Returning to the Reading Terminal Market

It’s almost beyond the point of debate that the Reading Terminal Market – a.k.a. The Terminal – is Philadelphia’s most iconic food-related institution. The two indoor markets that eventually evolved into The Terminal were founded in 1859. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a combination farmers market and atmospheric food-court. It’s also a place that many tourists and conventioneers – The Terminal is across the street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center – feel the need to knock off their list of places to see and experience in Philly.

It was an especially big part of my food-life from 2004 until the outbreak of Covid. From ‘04-’12, my wife and I lived in a condo building that was only a couple blocks from The Terminal and did a lot of our food shopping there. Then I worked around the corner from it and went there an average of at least a couple times per week to take out lunch from ’12-’20. Today was only the second or third time I’ve been back there since the world was turned upside-down in March of 2020. My reason for being there was to meet up with my friend, Joe, to sample at least one cheesesteak, and I wasn’t sure what else. My plan was to let my ever-strong cravings guide me. 

Chinatown – another frequent lunch destination for me in the pre-Covid days – is right around the corner from The Terminal.
Walk-way between The Terminal building and the Pennsylvania Convention Center
One of a number of entrances to The Terminal; this one on 12th Street.

The Terminal is too big to capture in an exterior photo that would do justice to the essence of the building. There is a well-known sign announcing what’s inside on one corner of it, but that was covered up by construction material. So I didn’t bother to take many photos until I had entered the Temple of Culinary Delights. 

There are a number of entrances to The Terminal from several different streets. I entered off of 12th Street and snapped the following three photos that captured my immediate view, first straight ahead, then to the left and right.

I then worked my way around the aisles, taking photos mostly of the stands that I’ve frequented over the years. They are a mix of breakfast and lunch, dessert, and farmers market-type stands, such as butchers, fish stands, bakeries, etc.

There is much more than what you’ll see in the below photos. In recent years, the place has taken on a slightly more international flair as a few older stands closed and were replaced by new ones that highlight various ethnic cuisines. There is also a section that is devoted mostly to Amish and Pennsylvania-Dutch food that has been around at least as long as I can recall and probably a lot longer.

This is a longer string of photos than you’ll normally find in my posts, but there was so much I wanted to share with you:

Bassett’s is America’s oldest still-running ice cream company. They sell pints in stores around the region.
Sang Kee, which specializes in noodle soups and Hong Kong-style barbecued meats, was one of my most frequent lunch stops when I worked near The Terminal. They have several restaurant locations as well, including one in Chinatown, which I wrote about in December.
DiNic’s, which specializes in Philly-style roast pork sandwiches, is one of The Terminal’s biggest draws.
Another of my favorite Terminal stands. I’ve had a lot of corned beef and pastrami from them over the years.
The Terminal’s in-house diner and a legendary Italian bakery that is known for its cannolis.
The very good burger stand donates a portion of its profits to fight hunger.
We sat in the Rick Nichols room while eating our lunch. Rick is a legendary Philly food writer who was also a longtime colleague of mine.
This stand sells what may be my favorite chocolate chip cookies – with the possible exception of my wife’s.
Beiler’s Donuts are another big draw at The Terminal.
Another stand I frequented regularly for lunch in the pre-Covid days.
Although I’m not nuts about Carmen’s cheesesteaks, they have great Liscio’s seeded rolls and make what may be my favorite Italian hoagie.

Following my nostalgic stroll around The Terminal, which was moderately crowded, but not as packed as it typically was around lunch time before Covid hit, I made my way to my first destination; By George, an Italian stand that does a brisk business selling both pizza and long-roll sandwiches, including cheesesteaks. They also serve a variety of pastas, salads and wonderful single-serve strombolis and calzones. Of course, you know why I was there.

I ordered my usual cheesesteak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions. 

My First Destination: By George.
The grill chef is in the background preparing cheesesteaks.

I had one or two steaks from By George at least five years ago, and remember liking them. But there was a definite need to refresh my memory if I was going to rate them against the other cheesesteaks I’ve eaten over the past year.

After getting my steak, I found a table in the Rick Nichols room and only had to wait a couple minutes for Joe to arrive. We each took half of what was a fairly hefty steak.

Cheesesteak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions from By George.

It was also very good. The seeded roll was a little on the soft side, but had a nice chew. The toasted sesame seeds added an extra layer of flavor to the sandwich. I’m not sure where the roll was from, but based on my recent experiences, I would guess either Liscio’s or Aversa’s Bakeries. 

Although the cheese isn’t that visible in the photos, there was plenty of it and it was beautifully blended in with the beef throughout the sandwich. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the cheese-to-meat ratio for this sandwich was one of the best I’ve experienced. I tasted and felt the texture of the cheese in just about every bite, but there wasn’t so much that it overshadowed the meat.

That meat was also nicely seasoned and very tasty. I’ve had a few steaks that were juicier than this one, but it was certainly not dry by any stretch. 

The entire package was outstanding; probably good enough to make it into my top tier. 

There are at least three other stands in The Terminal that serve cheesesteaks. I’ve had enough experience with two of them to not feel the need to try them again at this point. I toyed with the idea of getting one from the Terminal’s pub – Molly Malloy’s, but recent photos I’ve seen of their steaks weren’t overly enticing. 

Joe was a trooper and gave me the go-ahead to strike out in search of whatever struck my fancy for part two of our lunch while he held our table. 

I posted a photo of Hershel’s Eastside Deli above. They are one of my two favorite Jewish delis in the Philly region, and I’ve written about my passion for Jewish deli in past posts. I hadn’t had a sandwich from Hershel’s since at least early 2020 and couldn’t resist the temptation to return there today.

Hershel’s turned out to be my second stop.
They make their own corned beef, pastrami and brisket on the premises.
Another customer’s Reuben.

While I’ve had a few corned beef sandwiches from other delis over the past couple years, I haven’t had pastrami since before the onset of the pandemic. I would put that dry spell behind me today with what I consider to be Philly’s best pastrami; the only way I like it – on rye with mustard.

Carving pastrami for my sandwich.
There it is. Mustard only for this traditionalist.

As is sometimes the case with Hershel’s corned beef and pastrami, it was probably steamed a little past ideal. But that only harmed the sandwich from an aesthetic standpoint. Rather than having nice slices of pastrami, there were shreds and smaller pieces squeezed together to stay between the two slices of rye. 

Pastrami on rye bread with mustard.

The meat was so flavorful and juicy that it was difficult to dwell on how it looked. 

Although I must confess it was a somewhat odd taste to experience right after downing a cheesesteak.  I’d probably separate the two sandwiches by an hour if I ever go for that combination again.

I intend to return to The Terminal after I finish this cheesesteak project to highlight more of its stands and food. DiNic’s for a roast pork or meatball sandwich is a good possibility.

Until then, I’ve got more work to do on the cheesesteak trail. 

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

10 thoughts on “Returning to the Reading Terminal Market

      1. Definitely. Susan has been restraining me from some of the finer things in life. She and my daughter, Liz, who was visiting, actually had me eating vegan for a week. I survived.


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