Philadelphia soft pretzels are an iconic part of the city’s food scene. Philadelphia is a foodie town: cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and roast pork sandwiches are local favorites. There’s plenty of fine dining options in the City of Brotherly Love, if that’s your thing. But street foods that are sometimes messy, sometimes indulgent and always delicious seem to satisfy so much more, at least for me. And it’s said that Philly eats six times more pretzels per year than the average American. So where can you get the best soft pretzel in Philadelphia? I went on a soft pretzel adventure to find out!
History of Philadelphia Soft Pretzels
With eastern Pennsylvania’s historically large German immigrant population, it’s no surprise that pretzels have a lasting spot in Philadelphia’s diet. But the roots of this beloved food aren’t in the city itself. Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery claims to be the first, with founder Julius opening the United States’ first commercial pretzel bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania, in 1861. Lititz is in Lancaster County, an area known for its Pennsylvania Dutch population. From there, the snack food spread east into Philadelphia.
What Makes a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel?
Philadelphia soft pretzels are a little different than what is traditionally associated with pretzels. Soft pretzels in Philadelphia are generally long and narrow. The shape is similar to a figure eight and they’re often baked in long lines that bake together. You can expect to find a rich golden or dark brown finish. And Philly soft pretzels, while not moist, aren’t dry by any means. And what do you put on your pretzel? Mustard, either yellow or brown, is the standard pretzel condiment.
Where to Find Philadelphia Soft Pretzels
When I was growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, it was common to see vendors selling pretzels on street corners. I’d often see the vendors when school field trips would bus us in to the city to visit a museum. These days, it is almost unheard of. You’re more likely to see folks selling water or t-shirts (Rocky and whatever sports team is doing well at that moment are usually on offer). So where have all the soft pretzels gone? They’re still here, you just have to make a bit of effort. But, boy, is it worth it!
Center City Pretzel
You’ll find a bakery in the traditionally Italian neighborhood of South Philly that is Center City Pretzel. The bakery is tucked along busy Washington Avenue in the heart of the Italian Market. Center City Pretzel is exactly what you expect from a Philadelphia pretzel bakery that’s been family owned and operated since 1981.
Center City Pretzel are open every day of the week. You can walk right up and get hand-twisted pretzels still warm from the oven. And, like a true bakery, they open before the sun comes up. And they only bake a certain amount of pretzels each day. The early bird gets the worm. Or the soft pretzel, as it turns out!
I will admit that they are pretty tasty fresh and warm right out of the oven. But I found these specific pretzels were especially chewy and memorable at room temperature.
Center City Pretzel, 816 Washington Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Inside Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia there is a strong contingent of Amish businesses. So it’s no surprise that you can find handmade Amish-style pretzels at a shop called Miller’s Twist. Pennsylvania Dutch Country was the birthplace of what would lead to Philadelphia soft pretzels. So it seems only fitting to pay tribute to to a distinctly Amish-style soft pretzel.
The pretzels at Miller’s Twist are a little different than the other Philadelphia soft pretzels you’ll get from other shops in this post. And probably different than what would be considered a true “Philadelphia soft pretzel.” Amish-style pretzels have that traditional pretzel shape, they taste richer, are a bit softer and are finished with a dip in butter. If you’re looking to really indulge, this is the pretzel for you. I mean, you’re already getting the carbs; might as well go all the way!
Miller’s Twist is in Reading Terminal Market, 51 N. 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Philly Pretzel Factory
If you do happen to see someone selling soft pretzels on a street corner or at the cash register in a store, there’s a good chance it came from a Philly Pretzel Factory. The locally-based company has been around for two decades and has more than a 100 franchise locations across the country. And you can find dozens of them in and around Philadelphia.
Philly Pretzel Factory tends to make a very decent and consistent soft pretzel. They’re tasty, no question about it! The stores are generally open during normal business hours, too, so no need to make a pretzel pilgrimage at dawn if you’re feeling peckish. While Philly Pretzel Factory aren’t quite mass produced, they aren’t exactly artisan, either. With that said, you really can’t go wrong with Philly Pretzel Factory.
Tips for Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Bakeries
If you’re planning to get more than a few pretzels, it’s usually a good idea to call the bakery ahead of time. Many of the bakeries only have limited quantities available for walk-up customers.
Also, if you’ll be driving be sure to keep in mind that many of the bakeries in the city do not have dedicated parking lots. Finding a parking spot on the street can be challenging.
All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.