HOME > Chowhound > Pennsylvania >

Discussion

Cheap hole-in-the-wall Asian gems in Philly??

I'm searching for one of those "great finds". No atmosphere required but great food at a great price!

..Thai (big fan), Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Burmese, Malaysian (been to Banana Leaf and Penang).. from West Philly to Old City..

Any recs? Much thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Head down to Washington Avenue between 6th and 11th. Lots of Pho, etc. My fav right now is probably Cafe de Laos on 11th street just south of Washington for Laotian and Thai cuisine. There have been lots of posts on this topic though so search the board a bit. Pretty sure Rangoon is the only Burmese around and it gets raves here

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bigley9

      definitely hit up this end of town. my favorite bowl of pho in the city is actually at nam phuong, though most of the other pho joints are tasty. you have plenty to sample and they are all inexpensive.

      cafe de laos is excellent, but my favorite hole in the wall wil always be shiao lan kung in chinatown. not super cheapo, but definitely inexpensive and awesome!

      japanese - hmmm. we don't have much cheap japanese but green garden has a small japanese menu to go with it's chinese and it is decent for what it is and pretty cheap. i just had excellent but expensive sushi at zento in old city....

      thai singha house is good in west phil but not a stand out. same goes for lemongrass in UC. there are a few indonesian restaurants in south philly that are getting some love, but i have yet to hit them up.

      and of course you should just walk around chinatown and pop in places that look interesting. chances are you'll get a good meal. :)

      1. re: mazza3

        For hand drawn noodles go to Nan Zhou in China town. Very good.

        Also Rangoon, a burmese restaurant, something you don't find as often. I especially like their seven layer bread. Burmese food is a cross between chinese, thai and indian. Some lighter dishes, some heavier dishes. But a very good place, and a good bargain. Ginger salad is very good here.

    2. Thai Singha House in West Philly is great and not pricey, and great for a quick lunch during the work week - 3939 Chestnut Street.

      1. You know about the place next to the bus station on 11th between Market and Arch? Someone help me with the name...soup buns...mmmmmm

        4 Replies
          1. re: Dib

            I don't know why I can't remember that!

            1. re: Bigley9

              That place is good, and now's the time to go.
              Once those doors open, even for a few seconds, the whole restaurant is the same temperature as it is outside!

              1. re: Bob Loblaw

                Just an FYI, but tonight at Dim Sum Garden, they told me that they would sell me un-steamed buns (soup dumplings) for me to take home and steam myself.

                Not a bad idea if you don't have time to eat there, but want to bring some tasty treats home with you.

                Also, I saw one of the waitresses giving a new patron a tutorial in how to eat the dumplings! Very nice. I love that place.

        1. I second Dim Sum Garden. Also, Hardena is a very homey Indonesian cafe in S.Philly. Somewhere near Broad and Passyunk. It gets rave reviews although I have yet to try it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: berbadeerface

            Hardena is right off of 15th and Moore (corner of Hicks St). "Homey" is being generous. It's a hole in the wall for only $5.00 a plate.

          2. also indonesia on snyder is great. and supposedly there's a decent noodle place in center city in the bellevue food court.

            oh and pho xe lua in chinatown is awesome. it's vietnamese and thai, has a neon train sign.

            2 Replies
            1. re: silverbullet69

              Except don't get the Thai food at Pho Xe Lua. It's not what they do well. Stick with the Vietnamese.

              1. re: berbadeerface

                I agree with this, but with one notable Thai exception: I have found the tom ka gai (coconut milk soup) to be EXCELLENT at Pho Xe Lua. Other than that, though, yeah - stick with the vietnamese!

            2. Vientiane and Vietnam Cafe at 47th and Baltimore (W. Philly) are awesome, but for your requested combo of cheap and super tasty: get the takeout tofu hoagies at Fu Wah (same intersection)...mmmm

              1. Vientienne for BYOB Laoatian on the 4700 block of Baltimore Ave.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Boognish

                  The name of the restaurant is actually Vientiane Cafe. "Vientiane" is the capital of Laos. =)

                  1. re: yummyrice

                    Sounds good. How does the food compare to Thai? Very similar, slightly similar or completely different?

                    1. re: berbadeerface

                      Because of the confusing "Issan" (northeast) term, the line separating Lao cuisine and Thai cuisine is now somewhat blurred. As I've already mentioned many times before, the cuisine in the Issan region of Thailand is actually Lao cuisine. So if you consider Lao cuisine in NE Thailand as "Thai" cuisine, then both cuisines are quite similar. But if you acknowledge that the cuisine in NE Thailand is actually Lao cuisine, then Lao and Thai cuisines are only slightly similar, because the differences are sometimes quite drastic.

                      Lao cuisine is on the salty side, whereas Thai cuisine is on the sweet side.

                      Both Lao and Thai cuisines use herbs like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galanga. But there's an herb that is more prominent in Lao cuisine, which is known as Lao dill.

                      Coconut milk is used in both cuisines, but we use less coconut milk in Lao dishes, whereas Thai dishes are heavy on coconut milk.

                      Lao cuisine favors sticky rice as a staple, whereas Thai cuisine uses steamed jasmine rice.

                      If you take into account the individual dishes in Lao cuisine, then I'd say Lao cuisine is definitely spicier than Thai cuisine. (i.e. Lao cuisine has fewer spicy dishes, but the ones that are spicy are EXTREMELY spicy...so "Lao spicy" is always hotter than "Thai spicy").

                      However, if you're judging Lao/Thai cuisine as a whole, then Thai cuisine tends to be spicier overall. (i.e. Thai cuisine has more spicy dishes, but the heat of those dishes don't compare to spicy Lao dishes).

                      The desserts are pretty much similar in both cuisines, but sweeter on the Thai side.

                      The standard curry dishes like red, green, yellow ones exist in both cuisines because of the Indian influence. But again, Lao curry dishes are lighter because we use less coconut milk, whereas Thai curry dishes are heavier and sweeter.

                      Lastly, Lao cuisine tends to be healther because it's centered around fresh herbs and raw fresh vegetables or lightly cooked vegetables and the meats are usually grilled, whereas Thai cuisine is predominantly coconut-milk based, deep-fried, or drenched in sauce like in Pad Thai. The salads at Thai restaurants are usually of Lao origin, because they tend to be spicy and tangy, which is typical of Lao salads in Laos and NE Thailand..

                      1. re: yummyrice

                        Thanks for the explanation!

                        I haven't been to Laos in 12 years, and at the time, I was too young to truly appreciate the food beyond "delicious"!

                        1. re: Boognish

                          Went there tonight and had their laab. Boy was that good stuff.

                        2. re: yummyrice

                          Wow, thanks so much for the detailed response! I cannot wait to try Lao cuisine. When I do, I shall report back to you.

                          1. re: yummyrice

                            Interesting.
                            I actually just ate at a Thai restaurant in Hong Kong. Definitely the best Thai food I've had, very different from what I've had in Philly or elsewhere in the states. Things overall seemed fresher, with a less heavy hand in the cooking. I didn't know if that was more authentic, or just more in line w/Hong Kong styles of cooking.

                            1. re: Bob Loblaw

                              Szechuan Tasty House at 902 Arch St, their lunch specials are $6.50 or less. Known for their 3 pepper chicken. Great flavors overall and cheap!

                            2. re: yummyrice

                              Great explanation, thanks. I went to VN/Cambodia/Thailand this spring and found myself drawn to foods that, on research when I returned, were all Issan. I'm sorry we didn't go to Laos! Next time.

                              1. re: lsteltzer

                                From what I've read from foreign tourists who have been to both Issan and Laos, it seems that although the Lao people on both sides of the Mekong river (Issan on the west side and Laos on the east side) share the same ancestry and cuisine, foreign tourists tend to view the Lao cuisine of Laos as being more flavorful and varied than the Lao cuisine of Issan. You have to keep in mind that Laos has three regions: Northern, Central, and Southern, whereas Issan is just one of the four regions in Thailand. So the Lao cuisine in Thailand is primarily based on a single region (Issan) and some of northern Thailand (Lanna), but the Lao cuisine of Laos stretches from northern Laos, through central Laos, and all the way down to southern Laos. Since each Lao region has its own specialties, it makes sense why foreign tourists seem to prefer the three-region Lao cuisine in Laos over the single-region Lao cuisine in Issan.

                                Hopefully you will get to visit Laos someday and let us know what you think of the Lao cuisine of Laos. Anyway, Laos and Issan have at least one thing in common...the people from both sides LOVE eating sticky rice! =)

                      2. Ate at Rangoon (Burmese) on Friday, and it hit the spot! Thousand layer bread (a bit greasy, but tasty) with vatana (bean) dip was tasty. Ginger salad was delicious with crunchy peanuts, onions, and shrimp paste (I think). I had heard the noodle dishes are very good there so I ordered the house rice noodles, and was not disappointed. It was topped with diced chicken, tomato, cilantro and red bean sauce. So good! We also had stir fried pork with pickled mango sauce, which reminded me of an Indian curry. And for dessert, the assorted jello crunch bowl. And yes, it was a good bargain!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: sadiefox

                          How funny - I ate there on Friday too! It is one of my favourites locally, although I'd hesitate to call it a hole-in-the-wall. The prices are very resonable, but I tend to think of hole-in-the-wall places as being great AND ridiculously cheap. That said, we had the tea leaf salad, which is always great. Followed that with the Northern Burmese noodles (wonderful, and packed with chicken and shrimp) and the chicken keema - this is a good dish because it is served on top of thousand layer bread, which means the bread soaks up all the sauce. I usually go for the lentil firecracker fritters too, but my friend is not into the spicy, so I skipped them this time.

                          1. re: berbadeerface

                            No, you're right -- I wouldn't call it a hole-in-the-wall either, but someone mentioned it in one of the posts above. I can't wait to go back -- I'll have to try some of the dishes you are talking about. I just wish it was easier to park in Chinatown.

                            1. re: sadiefox

                              There is a lot right across the street that isn't too bad - self park and pay

                              1. re: sadiefox

                                I don't have that problem since I live around the corner, but you should park on the north side of Vine between 9th and 12th. You'll usually find something there except maybe on weekends, and there are no meters. You can't park there between 4 and 6.30 on weekdays though, FYI.

                                Oh, I almost forgot, we got the coconut thousand layer bread for dessert, and it was syrupy, ultra-sweet deliciousness!

                                1. re: berbadeerface

                                  That's where we wound up parking. Had to park in a big puddle of smelly muck, but at least it was free :)