As I write this I am emerging from what can only be described as a pierogi-induced coma. I’ve eaten easily a dozen pierogi in an afternoon for “research,” and I’m going to be honest, I don’t feel great. No regrets, though. My Polish ancestors are smiling down on me, but they’re also kind of judging me, like, “Why would you do that to yourself?”
The only answer I have is that pierogi, doughy potato cheese dumplings, are the food equivalent of a hug. They’re home to me. Pierogi run so deep in my blood that when I got back my “23 & Me” I learned I’m mostly made of butter. After eating latkes all day (and loving it), I wanted to see what a Philadelphia pierogi crawl would be like.
Port Richmond is the epicenter of Polish cuisine and culture in Philadelphia. There are plenty of other options throughout the city, to be sure, but if you want to get down and dirty with the real authentic stuff—and walk from place to place—this is where you need to be.
Take a break from the basic brunch crowds of Center City and micro-dose potatoes and cheese all day instead.
Note: For consistency I had the classic potato and cheese pierogi at each place. Almost every order came with sour cream, fried onions on top and cost about $6 to $7 for an order of five to seven pierogi.
Syrenka, a cafeteria-style establishment, has a ’70s vibe, unchanged by time or the new wave of hipster clientele. This was my group’s first stop, so perhaps we were the most excited/hungry, but Syrenka’s pierogi ranked first for many of us. The cheese-to-potato ratio was perfect, and they sat in a beautiful pool of buttery goodness.
This epic Polish restaurant/grocery store just celebrated its 30th anniversary. From the Polish greeting card selection to the freezer bursting with to go pierogi, this place is the real deal. The fried pierogi at the cafe are so good I almost shed a tear.
Green Rock hosts a full-on Pierogi Week in late February, with 20 different varieties available at a given time. We went with the Thanksgiving pierogi, which had turkey inside and were served with a side of stuffing and gravy. If you keep it simple, the classic potato and cheese ones are boiled and then pan-fried in butter and made with cheddar cheese—a switch-up from the usual Polish farmer cheese. They’re served with housemade sauerkraut and sour cream.
Named for the husband-and-wife team of owners, Martin and Margaret, this Port Richmond diner is mostly a breakfast spot. Swap out your hashbrowns and bacon for pierogi and kielbasa, and get there early—it closes at 2pm every day.
A Polish children’s singing competition served as ambiance for the last stop on our tour. New Wave has a full bar, and the dining room is festooned with mirrors and a disco ball. It feels like the Polish cousin of the Pen & Pencil Club, and I would imagine it’s a fun place in the evenings when the Żywiec is flowing. We were there for one thing only, though: the pierogi. We tried both the deep-fried and boiled varieties, and they were delicious.
The Dinner House: A cozy, low-maintenance dining room that feels like grandma’s house.
The Pierogie Kitchen: This is a trek from Port Richmond, but worth it if you want to try more pierogi variations, like Philly Cheesesteak, for example.
Take some home: Syrenka and Krakus both sell pierogi frozen and to go. A dozen will cost you around $7, and they’ll keep in your freezer until you thaw them out for a quick, easy dinner or appetizer on the fly.
Learn at least one Polish word: “Thank you” is “dziękujęi,” pronounced “jen-koo-yah.”
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