Despite playing the biggest late night talk show on television daily, and having won their fair share of Grammys, Ahmir Khalib Thompson — a.k.a Questlove — admits that his group, The Roots, still think of themselves as floating below the radar. This is an interesting thought, though it feels like a bit of a stretch. The band collectively owns so many accomplishments, viral moments, and measures of success that it’s fair to say they’ve captured the ear of the masses. Quest himself is not only a renowned musician but also a bestselling author, whose Tweets themselves are news. A well-known food nerd, the man even has a Beard nomination under his belt.
Still, if Questlove doesn’t feel “mainstream famous,” he must be right… at least in NYC (where no one besides Jay Z, Beyonce, and Leo truly hold that title). But there’s no chance the impresario drummer can walk down the street without getting recognized in his hometown Philadelphia. Folks love him too much to not say “hey.”
Though their day jobs have forced The Roots to relocate to Manhattan, over the past decade Questlove and co. have returned to the City of Brotherly Love to throw their flagship music festival Roots Picnic, which will take place on June 2nd. This year, the festival’s line-up is stacked, featuring 2 Chainz, Dirty Projectors, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Kid Capri, and will be co-hosted by comedy legend and 2018’s #1 comeback story Dave Chappelle.
When it comes to his home city, no one is better than Questlove at knowing where to sit down for a meal. Here’s where he told us to find the best food in Philadelphia — whether you’re in town for The Roots Picnic or just to visit.
The Cheese Steaks
I am a steak guy. The first place I am going to say is Tony Lukes. Then I am going to say Pagano’s or Dalessandro’s. If you don’t mind checking out a more touristy spot, which is acceptable, go to Ishkabibble’s.
Hoagies are another incredible Philadelphia staple. I think that Lee’s Hoagie House is just great, but for me, I usually go to Ricci Brothers on 11th Street. There is also a great new spot called Matt & Marie’s that is in downtown. Don’t go to the tourist traps. Get the real experience.
My pal Mike Solomonov opened falafel joint Goldie. This place is the real deal. Also check out Rooster Soup Company right downstairs, 100 percent of their profits go to support Broad Street Ministry, helping locals who are homeless or home insecure.
Res Ipsa Café is great for date night. They make their own pasta and you get to bring your own wine, which is one of the best things about the scene.
Since you’re going to need a homebase for relaxing between all the meals, we also asked Questlove where to stay in town:
Northern Liberties. I lived in this neighborhood for 10 years. It is a great place to hang out, with some great venues, and it has become the village spot. Some say it has become the Williamsburg of Philly.
Our Hotel Pick if You Head To The Roots Picnic:
The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is set in the historic Old City, just a stone’s throw away from Northern Liberties. Operated like a boutique hotel with full-service amenities, there are special perks that help you experience the city fully and pets are fully accommodated.
Most importantly: They’ll give you a free bike for your culinary tour!