Trend: We’re Cravin’ Asian
From banchan in Olney to Guizhou chicken in Exton, we went through dozens of chopsticks to bring you our favorite Asian restaurants.
What to expect: Marinated meats barbecued tabletop; kimchi, fermented, pickled vegetables; sesame oil, garlic, fermented soybean paste, and gochujang, a chili sauce.
Our pick: Jong Ka Jib, 6600 North 5th Street; 215-924-0100.
For novices: The pae jong pancake, spiked with shrimp and calamari; all of the vinegary banchan; smooth and spicy soft tofu soup into which you crack a raw egg.
For adventurers: Ask for “very spicy.” The cooks are heat-happy.
What to expect: Fish, fish and more fish, usually raw; white rice with everything; soba, udon and ramen noodles; miso paste, made from fermented soybeans, as a flavor base.
Our pick: Morimoto, 723 Chestnut Street; 215-413-9070.
For novices: Miso soup with Manila clams; warm octopus carpaccio; “Kobe” short ribs with red miso.
For adventurers: $120 omakase, up to nine courses of the chef’s choosing; the $85 fugu (poisonous blowfish) platter, complete with fugu-infused sake.
What to expect: Pho, a beef noodle soup made with star anise; fish sauce; cold rice vermicelli noodles topped with meats, seafood or spring rolls and a tart, spicy sauce.
Our pick: Pho & Cafe Viet Huong, 1110 Washington Avenue; 215-336-5030.
For novices: The basic pho, to which you should add bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, chilies and lime juice, plus a hefty dose of Tuong Ot sriracha, Vietnam’s Tabasco.
For adventurers: Pho with tendon, tripe and “fish balls”; the raw beef platter, served with lime wedges.
What to expect: You can’t define the cuisine of a nation of a billion-plus, but the most widely available subsection is Szechuan, known for its spicy dishes, like kung pao.
Our pick: Tifco’s China Bistro, 163 West Lincoln Highway, Exton; 610-363-1850.
For novices: Steamed pork ribs with potatoes; fish filet wok-seared with pickled hot peppers.
For adventurers: From the special Chinese menu, get the combustible Guizhou chicken and cumin lamb.
What to expect: Indian and Chinese influences; satay—grilled, skewered meats—served with peanut sauce; chilies, coconut milk and belacan, a shrimp paste.
Our pick: Banana Leaf,
1009 Arch Street; 215-592-8288.
For novices: Roti canai, crispy bread to scoop up chicken curry; fried squid with ground dried shrimp; homemade coconut or watermelon drinks; spicy prawn soup.
For adventurers: The menu warns you to “ask server for advice” before ordering items like fish head curry and treated duck web. An intrepid diner’s paradise.
What to expect: Satays are common; rendang, a stick-to-your-ribs curry; almost never pork, since most Indonesians are Muslim; fried rice cooked in a sweet soy sauce.
Our pick: Hardena, 1754 South Hicks Street; 215-271-9442.
For novices: Any of the satays, which are only available on weekends; beef rendang; gado-gado, a cooling cabbage salad with peanut sauce.
For adventurers: There’s no menu; you just tell the counter what you want from a large steam tray. So if you venture outside the picks at left, you’re on your own.
What to expect: Sticky rice; larb (minced chicken, beef or fish marinated and tossed with mint, fish sauce and other seasonings); galangal, a gingery spice; pungent kaffir lime leaves; jerky (yes, jerky).
Our pick: Café de Laos, 1117 South 11th Street; 215-467-1546.
For novices: Pork jerky with hints of the pineapple juice it was cured in; chicken larb; papaya salad; sticky rice, served in a woven bamboo steamer, to soothe the burn.
For adventurers: Unfortunately, the restaurant has eliminated the more obscure items, like grilled ox liver and snakehead fish.
What to expect: Complex flavors; popular noodle dish pad Thai; green, red and yellow curries made with coconut milk; satays; fish sauce, Thai basil, galangal and ginger abound.
Our pick: A Little Thai Kitchen, 1900 Greentree Road, Cherry Hill; 856-489-1181.
For novices: Green curry with shrimp or chicken; fried whole red snapper, topped with a garlic and black pepper sauce; any of the noodle dishes.
For adventurers: The waiter will ask if you want “no spicy,” “little spicy,” “medium spicy,” “very spicy” or “Thai style”. Obviously, you should choose the last one.