You probably know about Hoagie Dom: the sandwich pop-up whose reservation-only sandwiches are announced on Instagram and sell out within minutes.
The hoagies, such as Calabrian Chicken Cutlet and Crispy Eggplant Caesar, are all created by Hoagie Dom’s Dominic Rocconi, who makes them on sesame-seeded rolls he bakes himself.
His rotating menu of hoagies (which earned a spot on our list of Philly’s best) goes way beyond the tried-and-true classics, taking inspiration from different parts of Italy and his experiences growing up.
Rocconi was raised in an Italian-American family where gatherings centered around food. He watched his mom, grandmother, aunts, and great aunts prepare spreads of polenta, ravioli, tortellini, thimbles of espresso, and more, all of which shaped his love for Italian food and culture. It’s a source of pride for Rocconi, and his hoagies honor his Italian ancestors, the meals they cooked, and the food that Italy is known for.
But while Rocconi calls Philly “the greatest sandwich city in the solar system,” his love of Philly’s Italian food goes well beyond the iconic hoagie. He’s here for the city’s great pasta, cannoli, gelato, Italian cocktails, and more.
Here’s the best Italian food in Philly, according to Rocconi.
“The only place to watch Italian Calcio (soccer) in Philadelphia. I come for the Forza Azzurri, but I stay for aperitivo hour where the Aperol Spritz is made just right. And I stay longer for a digestivo; a caffè corretto alla sambuca (that is — a ‘corrected coffee’ e.g. espresso with a healthy splash of sambuca) and a little dolce; gelato to cap off the evening. Make it an affogato with dark chocolate gelato.”
“A pizzaiolo from Naples and a guy who won one of pizza’s biggest competitions (the Caputo Cup) form a bond and open a pizza shop together in Philadelphia. Is this the sultry beginning of a crusty romance novel? Well, maybe it is. But also, that’s Davide Lubrano and Vinny Gallagher, who opened Pizzata. Their pizza and panini are some of my favorites in the city. The Burrata, Salsiccia, Funghi, and Mortadella pies are all a good place to start.”
“Follow the trail of crispy pork skin cracklings down Washington Avenue and you will find the Nonno of the classic Philly roast pork sandwich: Porchetta. Porco’s OG version pays homage to Italian Street food and comes just how you’d find it in Italy. Herbed roasted pork, crispy pork cracklings, and a ladling of pork jus, stuffed into a house-baked ciabatta roll: That’s it. The beauty of porchetta lies in its simplicity, and it also lies in the crispy pork skin. Perfection.”
“One Saturday this summer, you’ve got to do the Tour di Fiore. That is, visit Fiore Fine Foods in the morning for a cornetto and an espresso. Then simply walk around the block before returning for a light brunch of one of their sensational breakfast sandwiches. Then leave and walk around the block a few more times and come back for dinner, where you should just order the entire menu of pastas. Then, make one final lap around the block, before returning for dessert and a nightcap. Congrats, you have just completed the Tour di Fiore.”
“My favorite of the old-school South Philly Italian sandwich shops. Lil Nick’s has all of the Italian American specialties that you need: cutlets, meatballs, roast pork, sausage, hoagies. If you don’t leave there smelling like sharp provolone and fried long hots, then you must’ve gone to the wrong spot.”
“Great dough here; real nice dough. Great people, too. And delicious pizza. How’s the dough you ask? Fantastic. Really nice, actually. Hey, did I mention that the dough is outstanding at Pitruco? Ahhh, well it is. Toppings, superb too. Pitruco makes my favorite Neo-Neapolitan pizza in Philadelphia. Start with ordering three pies: one sausage, one mushroom and whatever is the special pie of the week. After you’re done eating, call them up and tell them how much you love the dough.”
“When visiting Rome, one of my favorite street foods to enjoy is pizza al taglio. Thankfully you don’t need to travel all the way to Roma to enjoy this pizza ‘by the cut.’ Rione is a Roman slice shop in Philadelphia, if you will. A box filled with slices of carbonara, prosciutto crudo, patate e rosmarino and margherita are a good starting point to your order. And don’t forget your supplì!”
“If you can’t find a friend with a membership to bring you as a guest you to Palizzi Social Club, head across the Walt Whitman to Collingswood, where the antipasti flows like cold-pressed Castelvetrano olive oil and where people flock towards plates of pasta as instinctively as the Italian sparrow of Sicilia flocks to Milano. It’s warm, romantic, like an authentic trattoria or osteria that you’d find down a hidden cobblestone street in Italy. I’m talking about Zepppppppoliiiii. Start with the antipasti and then order every pasta on the menu. BYO a few nice bottles of Italian juice.”
“From Fitzwater to Wharton, the Ninth Street Italian Market is one of the greatest culinary streets in the USA. I shop here almost every week for quality Italian products. Shops like Esposito’s, Sarcone’s Bakery, Claudio’s, Fante’s, Anthony’s Coffee have been here for decades, and in some cases centuries. Started by Italian immigrants, Ninth Street continues to be a place that welcomes all cultures and cuisines.”
Here are Rocconi’s favorite restaurants in the Italian Market:
“Owned and operated by Italian American icon Danny DiGiampietro, who pioneered the cooper sharp cheesesteak and bakes his own absolutely ridiculous bread each morning, Angelo’s is the first place that I recommend to out-of-towners. Now a destination on Ninth Street, the entire menu is filled with hit makers, from pizza to specialty sandwiches to hoagies. My order since the Haddonfield shop days has been the thicker-crust Upside Down pizza with added pepperoni and the cooper sharp cheesesteak. That’s for me; what are you ordering?”
“Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, soppressata, Parmigiano reggiano, taleggio, burrata, fresh mozzarella. Decade after decade, Di Bruno Bros continues to offer quality Italian products to Philadelphia and beyond. Stop by their original Ninth Street location for an assortment of salumi and formaggi, then swing by their Bottle Shop located a few doors down for a nice bottle of Lambrusco. Then go and have yourself a picnic down by the Schuylkill River. It’ll be just like Venice.”
“Since 1904, the single greatest place to stand in all of Philadelphia is in front of the vent directly outside of Isgro Pastries. Stand there for a few huffs before heading inside to pick up a box of ricotta cannoli and a mix of Italian Pastries (because they do make exceptional Italian pastries). My favorite Italian cookie: the Pignoli. Leave the smells, take the cannoli.”
“About as classic as Classic Italian American as you can get, right in the heart of the Italian Market. I suggest starting with a few ice cold Peroni at the bar, before moving over to a table in the back where you should order a table full of food and plenty of house red wine. My must order dishes: Veal Domenic, Pasta Di Linguine, Baked Rigatoni, Sausage Genevese and a healthy side of meatballs. If you’ve never reserved a side table just to hold all of the food that you’ve ordered, consider doing that here your first time. Don’t forget to save some bread for your ‘fare la scarpetta’. Walk it all off with a beautiful la passeggiata (evening stroll) down Ninth Street.”