Head about 130 miles northeast to cheesesteak territory -- a.k.a. Philadelphia -- and you'll find a neighborhood, beaming with Italian history and culture at the nation’s oldest and largest working outdoor market, the 9th Street Italian Market.
Running from Wharton to Fitzwater street, the market is home to 100+ merchants, including pasta manufacturers, seven meat markets, cookware shops, and dozens of fruit and veggie vendors -- right along the streets where Rocky Balboa once famously (and, OK, fictionally) ran.
The market, which was a hub for Italian immigrants during the late 19th century, offers foodies a unique way to hand-pick fresh and authentic foods inexpensively.
The market goes beyond serving as a quintessential Philadelphian grocery hotspot, also offering tons of shops, bars and restaurants where you can dine or grab a drink. Your sense of smell is sure to pick up as you come across some of the market’s best cheese (DiBruno's), pastry (Isgro's) and hoagie shops (Sarcone's), topping our list of places to be sure to visit.
- DiBruno's (930 S. 9th St.), the appropriately self-proclaimed House of Cheese, offers the largest selection of imported and domestic cheeses available in the area -- more than 500 varieties. The famed cheese store, still its original location opened back in 1939, also offers other specialty products including gourmet meats, smoked fish and caviar. The store, which has three other locations (1730 Chestnut St., 1701 JFK Blvd. and 120 Coulter Ave.), is open Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Craving a cannoli? Head to Isgro's (1009 Christian St.) pastry shop for their award-winning "Best of Philly" cannoli that you can fill with ricotta cheese, vanilla, chocolate, or chocolate mousse. We hear the Italian cookies are pretty good, too. Open Mon.-Sat. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Go to hoagie heaven at Sarcone's (734 S. 9th St.) famous deli, offering everything from classic Italian hoagies with thinly sliced prosciutto and salami, to Sonny's Special, made with turkey, roast beef or ham on freshly baked bread. Open Tues.-Fri. from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you're in need of some 9th Street Market 101, take a guided tour of the famed marketplace to learn more about its history. For $20 per person, you can sample some of the shops' best foods and meet local store owners and workers.