I just got back from Philadelphia. Armed with the best Chowhound info, I set out to eat the best that Philly had to offer. Here are some raves and some "whats?" as in, "What's so special about this?"
Fish 'n' chips: I know this isn't "Philly" food, but at Tavern 17, a typical high end bar/restaurant in the Raddisson Warwick lobby (near Rittenhouse Square), I was surprised by some of the best, most authentic fish 'n' chips I've ever had. The fish was exceptionally moist, perfectly cooked, protected by a crunchy golden crust that was perfectly seasoned and not greasy. The fries were crunchy, perfectly cooked. I had it with their house salad which was a perfect green counter point to the meal.
Burger at the Royal Tavern: Yes, this deserves all the raves. "Gourmet" burgers usually outsmart themselves, but this one, with its melted gruyere and chipotle mayo and perfectly cooked bacon does not lose sight of its roots. This was one of the best burgers I've ever had in my life, anywhere. Put on a firm brioche bun (I think) it was cooked medium as I like it but remained exceptionally juicy, with a nice char to the meat. Beefy, filling, and the chipotle mayo was a perfect accompaniment. Their house salad with pears and greens was outstanding. The service and ambience was also exceptional. Very good waitress at the bar and on Saturday it was busy with a lot of hipsters but not so noisy you couldn't hear yourself. A very cozy place.
Jim's Steaks: On a Wednesday night I had the cheesesteak with provolone and onions. I apparently forgot to order it with "flavor" because there was none. I had a cold, bready bun loaded with absolutely tasteless meat, some provolone buried somewhere under there. The onions were the only thing I could taste, and not much since they were very spare with them. And I had to remove some of the skin of the onion. I saw real Philly people hearing angels sing when they bit into their sandwiches, and I was thinking, "What in the world makes this sandwich famous? There is no flavor at all to it." There is almost nothing to dislike. It was as neutral as a glass of water. I am not dissing Jim's: I realize I may just not "get" the cheesesteak. Very disappointed.
Dinic's Roast Pork Sandwich: Great service, and plenty of more flavor than Jim's, but that's not saying much. Very generous heaping of tender roasted pork, and provolone. The broccoli rabe was nice and garlicky, but again, the flavor of the sandwich was so subtle I hardly can know how this is such a famous sandwich. Would I go there again if I was in the very pleasant Reading Terminal Market? Sure. But would not go out of my way. I would take my very simple brisket sandwich any day over Jim's or Dinic's famous sandwiches. Sorry.
Slice Pizza: My biggest disappointment. Went to the one by Rittenhouse Square. Ordered a slice of margherita and pepperoni. The crust was thin but very dense, even hard, at the same time. Very little toppings. Very little moisture or flavor. Truly this was some of the worst pizza I've ever had. I just can not imagine this is truly the best pizza that Philly has to offer, given the huge Italian influence. It must have been an off day, or maybe they are at their best when they serve a whole, fresh pie. But wow, what a dud!