Eat Cheap, But Well
Dim Sum Garden The grim view is of the 11th Street tunnel, but inside, you’ll find the best soup dumplings ($5.25) in town. Sticky-rice-filled sui mai dumplings ($3.50) are another must, as are the homemade noodles and veggie sides ranging from cilantro-tossed cucumber ($3.30) to Chinese broccoli ($4.25). Bonus: The food comes to the table in a flash — it has to, for anxious travelers catching rides at the bus depot down the street. 59 North 11th Street, 215-627-0218.
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles It pays to have the table closest to the bathroom at this closet-sized establishment — it gives the best view of the dough masters swinging noodles through the air in the kitchen. The savory soup broths, rock-bottom prices, and a hostess who’s been known to coo to babies so their parents can drain their bowls inspire cult loyalty here. Whether you get duck noodle soup ($5.75) or dry noodles with pork and soy sauce ($4.75), it’s all about the noodles. 927 Race Street, 215-923-1550.
Sakura Mandarin From Szechuan double-cooked pork ($8.95) to sushi rolls ($3 to $13) to fresh fruit smoothies ($3), Sakura does a broad range of things ably. The standout is the scallion pancake that puts the crispy yin and doughy yang into perfect balance ($2.50). Discounted lunch specials pack the tables at midday. 1038 Race Street, 215-873-8338.
Ting Wong It takes two menus to list all the dishes on offer, but stick to roasted meats and you can’t go wrong. The soy sauce chicken ($6.50) is rightly renowned as some of the moistest breast meat around, but the showstopper is the roast pig ($6.50) — not to be confused with the sweeter, skinless roast pork ($6.50) — whose lean meat sports a crackling skin without equal. 138 North 10th Street, 215-928-1883, phillychinatown.com/tingwong.htm.
Café con Chocolate The city’s most authentic Mexican is served deep in South Philly, far west of the Italian Market’s taqueria stronghold, where the menu lists teppanyaki alongside tamales. Surprising, yes, but one taste of chef/owner Yoshiko Yamasaki’s addicting chilaquiles made with homemade fried corn tortillas and a bright salsa verde ($8.50), or everything-but-the-kitchen-sink veggie tacos ($7.50), is all the convincing you’ll need. 2100 South Norwood Street, 267-639-4506, cafeconchocolate.com.
Mr. Joe’s Café Run by the Termini family (yes, the bakery folks), this adorable old-school luncheonette serves enormous plates of homestyle Nonna-inspired cooking — think minestrone, pasta fagiole, ravioli — at reasonable prices ($10 to $14). Order an entrée, and you’ll land a free dessert (cannoli, one hopes) from Termini’s across the street (and maybe even a complimentary glass of vino). 1514 South 8th Street, 215-334-1414.
Villa di Roma Don’t be surprised when you hear your waitress get into a screaming match in the kitchen — or when she returns to your table with a casual “Ready to order, hon?” It’s all part of this no-frills Italian joint’s charm. Because when you’re at Villa, you’re part of the family — and you’ll be treated and fed accordingly. Which means butter-and-cheese-crusted garlic bread ($3.50), deep-fried asparagus atop a butter-laden scampi sauce ($7.95), and platters of spaghetti and the perfect meatballs ($13.95). 936 South 9th Street, 215-592-1295.