dinner before a show at the trocadero tonight...
i've had thai, pho and burmese in chinatown... how about chinese?? where would you recommend for a quick solo dinner before a show at the trocadero tonight? somewhere that has a fabulous vegetable egg roll, and preferably someplace that does tofu dishes *right* (not as an afterthought!). thanks all!
all right... so in addition to the show at the troc, i also went on a christmas eve / day chinatown marathon with my dad, who was visiting from DC. he was much impressed with philadelphia's chinatown. mind you, i committed to memory and tried to find all of the suggestions above, but even i underestimated chinatown's vastness and eventually all the names started swimming together. i had to check my credit card statements to verify where i actually went! here's where i've been over the course of the past six days, in the order of favorite to least favorite:
Singapore Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant
1006 Race St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
this is where i went the night in question above. i ate: a vege spring roll + sizzling tofu. note to solo diners: you WILL call attention to yourself ordering a "sizzling" tofu, as i suspected. the entire restaurant turned my way when the waiter set down a cast iron fajita-like skillet in front of me which already had some bean sprouts sitting atop it, and proceeded to pour a tofu/vege/chili mix onto the platter, creating a lot of noise and a big cloud of steam! the food was delicious, though. the bean curd (though i could have used more of it) was perfectly cooked, thin and juicy. my favorite of the four places i've tried, hands down. decor here was intimate, like nearly every chinese restaurant i've been could use a little updating but otherwise cute.
New Harmony Vegetarian Cafe
135 N 9th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
here i ordered off the menu, because i was really in the mood for a general tso's bean burd. they had general tso's mock chicken, but i'm really not one for the fake meat stuff. i love tofu. this was actually one of the best renditions of a general tso's bean curd i've ever had. the tofu was deep-deep-fried, by no means let the "vegetarian cafe" in their name fool you: this is not health food. the tofu was crispy and blocky, an absolute contrast to the sizzling tofu above, but i loved it all the same. i also had a tomato/tofu soup which personally i would have added more dimension to; it was a bit bland. a bit of coconut milk and chilies and you'd have a spectacular soup. decor: i felt like i was eating in a plastic jungle. and i was. it's certainly no place i'd take a nice client, but i've definitely never eaten among so many dolla-store silk vines in my life and there's something to be said for that.
Penang Malasian Cuisine
117 N 10th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
beware: this place is cash-only! fortunately i remembered to duck into an ATM just before we went. also, vegetarians beware: there is a large "vegetables" section, but it is not the "vegetarian" section! almost every dish in the vege section contained pork, fish, chicken, etc. wha?? i placed a special order here, too, i think i asked for chicken to be removed in a bean curd/vege/fried noodle dish. my dad got a bean curd in scallion sauce, and my brother got a mango chicken. i snuck a mango off his plate, it was surprisingly in season and the sauce was tangy and good. my dad's bean curd with scallion sauce i found quite inedible; i just absolutely hated the sauce - it tasted like moth balls (and not in a good white pepper way) to me. my dad must have different taste buds because he enjoyed it. my dish also had a yummy sauce, but i didn't like the noodles. they were thin noodles, and in general i do not like thin noodles because they overcook too fast and are too mushy. these noodles were no exception. working backwards, i had a lovely appetizer of fried bean curd in a peanut sauce. excellent. the bean curd tasted like a well executed bean curd you'd get in any thai restaurant, but the sauce was like nothing else. it almost tasted like an indian dish. thankfully i filled up mostly on this. my dad got a bean sprout appetizer which i found wholly uninteresting; bean sprouts basically sitting in a soy sauce. not much going on there. OK meal, but pleasant surroundings made it better. all restaurants in chinatown should take a page from penang's design book. i love the modern/metal look to it.
H K Golden Phoenix
911 Race St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
on christmas eve, we saw a bus let off its passengers, most of which made a beeline for this restaurant. we figured it must be good, then, and followed them in. getting a table was awkward, service was just OK, decor was minimal and my food was just OK. i think i got another sizzling tofu platter, but whatever it was was pretty unmemorable. i remember not liking the sauce. i do remember a vege spring roll which was pretty good, but you can't really go wrong with spring rolls. wholly unimpressed. the tour bus led us astray.
.... and i am *so* done with chinatown, for at least a week! tonight i am off in search of yummy french fries and perhaps a root beer float.
I know I'm a bit late to this thread, and this isn't really near the Troc, but for future reference... The best tofu-based chinese in Philly, imo, is not in Chinatown -- it's the new veg-chinese restaurant, Su Xing, at 1508 Sansom.
I didn't think I could like a place better than Cherry St., but the menu at Su Xing has more straight tofu dishes (which I tend to prefer) and less mock meats.
Lakeside Deli has fantastic food, no frills environment and cheap prices. Their staff is very friendly and accomodating -- perfect for solor dining. Unfortunately I can't comment specifically on the veggie egg roll, but all the food I've had has been consistantly good. You can also order from their dim sum menu :)
I believe rabidog is a vegetarian, as am I, so I wanted to ask you about how vegetarian friendly the dim sum is at Lakeside. I looked at their menu online, and there appear to be many choices for vegetarians. However, I always have the fear with dim sum that I won't know what something is when it is brought around, and thus will either not want to try it, or will bite into something only to find it is meat. If nothing else, is the staff attentive and conversant enough with the patrons to address specific questions about what is being served, as I know that language barriers can at times cause problems in situations like this? Thanks for any advice you can provide, as Lakeside is so highly regarded on here that I'd like to try it sometime soon.
re: Laura D.
I think it depends on an individual's specific vegetarian needs. The owner/wife is very enthusiastic (in general), and even more so when non-Chinese order non-Americanized dishes. She is very easy to talk to -- be specific as to your requirements, and I seriously doubt she would steer you wrong. Her English is very good, sometimes verb tenses are wrong, but hey, we all make mistakes :) Instead of asking about meat, I would ask about dried shrimp paste and other "hidden" items, oil for frying, etc. They do have a section for vegtables, but one of the items is Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce. A safe bet is the baby bok choy (little 2" long ones) with garlic sauce, which is crisp-tender and comes in both large and dim sum sizes.
I would stop by and speak to her. It's a very casual place and I'm sure they would go out of their way to accomodate you.
Let me reply to this, as I am full on vegetarian, and eat at Lakeside.
Many of their dim sum dishes do contain meat, and those that seem vegetarian can have shrimp in them. Simply ask. They are incredibly attentive.
I know that rabidog does eat fish, so she would not have a problem at Lakeside eating dim sum and will find it is perfect for a solo diner.
I must say my favorite preparation of tofu in Philadelphia is at Shao lan Kung. Their salt baked tofu along with the snow pea leaves with garlic is AMAZING but they don't have much else vegetarian.