There’s plenty of enthusiasm for the World Cup, especially among Philly’s international bars and restaurants.
World Cup fever will be on the mind of many Philadelphians four years from now when we host part of the international soccer tournament. But there’s already plenty of enthusiasm for this year’s competition in Qatar, especially among the many international communities whose countries of origin are vying for the cup.
Some are opening early to watch the games. Others are supporting their teams simply by presenting their national flavors with pride. I took the cue to follow my own World Cup Eating Tour of Philadelphia. As I nibbled across our diverse dining pitch from schnitzel to soondubu, from tacos to Thieboudienne, I scored goals in bunches with empanadas, sukiyaki and hot socca cakes, with sweet bolos de rolos for the win. Play along and root for your favorites, dish by dish.
Brauhaus Schmitz is one of the last bastions of traditional German food and brews in a town that once had many to cut your craving for schnitzel, spaetzel and brats. This South Street bierhall and its sprawling back dining room are major destinations for viewing soccer. The crowds come for regular Bundisliga and Union games, and will raise their steins for World Cup action, too, with special morning hours and German breakfasts for early games, and an all-out party shutting-down South Street for the Black Friday match between USA and England. Brauhaus Schmitz, 718 South St, Philadelphia, 267-909-8814; brauhausschmitz.com
Brazilian footballers are known for their samba smooth moves on the field. Mardhory Cepeda’s baking skills are just as dazzling at Kouklet Brazilian Bakehouse, where her bolo de rolo cake rolls spin impossibly thin layers of cake around vivid tropical fillings — guava paste, dulce de leche — for roulades that burst with flavor. Cepeda’s savory pastry game is just as impressive, with irresistibly cheesy pão de queijo cheese puffs and flaky empada pastries stuffed with hearts of palm. She’ll be selling special build-your-own boxes to go for the World Cup, including coxinha, the crispy chicken croquettes and Brazilian Guaraná soda so you can throw a soccer watch party at home. Kouklet Brazilian Bakehouse, 1647 E. Passyunk Ave., 973-664-7076; kouklet.com
The Good King Tavern erupted in celebration four years ago when France won the last World Cup. Chloe Grigri and her dad, Bernard, both devout fans of Marseille’s OM team, are hoping for a repeat this year, and are prepared with socca cakes, charcuterie platters, duck confit, frothy Kronenbourg 1664 and indie French wines from the outstanding cellar at this Queen Village French pub. I need little excuse, though, to lure me to what are currently Philly’s best frites (made from Chipperbec spuds), alongside steak with marrow Bordelaise or a sneaky good smash burger laced with aioli and oozy raclette. The Good King Tavern, 614 S 7th St., 215-625-3700; thegoodkingtavern.com
The Belgians, who get to drink Cantillon gueuze at the Union Saint-Gilloise stadium near Brussels, don’t mess around with bad stadium beer. And neither does Tom Peters, a USG fan and proprietor of Monk’s Cafe (264 S. 16th St., 215-545-7005; monkscafe.com) whose mussel pots and shoelace frites accompany one of America’s most legendary beer lists. Expect Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and a host of coveted Hill Farmstead brews from Vermont to be pouring on draft during the tournament. Monk’s Cafe, 264 S. 16th St., 215-545-7005; monkscafe.com
The Senegalese champions of this year’s African Cup have a major supporter in Youma Ba. The Dakar-born chef isn’t letting a dining room downsizing dim her enthusiasm since temporarily relocating from Kilimanjaro, whose building was demolished to make way for new development (where she’ll eventually return) to the comfy 10-seat space of nearby Youma . Ba already draws crowds for her onion-sauced yassa chicken, spicy beef meat pies and especially the fantastic Thiboudienne, a broken rice jollof with fried snapper that is Senegal’s national dish. “We’re going to get a bigger TV.” Youma, 4519 Baltimore Ave., 215-387-1970; Facebook
English-born Sam Jacobson will grumble about his Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League season being interrupted to accommodate the World Cup. But the meat pie wizard of East Passyunk Avenue will nonetheless turn up his London magic at Stargazy with his array of Bedfordshire clangers (lamb sausage meets fruit inside one pastry tube), Scotch eggs, Millionaire bars and hearty beef pies with parsley liquor. Even better: Jacobson will be frying-up Philly’s best fish-and-chips for $15 all afternoon for the Black Friday match between England and USA. Stargazy, 1838 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-309-2761; stargazy-477061.square.site
Growing up in Argentina as a fan of the Boca Juniors, Jezabel Carreaga gets excited for the possibility of World Cup action — especially the possibility of cooking for the Argentine team if they make it to Philly in four years. In the meanwhile, her charming West Philadelphia cafe, Jezabel’s is already Ground Zero for lovers of empanadas (with my favorites being the meat, chicken and “Fugazza” leek and cheese) and sweet alfajores. She’s offering a special empanada box of one dozen with sides of salsa Criolla and chimichurri for $54 from Nov. 22 to Dec. 18. If you’re feeling like more of a night out for Argentine inspiration, go for the parillada at Malbec Argentine Steakhouse (400 S. 2nd St., 215-515-3899; malbecsteakhouse.com), a mixed-grill for two that, aside from grilled short ribs and skirt steak, also includes morcilla and grilled sweetbreads that are hard to find elsewhere. Jezabel’s, 206-208 S. 45th St., 215-554-7380; jezabelscafe.com
This region has numerous destinations for Korean food, but few can match the all-purpose menu breadth, quality and modern dining room appeal of Dubu an H-Mart neighbor that regularly draws 600 diners on weekend days. They come for the bubbling crocks of the namesake soondubu tofu stews, but also the broad dolpan hot stone bowl bibimbop, platters of tender LA galbi, stewed short rib bones in broth, and stellar banchan highlighted by Dubu’s signature fried whole croakers. Dubu, 1333 W Cheltenham Ave #102, Elkins Park, 215-782-3828; duburestaurant.com
Considering the popularity of sushi and ramen, very few places locally are Japanese-owned, with homegrown rooting interests in the Samurai Blue. Sagami opened 48 years ago by Chizuko Fukuyoshi and her husband, Shigeru, remains one of the gold standards for traditional Japanese classics like sukiyaki, nasu shigiyaki eggplant with chicken miso sauce, as well as pristinely cut raw fish from the sushi bar, including one of my favorite chirashi. For daytime options, head to the region’s de facto Japanese community center at Maido! (5 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, 484-417-6745; maidoardmore.com), the excellent grocery market and lunch counter where TV Japan is streaming, and owner Seiko Dailey’s kitchen is turning out stellar onigiri, katsu curry and okinomiyaki pancakes to stay or go. Sagami, 37 Crescent Blvd., Collingswood, NJ, 856-854-9773; sagamirestaurant.com
With its the downstairs sports bar where Sagres beer flows and Portuguese soccer games regularly play on the TVs, Tio Pepe Seafood and Steakhouse is as close you get to a slice of Lisbon in Northeast Philly. Orlando Jacome’s menu also channels the Portuguese classics, from the brandy-flamed chorizo to grilled quails, hunks of bony salt cod and gorgeous pans of moist paella studded with fresh seafood and pork. Tio Pepe Seafood and Steakhouse, 6618 Castor Ave., 215-742-4775; tiopeperestaurantbar.com
There are so many great Mexican restaurants in South Philly that likely will be streaming El Tri’s World Cup matches, but one of my new favorites, La Llorona Cantina is going all out with a Saturday brunch for the Mexico-Argentina match on Nov. 26, with a special $15 tacos dorado platter from chef Marco Ronzon (ex-Talula’s Garden), along with a Mexican Citywide special, simple huevos de la casa and pumpkin churros that shouldn’t be missed. La Llorona Cantina, 1551 W. Passyunk Ave., 215-515-3276; lalloronaphilly.com
Sipping through the extensive list of sherries, Basque ciders and Spanish vino by the glass at Barcelona Wine Bar is a perfect way to channel some Iberian spirit, especially with a solid list of classic tapas to sate your hunger. (Our recent paellas, badly burnt twice, were less recommended.) An equally good option is to shop at A Taste of Spain in the Reading Terminal Market (267-216-4900; atasteofspain.us), a unique market stall that carries bomba rice to make your own paella, as well as Spanish olives, tinned fish, and buttery, acorn-fed Cinco Jotas ham tucked into one the Reading Terminal’s best kept sandwich secrets. Barcelona Wine Bar, 1709 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-515-7900; barcelonawinebar.com
For a good luck fix of grandma’s home cooking in Philly’s traditional Polish neighborhood, Dinner House is still my favorite bet for zurek rye soup, pierogies in borscht, potato pancakes stuffed with goulash and one of the best breaded pork chops in town. If you’re watching Team Poland play from home, though, bring in a feast of ready-to-heat cheesesteak pierogies and garlicky fresh sausages smoked in the 84-year-old brick ovens at Czerw’s Polish Kielbasa (3370 Tilton St., 215-423-1707; kielbasyboys.com). Dinner House, 2706 E. Allegheny Ave., 267-596-7727; on Facebook
Kyle Banayed says he and his brother, Koubeil Banayed, the chef who owns Al Zaytouna, will likely be too busy watching their beloved Tunisian soccer team make a rare appearance in the World Cup to host any big events. But it’s still worth visiting Philly’s only Tunisian restaurant, a 12-year-old standby in the Italian Market where a distinctively spiced take on classic North African dishes is notable in the lamb shank couscous, whose semolina grains are mixed with house made harissa, in the zesty grill flavor of pureed mechouia salad, the cumin-scented branzino and house merguez links that exude a vivid fennel and fresh chile heat. Al Zaytouna, 906 Christian St., 215-574-5040; phillyalzaytouna.com
Early morning World Cup matches? No problem since Philadelphians can still caffeinate on theme with their rooting interests. Try a flat white or strawberry-flavored Spider with your “brekkie” at Australia-inspired Ants Pants Cafe (2212 South St., 215-875-8002; antspantscafe.com). Or pop by the Gayborhood for an excellent Tesla espresso-based drink from Croatia-based roaster, Cogito Coffee (105 S. 12th St.; cogitocoffee.com/cogito-philadelphia)