As a recent NYC transplant (Brooklyn) to the Philadelphia area about 10 months ago, I realized that the first six months all I did was rag on Philly in comparison to what I was used to getting, growing up going to Arthur Ave, and living in Brooklyn for 12 years. What I would like to say, is that the comparisons get old and what I have ended up doing is saying to myself, you know what? You can get this that or the other thing in more places and cheaper in NYC, but you don't live there, so that does not put good food on the table or provide you with ways to deal with the raw materials you have here in Philadelphia and the outlying burbs.
I must say, with this fresh attitude, and armed with good maps and a basic knowledge of the city and its environs, I have not been too disappointed. Those who trumpet Philadelphia as an eating city with fine restaurants are missing the point if all they are doing is going to the Zagat restaurants and relying on all that.
Read the local papers, read the university student reviews, be open minded, and the chow will pour forth. There ar numerous food trucks (I used to call them roach coaches) but they offer an enormously diverse and cheap alternative to crappy dining experiences in bad restaurants. It is like an entire food truck culture here, especially near Upenn.
Try the places off the beaten path and the specialty grocery stores in far flung locations for items, like Bitar's (9th and Federal), Assouline and Ting (5tha nd Vine), The Reading Terminal Market (Arch and 12th) and the farmer's markets in different neighborhoods.
I have high standards and I am always looking for a good find, a cheap chowhound destination, and I think this message board for PA needs to start taking some reponsibility for culitvating a chowhound community the likes of which exists in NYC. Start eating and quit griping.