Alt-Valentine’s Day is the Best Kind of Valentine’s Day

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Happy Valentine’s Day From Ting Wong

This weekend coming up? It’s gonna be a disaster. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Tuesday this year, EVERYONE is going to be out this weekend, filling up every seat in every restaurant you care about, drinking too much wine, eating all the oysters (which is bullshit, by the way) and getting their lovey-dovey cooties all over everything.

Like drinking on St Patrick’s Day, dining out on Valentine’s Day is amateur hour, a sucker’s game, great for restaurateurs (who need all the help they can get), but not so awesome for the dedicated gastronaut. But don’t worry, we have a very simple solution for you that will work particularly well this year.

We call it Alt-Valentine’s Day.

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Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Malaysian Restaurants and Food in Philadelphia

Penang and Fish-head curry from Banana Leaf | Photos by Neal Santos and Michael Persico

Penang and Fish-head curry from Banana Leaf | Photos by Neal Santos and Michael Persico

In Philly, Southeast Asian flavors are the gift that keeps on giving. In Point Breeze, South Philly and Chinatown, along Washington Avenue and even out in the ’burbs, there are enclaves whose composition and abstract representation of geopolitical borders are constantly shifting and changing. This means Thai and Laotian food on traditionally Vietnamese-heavy blocks, and awe-inspiring Malaysian food in Chinatown. It also means a deepening and broadening of available flavors, so if you’re looking to explore the subtle differences between Malaysian and Indonesian food, Vietnamese that goes beyond a bowl of pho, or Thai more complicated (and delicious) than a simple plate of pad Thai, there are many options.

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Where We’re Eating: Penang


For me, Penang was always one of the restaurants that defined Philly’s Chinatown. Before I lived here, it was the place my wife and I would go whenever we were in town—the place that would become the warm, steamy center of every jaunt along 10th Street. But after moving here full-time and taking a job that was within walking distance of the place, for some reason I pretty much stopped going. Until now. Happily, virtually nothing about Penang has changed. In an age of menus that seem to switch up every 15 minutes, Penang’s enormous board is mercifully unaltered.

The roti canai remains the best I have ever had. The beef rendang is rich and spicy with coconut milk and lemongrass. And for those of you who’ve ever wondered what Philly’s cuisine would be like had we been invaded by Malaysians a hundred years ago, I give you Penang lobak—a spiced and fried pork roll served with shrimp pancakes and chili sauce.

117 North 10th Street

First appeared in the July, 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Revisit: Banana Leaf in Chinatown

My mother used to tell me that the best way to judge a cookbook is the least judgmental. In her opinion, all it took was a single recipe worth cooking to prove its value.

Her point didn’t actually have anything to do with food. She was mainly trying to convince a haughty teenage brat that just because someone might not have much to say about political philosophy or the Fibonacci series or the gnostic Christians, that didn’t mean they weren’t worth talking to at all. (Yep, I was that guy and this actually needed to be spelled out for me. Now, of course, I am a delight.)

But still, there’s one Philadelphia restaurant that I’ve always looked at in this same way. The first time I went to Banana Leaf, it was for roti canai, and from that day forward it became the only thing I went for. Why mess with a good thing—especially one I’d been jonesing for for so long—by veering off into the rest of the menu?

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Quick Bites


The two new Starr restaurants, Chelsea Prime and Teplitzky’s (see above) set for Atlantic City this summer can now be gawked at in rendering form at the Chelsea’s new web site. Book your weekend now. [The Chelsea]

Looks like a second El Fuego is on tap. At least that’s what reading between the lines on the orange placard at 2104 Chestnut Street leads us to believe. The liquor license transfer is for Square Burrito II Inc. from Square Burrito Inc. at 723 Walnut St, the address of El Fuego. Seems like a great place for an El Fuego offshoot but does it mean that the original El Fuego is going liquor free? Update: Looks like Drew Lazor beat us to the Publish button and had this last night.

Jerseyites hankering for Malaysian food will be able to save bridge fare come Saturday as a branch of Penang opens in Maple Shade. [Table Talk, Philadelphia Inquirer]

A little more light is shown on Ludwig’s successor, Time in today’s Feeding Frenzy. The food is described as “‘updated country club fare,’ giving steaks and shrimp cocktail as dish examples.” [Feeding Frenzy, City Paper]

The area’s second California Pizza Kitchen opened this week in the City Avenue complex that includes Target and Pei Wei. Head there Monday as all dine-in sales will go to the Please Touch Museum. [Table Talk, Philadelphia Inquirer]

Looks like there’ll be no giant chile on the 2000 block of Walnut Street as word on the street has the Johnny Manana’s project dead and the whole building up for sale.


Go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Trocadero tonight at 7:30 PM. $3 gets you in and gets you a drink. And of course Johnny Goodtimes will be there with another episode of “Wheel of Terrific.”

Looking for somewhere to eat beforehand? How about Penang or Sang Kee Duck House. Can’t go wrong with either.