At any hour of the day or night, patrons can slide into Darling’s Diner’s modern, orange booths and order breakfast specialties or homestyle lunches and dinners—many with low-cal and vegan options. The cooks whip up favorites such as club sandwiches and three-egg omelets 24 hours a day as an homage to the classic diners that tirelessly fed humanity’s ancestors. On the more modern side of the spectrum, they man a full bar that’s open until 2 a.m., mixing vintage-themed cocktails and doling out beers. The indoor seating’s cozy glow of warm pendant lights is juxtaposed by the patio, where diners can nibble on cheesecake-stuffed french toast or grilled corned beef reubens—with slow-cooked kraut on Kaplan’s Rye bread—in open air. In addition to its diner dishes, the kitchen is known for its Philadelphia-style cheesecakes, which range from classic to berry cuvee with guava.
Sam's Morning Glory Diner marries the aura of a small '50s eatery with the relatively modern trend of sourcing food from local purveyors. Chefs troll the Italian Market and Reading Terminal for the fruits, meats, and cheeses that go into gargantuan frittatas and berry biscuits. The time-tested breakfast sandwich is revamped on fresh focaccia bread, and seitan, a tender wheat-based protein, sneaks its way into faux-chicken cheesesteaks without anyone being the wiser. Flowers overflow from outside windowsills, and stainless-steel mugs keep coffee warm alongside sandwiches packed with prosciutto, roasted peppers, and pesto, like an incompetent lawyer’s briefcase.
Operating out of a rehabbed warehouse space in the Spring Garden neighborhood, Café Lift’s motto is “Brunch. All Day. Every Day.” Outside, the beautiful old stone façade is now punctuated by sleek, tall windows, while inside, patrons will find exposed pipes overhead, a dark wood floor and original artwork hanging on white walls. Café Lift is serious about its brunch theme, as it’s open only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Monday. Eggs come in many forms: scrambled inside a breakfast burrito, baked into a vegetarian or sausage frittata, fried and served along with sautéed broccoli rabe, asiago cheese and tomato pesto. Varieties of pancakes and french toast round out the breakfast-leaning fare, and those looking more for the lunch side of brunch can opt for a panini (Cubano, sausage, veggie) or a salad.
Yes, there actually is a trolley car at Philadelphia’s Trolley Car Diner. It’s a 1948 model, and it now sits in the parking lot and serves as a takeout stand for ice cream and water ice. The structure of this classic diner was actually relocated from a small Pennsylvania city 100 miles away, and now the myriad throwback touches make the Trolley Car a treasured Mount Airy establishment. Booths line the large L-shaped space with its black-and-white tile floor, and the menu is a page-turner, literally: numerous options each of salads, burgers, hoagies and larger entrées line the hefty book of options, including dishes like homemade chicken croquettes, pan-seared calves liver, meatloaf and Cajun catfish. Before you leave, pick up some meat or cheese from the onsite deli to take home and enjoy.
Around the corner from the stately Central Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, this outpost of Sabrina’s Café brings its bright décor, large portions and hugely popular weekend brunch to the Spring Garden neighborhood. Fritattas and the signature challah french toast are popular breakfast choices, and vegetarians will find myriad possibilities on the lunch and dinner menus, including a seitan “cheesesteak” and crispy tofu over soba noodles, served with a peanut-sesame sauce, mango salsa and avocado. It’s the hearty and creative dishes like an oatmeal-cranberry-basil cornbread topped with applewood bacon, arugula, caramelized onions, broccoli and over-easy eggs that draw the weekend brunch crowds, who pile into four person tables and colorful booths, complete with funky string lights.
Diners at Formosa Asian Cuisine certainly can't complain about a lack of choices: more than 100 pad thai, fried rice, and curry dishes fill the menu, which is organized into beef, chicken, pork, and seafood categories. Quite a few of the dishes turn up the heat—the Dragon & Phoenix tosses jumbo shrimp and general tso's chicken in chili sauce—and others deliver crispy textures, such as the deep-fried duck. Diners savor these meals and sip BYOB beverages in a dining room replete with tasteful touches from pale-pink seating and blond-wood accents to linen napkins folded to eerily resemble your favorite Beatle.