Mainly associated with the Italian community, South Philly is actually home to a variety of diverse cultures. We have spent a lot of time exploring the Mexican shops and restaurants (Exploring Mexican South Philly/Italian Market) and thought it was time to check out the diverse Asian offerings. Yes, Philly has a terrific Chinatown, but wandering this area is a very different experience. Although there are plenty of residents, Chinatown feels more like a business district – with residences upstairs and ground floor areas devoted to restaurants and shops. South Philly is primarily a residential area. With the exception of major shopping streets, most of the streets are filled with row homes, (like this one filled with South Philly window cats): with shops and restaurants tucked in between or filling corner lots. This area is home to significant populations of Cambodians, Indonesians, and Vietnamese, with a variety of other cultures mixed in, leading to an impressive variety of inexpensive restaurants.
Cambodian: Our first stop was “I Heart Cambodia,” full of locals, but with staff happy to assist first timers. The verdict? Similar to Thai… but different. Everything was fresh and tasty, and the flavors were definitely different. https://m.facebook.com/iheartcambodiarestaurant/
Vietnamese: Washington Avenue is home to a huge variety of Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Our choice was Pho 75, where we had a tip that the chicken pho was really good- and it was. All they do here is pho (with a variety of meat add-ins), and they have perfected the broth. They also have great Vietnamese coffee, although next time I definitely want to try the salty pickled lemon soda. There is also a large Asian grocery store and several other Vietnamese restaurants in the same shopping plaza. Their big parking lot is unusual in Philadelphia and is a big plus if you are driving. http://phoseventyfive.com
Just down the street in another shopping center is Ba Le Bakery, the place to go for bahn mi sandwiches on house baked baguettes. They have lots of filling options, including tofu for Tobey and roast pork for me. Plus, lots of snacks, bubble tea, desserts, and yummy looking summer rolls. 606 Washington Avenue
Indonesian: This area has several Indonesian restaurants and grocery stores. Hardena got a terrific review from the Philadelphia Inquirer food critic and lived up to expectations. It was good enough that we wrote a stand alone review (Philly Restaurant Review: Hardena (Indonesian)). Friendly, inexpensive, and delicious. Good vegetarian options.
Their covid-era “not pizza box” got great press, and they’ve also been featured on “Diners,Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Filipino: Although it’s trendier than the others on the list, Filipino Perla fits perfectly in our collection of Asian restaurants, plus their kamayan dinners are an experience. Each couple gets a 1/2 chicken, a whole fried fish, the most amazing vegetable stew (I loved the brussel sprouts!?!), spring rolls, fried pork belly, and garlic rice – served on banana leaves. It’s eat with your fingers – although they will give you utensils if you wimp out. BYOB. http://www.perlaphilly.com/#perla
Thai: The award winning restaurant has left South Philly for bigger quarters in Fishtown, but you can still visit this little shop in the Italian Market if you can’t get in or are looking for a cheaper option for their authentic Thai food. The options vary, but they have a huge selection of Thai chips in interesting flavors, dry ingredients for do it yourselfers, and prepared foods – like our AMAZING mango sticky rice. Kalaya Thai Market 922 S. 9th Street
Southeast Asian Market: Philly is home to one of the largest Cambodian populations in the US, and a great place to try a variety of exotic (and not so exotic) foods is at the open air market in FDR park, running Saturday-Sunday from April to October (Chicken Embryos and Mango Sticky Rice: Eating Our Way Through Philly’s Southeast Asian Market).