Pho from Pho 75
Philadelphia Inquirer critic, Craig LaBan has spent the last three months becoming a pho expert. LaBan has traversed Washington Avenue, explored Chinatown and peeled back the mystery of East Kensington’s pho culture to come up with his list of the best pho in Philadelphia.
Along the way, LaBan discovers, tips, tricks and some off-the-menu requests that can elevate your pho sojourns as well.
Check out our map of LaBan’s pho »
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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PRO TIP: If you add the cold garnishes a little at a time, they won’t cool the soup too quickly … and the heat plus garnishes will make for a more aromatic soup.
Dizengoff and Stock are both reviewed by Craig LaBan.
This weekend, Craig LaBan offered two reviews for the price of one Sunday Inquirer as he reviewed both Stock and Dizengoff. Each spot focuses on a single specialty with admirable results.
Stock – Two Bells, Very Good
Where Stock truly excels, and the best reason to hang with Fishtown hipsters at the counter, are the small menu’s beef-free options. The mushroom pho packs an umami punch the beef pho lacks. The shredded green papaya starter is one of the most irresistible salads in town, the crunchy threads and roasted peanuts basking in a tart and funky fish sauce-lime dressing that flickers with chile heat. Of the daily banh mi hoagies, which included tasty chicken meatball and unexpectedly bland pork sausage, the surprising winner was filled with custardy tofu, bright with soy-garlic marinade, pickled cabbage, and creamy Japanese mayo.
Stock: The meticulous beef pho has depth, but is outshone by other offerings [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Dizengoff – Three Bells, Excellent
[T]his hummus takes on its magnetic powers thanks to chef Emily Seaman. The Zahav alum compulsively creates new garnishes daily based on what farmers deliver, with spot-on instincts for textures and flavor contrasts.
Summer corn took on the musky sweetness of fenugreek. Red peppers, simmered with pomegranate, went for a muhammara mood with crushed walnuts. Soft cannelinis were tinted yellow with Yemenite hawaj curry, dusted with smoky black flecks of Urfa chilies. Charred eggplants were cooked to a gloss, then tanged with vinegar and garlic. Fragrant ground lamb, one day topped with pickles, another stewed with orange and pistachios, hit a high with aromatic Persian spice.
Dizengoff: At this ‘hummusiya,’ the chickpea puree takes on magnetic power [Philadelphia Inquirer]
A Twitter follower had tipped us off that the postage stamp-sized Cafe Nhu Y had closed its doors at 8th and Christian. And after a lot of denial, we’re willing to admit that our favorite bargain banh mi spot is indeed gone for good. A similarly distressed Naked Philly confirms the closure.
And in the Italian Market, there’s the odd story about the closing of five-month old Torero Tapas Bar. The Torero web site has the paella and tapas bar moving/merging with Tabblon in Drexel Hill. The Passyunk Post reports that a neighbor says it was a landlord dispute that led to the closing.
On a recent visit to one of the many hole-in-the-wall pho joints on Washington Avenue, I saw a table of large white construction workers slurping up noodles. And while there might not be anything strange about that today, things weren’t always that way. Twenty-five years ago, when Benny Lai took over Vietnam on 11th Street from his family, no one in this town who didn’t grow up on home-cooked Asian food knew a pho from a bun. Lai opened the door, making the food more accessible while getting lots of us drunk on Flaming Volcanos and other tiki concoctions. These days, there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants in town. But Lai’s Vietnam (and the mirror-image Vietnam Cafe in West Philadelphia) remains the place for Vietnamese dinner with out-of-towners, the in-laws, etc. Order the barbecue platter (Lai’s version of the pu pu platter), salt-and-pepper fried shrimp and some of those flaming drinks, and you’re good to go.
First appeared in the April, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Zahav is once again hosting a very Jewish Christmas. On Monday, December 23rd, it will be Vietnamese food and a movie. And this year the food will serve as a menu preview of Tyler Akin’s upcoming restaurant, Stock, a Vietnamese restaurant that Akin (a sous chef at Zahav) is opening at 308 E. Girard Avenue in Fishtown.
The movies are a surprise, but will most likely be R-rated. Price is $55 per person and excludes beverages, tax and gratuity.
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On Monday, the New York Times dedicated hundreds of words to Atlantic City’s Vietnamese restaurants in an article entitled “Where the Pho Is a Sure Thing”. Now, it may seem strange that a paper like the Times would head to our little gambling town for Vietnamese noodle soup. I mean, surely there are zillions of great Vietnamese spots in New York. There must be, right? Read more »
I’m not exactly sure how you pronounce the name of Mi Dac Ky, the newest restaurant addition to the bustling Washington Avenue food district. But I do know that I want to try their “Chinese/Vietnamese Hoagie”: Peking duck, housemade duck liver pate, cucumber, carrots, jalapeños and cilantro on a French baguette. Read more »
The cultural flair of Vietnam and Mexico collide at South Philadelphia’s Le Viet.
Le Viet, known for its traditional Vietnamese food, is offering a Cinco de Mayo special Friday, May 3rd, featuring $3 Coronas, $5 margaritas and two Vietnamese tacos for just $7. The event runs 5 to 7 p.m.
Le Viet [Official Site]