always been meaning to go to but never had a truly good enough reason to casually go for a super nice dinner. Now that I'm a seasoned pro at restaurant week, here are a few ways I've found are the best ways to take advantage of Restaurant Week:

1) Go to that restaurant

You know, the one you've been dying to try since you promised first day of freshman year that you would go into Center City all the time. Now's your chance! Grab some friends who made that same promise and take the initiative to finally try it out. Philly's restaurant scene is epic, and you're only here (for school, at least) once!

2) Go for lunch

Yes, I know it may seem odd to casually stroll downtown for a three course lunch in the middle of the week, but trust me, it's so worth it. It's cheaper without sacrificing much food. Plus, since Restaurant Week usually happens at the beginning of the semester, it can be a super fun way to reunite with friends after the break to catch up over a shared experience of eating a lot of really good food.

3) Do your research

It's true- some menus are better than others, and since multiple Restaurant Week meals can add up despite the insane deal it appears to be, I highly recommend looking through every menu to see which is the most appealing. If you're choosing a restaurant to go with a group, keep in mind the value of ordering different things and sharing everything for maximum taste testing.

4) And if you're here in the summer... go in University City!

I was here during the summer and was able to take advantage of UCity Dining Days, which has a slightly different setup but was still an awesome way to try out restaurants near campus that I had been meaning to try. Look out for it if you're in Philly for the summer!

-Caitlyn R. '17

Markets in Philadelphia

Philly is a multi-faceted city with a vibrant vibe that you’ll never get tired of. While the Center City district is very urban with skyscrapers and bustling traffic, some other parts of the city are more of a town with pretty residential areas. One of the best ways to explore this versatile city is going to markets.

Reading Terminal Market is by far one of the most accessible. Located near the City Hall, the eclectic collection of shops and food places constantly draws people. For foodies at Penn, Reading Terminal Market offers an overwhelming number of options that you will likely find yourself in the market every once in a while to try something new.

Italian Market is further away from campus and is rather difficult to reach via public transportation, but it is another must for students in the city of cheesesteak. Try the original Philly cheesesteak from Pat’s and Geno’s and also get some more cheese from the 75-year-old Di Bruno Bros.

Spread throughout the city are farmers’ markets. One opens on Wednesdays right on Penn’s campus in front of the bookstore, bringing fresh fruits and produce to students for easy fruit and bread shopping. Another one in Clark Park on Saturdays is larger and you can take a walk to West Philly on your way to the park. Rittenhouse Square also has one on Saturdays, if you feel like going east of campus.These are just some of the well-known markets in Philadelphia and there certainly are many more that I have not been to yet. The city is hiding some precious gems, so get ready to explore.

-Michelle Jo '18

Collegiate Cuisine: How I Learned to (Kind of) Cook for Myself

This year was my first year not being on a meal plan, and making the adjustment to making all of my own meals definitely a struggle. Having to make time to cook easy yet edible and also somewhat healthy lunches and dinners is definitely not something that happens overnight. However, I've picked up on a few helpful tips for all those making a similar transition. These are some things I've learned to do to make cooking for myself less of a hassle.

1. Frozen vegetables are your friend

Buying vegetables frozen is a great way to get the nutrients of vegetables without having to worry about cooking them before they go bad! While I like to buy fresh vegetables if I happen to be grocery shopping at the right time, I've found it super helpful to have a few types of frozen vegetables on hand so that meal prep isn't as much of a hassle. 

2. Make ahead lunches

Often times I'll make a big batch of something in my slow cooker (a wonderful device, by the way) on Sunday and eat it for lunch all week. That way, I don't have to worry as much about making lunch every morning. Plus, it helps me use up vegetables or meats I have on hand that will go bad soon. 

3. Go meatless!

I had never been one to try to cut down on meat, but starting to cook with raw meat definitely freaked me out at first, leading me to try more meatless sources of protein like tofu, lentils, chickpeas, and beans. They're super easy to prepare and can be made in so many different styles that I never get bored of them. Now, even though I've conquered my fear of working with raw meat, I tend to make my lunches and about half my dinners meatless!

Hopefully these tips will make off-campus living easier for anyone who, like me, had to make the transition from meal plan to meals. While it can be stressful at times, learning to meal prep can be fun and make life a bit easier, too.

-Caitlyn Rand