Philly is known for so much, its impeccable art, unbeatable fanaticism for its sports teams, a diversity of culture that is unmatched, and its acceptance of all walks of life. But Philadelphians also reflect on their city being one of the most diverse cities in America when it comes to food.
This is readily apparent to one when they visit Philly’s Chinatown. The Asian-American influence in Philly is no more present than in Chinatown where Asian food dominates and attracts all walks of life. The myriad of aromas that permeate the air is gratifying, the sense of culture is invigorating, and some Asian cuisine can overwhelm those of the weak of stomach.
However, for purposes of this article, we'll be delving into the more contemporary dishes this heavenly area in the City of Brotherly Love has to offer.
1. Nom Wah Tea Parlor
218 North 13th Street
My adventure with my incomparable photographer buddy, Melissa Cannarozzo, started out at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, an off-shoot of the popular restaurant in New York City. The interior is remnant of a time when San Francisco's massive Asian-American community was first planting its roots. The Edison lighting combined with rustic exposed brick provides a feeling of warmth and coziness, not unlike the food there.
Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings
Keeping with tradition (and my Asian heritage) I ordered myself a piping hot cup of Jasmine tea and some pan-fried pork dumplings. These slightly spicy pockets of deliciousness, were elegantly placed in front of me and were gone in a matter of seconds. The handmade dumplings were cooked to perfection and reminded me of making dumplings with my father back home.
House Special Roasted Pork Bun
A bun of pure heaven, a fluffy angel, this Asian delight is a specialty of Nom Wah and they make it known. The steamed treat is filled to the brink of bursting with roasted pork and green onions and make for one of the best delights of this entire adventure.
When one cuts into the bun, the initial encounter is with the steam that rises from the center of the bun. The bun's fluffy dough is the bread of the Gods and can make this delight a full meal in its self. The sweet and savory roast pork at the middle is a testament to the notion that anything can be beautiful inside and out.
Shanghainese Soup Dumplings
These semi-liquid packages of piping hot coziness are stuffed with pork swimming in chicken broth. The first bite into these treasures hailing from the furthest reaches of Asia opens up the chicken broth sealed in the bottom of the dumpling and mixes with the pork resting on the top. This was by far the tastiest of the samplings at Nom Wah and are a must when attending.
2. Pho Cali
1000 Arch Street
This traditional Vietnamese spot is located in the heart of Chinatown and directly across from the iconic Chinatown Gate. Inside, you'll find a sleekly decorated small dining area with a subtle green neon image of someone tending a rice patty.
Vietnamese food is a combination of Asian and French influences that dates back to French occupation of the area in the early twentieth century.
Large House Combo (aka Pho)
The signature dish, the Large House Combo, is a bowl of the Vietnamese soup Pho (pronounced 'fuh'), which contains thinly sliced beef flank, hand drawn rice noodles, and various difference spices.
This place looks, feels, and smells like Hanoi (a city located in North Vietnam). The quick service and huge steamy bowls of pho are incomparable. I find myself always coming back here as a standby and I can assure you that this Pho Cali will be the same for you.
1028 Arch Street
Yamitsuki is a sleek spot located a few doors down from Pho Cali. The uniqueness is boundless with Yamitsuki. The water and drinks are served in beakers, the tables are carved from single pieces of wood, and the check comes in a copy of Naruto manga, which, if you're like me, brings back some great childhood memories.
All of this adds to the eccentric and endearing nature that has an added feeling of soothing calmness when eating here. Yamitsuki encapsulates modern Asian culture exceptionally well with its interior.
Miso Pork Ramen
Traditionally, ramen is made of hand-drawn noodles, soft-boiled egg, crunchy lettuce, and killer miso broth. What more could a ramen lover like myself ask for? What about perfectly tender pork? Yamitsuki, of course, fulfills all of those requirements for a delightful ramen experience.
For a rookie restaurant, this was some of the best ramen I've ever had and I can't help but think the sky isn't even the limit for Yamitsuki. The ramen leaves a full feeling unlike anything else and exemplifies the comfort food roots of the dish. Exquisite, just exquisite.
117 North 10th Street
Taking a trip south on our tour of the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN), we come to Penang, named for a state in Malaysia. Penang (the restaurant) is like its mother city in its eccentric use of exposed ventilation and walls lined with sheet metal, an ode to the City's industrial roots.
Penang Pad Thai
The crisp bean sprouts, the ground chili peppers, the soft Pad Thai noodles, the ground up peanuts, the steamy shrimp, they all come together to make this delicacy. Oh, and I almost forgot, the squid.
Pad Thai, traditionally, leaves a tingly feeling on your lips from the spices that collude together to give your palate the adventure it's always desired. The tingle stays for roughly a half an hour after to serve as a reminder of the food journey you just completed. Penang's excellent kitchen staff does an exemplary job of creating flavors you'd never thought existed before.
1020 Cherry Street
A modern, hip, and energetic new Korean spot on a side street in Chinatown emulates the bright, youthful scene of Seoul perfectly. The crowd is young, the televisions are playing sports or music videos, and the drinks are distinct, to say the least. This is a perfect spot to cap a great day in one of the most unique places in an already unique city like Philadelphia.
These little fluffy angels sent from above blessed us as we set out into the sunset of mine and Mel's adventures in Chinatown. Eaten not unlike a sandwich, one bite into this beautiful combination of tangy roast pork, cole slaw, Katsu sauce, and cucumbers was more than enough to earn Bonchon the title it so rightfully deserves as the closer of our day.
ปลาย (The End)
And thus our day of finding the best spots to cure wanderlust in Philly concluded. Mel and I hope you plan to enjoy at least one of the places we've been blessed to have dined at and we guarantee you will NOT be disappointed.