A College Student’s Guide to Philly Favorites

Coffee beans

College — you’re having the time of your life, but you’ve never been more broke. You watch as the funds from a summer of scooping ice cream dwindle but you’re not quite desperate enough to endure the lecture that will ensue if you ask your parents to give your bank account a boost. Fear not. You, luckily, go to school in the great City of Brotherly Love — the land of $7 cheese steaks, $3 Tastykakes, and Phillies’ Dollar Dog Nights. So get out there and take in all the cheap eats, drinks, and fun you can before you’re stuck mourning the death of your college lifestyle with no memories of Philly fun to-boot.

A college campus would not be a college campus without the presence of the almighty lunch truck. With its silvery shell shining like a beacon and the scent of frying onions wafting through the air, lunch truck fare is almost impossible for a college student to pass up (even if it means you’ll be ten minutes late for class). Everyone knows you can count on scoring a warm and gooey bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, a fairly priced hotdog with all the fixings, or a wonderfully greasy steak sandwich from a lunch truck. What about a fluffy cupcake topped with sweet, creamy icing for a mid-afternoon treat, though? The Buttercream Cupcake truck is driven by “The Cupcake Lady” who makes her way through the city selling delicious and affordable cupcakes. You can snatch up a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting or a chocolate cupcake with Nutella buttercream for $2 apiece. Perhaps the most exciting part about the cupcake truck is that you can never be too sure where it’s going to be or what The Cupcake Lady is going to whip up on any given day. Follow her on Twitter for daily tips on her location and what recipes she’ll have on hand. If she’s on your campus, you won’t want to miss her because you never know when she'll be back.
 
For something more traditional, Bui’s is parked at 38th and Spruce seven days a week bringing dependable lunch truck favorites to hungry and hungover UPenn students. Had a particularly long night of drinking? Bui’s is there with the popular Hangover Special — a bacon, ham, and sausage breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese that comes complete with a Gatorade.
 
When the cafeteria is not up to par but you don’t want to break the bank on lunch, a sandwich from Koch’s Deli in University City might be just what you need. This Jewish style deli bangs out made-to-order sandwiches with more than generous portions of freshly sliced meat. An added bonus is that while you wait for them to whip up your Drexel Special — corned beef, spiced beef, turkey, provolone, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on hoagie roll, you’ll get your pick of free samples to dig into.
 
Just because you’re eating on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that even the priciest places throw out a meal deal every now and again. Try Pod on Tuesday’s after 9pm for $25 all-you-can-eat sushi. The seafood-savvy student can travel to Center City Monday through Friday to catch The Oyster Houses’ Buck-A-Shuck Happy Hour from 5 to 7pm. There you’ll find a $1 oyster of the day, $3 draft beer, and $3 oyster shooters, as well as a late night oyster hour from 9 to 11pm.
 
A fun night out in Philly doesn’t have to mean $13 cocktails. McGillan’s Olde Ale House isn’t just the longest operating tavern in the city (open since 1860), it also offers some of the city’s best drink specials in a comfortable and friendly college setting. Karaoke Free Fridays include $6.50 pitchers, which you can also score on Thursdays, along with $3 margaritas and $3 nachos. The Sidecar Bar and Grille is a cozy neighborhood bar that offers happy hour prices and drink specials every single night, and not just from 5 to 7pm. Here, nighttime patrons can enjoy Late Nite Happy Hour from 12 to 2am Monday through Friday. Specials include $1 off all drafts, $2.50 well drinks, and $3.50 You-Call-It’s, plus half price nachos and chicken fingers until 1:30 a.m.
 
The diner is always there for you after a night of heavy drinking. Where else can you count on a choice between chicken parm or a short stack at 3am? Of particular note for South Street stragglers is The South Street Diner. Here you’ll find exactly what you’d expect at a diner — a diverse menu, big portions, bottomless cups of coffee, and fresh, tasty cakes and pies, all for reasonable prices. If the party is in the ‘yunk, The Manayunk Diner offers typical diner favorites with the addition of upscale choices like lobster. There’s also an upstairs lounge where you can drink and play pool if you decide the night isn't exactly over.
 
There’s also the option to end your night at the apex of the city’s biggest rivalry — 9th and Passayunk, for your choice of a Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteak. Hash it out over whose is best if you must, but any Philly steak is bound to satisfy at 3am.
 
Because college is supposed to focus on academics, there are plenty of spots that offer free Wi-Fi and caffeine-loaded drinks to get you through that 13-page paper or a particularly grueling finals week. One in particular is TBar — an urban retreat where you’ll find a selection of loose-leaf teas, specialty blends, and sweets and pastries to accompany your study time.  If you really can’t live without coffee, though, try The Last Drop for a piping hot cup-a-Joe and your typical coffeehouse eats, plus some vegan options and an abundance of brooding art students.

Philly knows it has a huge college crowd to satisfy, so the list of deals and steals is ever-growing and evolving. As a college student in this city the world is your playground, so don’t spend your time cooped up in your dorm with a smelly roommate and too much homework — get out there and enjoy it. With sweet meal deals, killer drink specials, and the chance to be a part of Philly traditions at prices you can’t beat, you really have no excuse not to.

 

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