South Philly's "Ralph's" is now oldest U.S. Italian restaurant

June 14, 2012 2:21:27 PM PDT
A South Philadelphia eatery is celebrating a national distinction.

Ralph's Italian Restaurant on 9th Street in the Italian Market is now officially the oldest Italian restaurant in the country.

To be clear, Ralph's has always been the oldest family-owned restaurant. With the recent closing of Fior Di Italia in San Francisco, it has now taken the top spot and after 112 years it has finally earned its place in the culinary history books.

"A lot of what is on the menu today you would have seen 100 years ago," says Ryan Rubino, who is the 5th generation of the family to work there. "Our gravy has never changed. The meatballs? Still the same!"

They are the recipes Francesco Dispigno, a fisherman from the island of Ischia, brought with him when he immigrated to Philadelphia and opened Ralph's in 1900. He named the restaurant after his son.

Today you will still find the original floors and 3 generations of the family running the place. Starting with Uncle Ralph, the last namesake, who hand-shucks all the clams.

There's his sister Elaine, her sons Jimmy and Eddie and their kids, Ryan and Alexis.

"We all do everything in here," Eddie says.

"It's a rite of passage," says Alexis.

The reason they've surpassed a century and counting? Depends who you ask.

"It's home here," exclaims Elaine. "We have customers coming in here with their family for 40, 50 years. They walk in the door and they get treated like family."

"A lot of people ask how we get our sauce so sweet," says Jimmy. "Our great grandfather would roll over in his grave if he thought we were using sugar in our sauce."

The trick? Caramelized garlic which cooks out the bitterness and the bite. But the REAL secret just might be the "Uncle Ralph sniff test."

"Uncle Ralphie is fanatical about smelling everything we cook," Jimmy says. "See his schnoz? He doesn't even have to taste it. He could smell it to see if it was made right."

Then there are those award winning meatballs!

"We bake them first and then cook them in the gravy," says Jimmy.

(215) 627-6011
760 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Fri-Sat 11:45-10:45pm Sun-Thu 11:45-9:45pm