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Oct 1, 2009 04:12 PM

Out of the Way Philly Restaurants I Like

Hey everyone. I write for a website called "" where I review some restaurants and the like. But I'm trying to find super out-of-the-way places with stuff that hasn't been covered to death.

Anyways, three places that I love:

1) Le Mendingue, SW Philly -- SW Philly is home to Philly's ridiculously large native African population. Most are originally from Liberia, but folks from Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria are also well represented. There are a few African-food places down in SW that are worth investigating. The one I hit up is named "Le Mendinque." The folks who own this place are originally from Sierra Leone but the food is really representative of various West African cuisines. I had this fish dish w/ plantains and a stew made of cassava leaves w/ various meats.

My favorite part about the place -- the people were absolutely shocked that a nerdy white guy was in the restaurant. It's super authentic and really cool.

It's on 66th and Woodland. Be careful -- this neighborhood is one of the worst in the city. But there's plenty of parking right on Woodland which is a really busy and well-lit street.

2) Henry James Saloon, Roxborough --

Roxborough's a neighborhood in the NW corner of Philly. It borders Manayunk, which has a booming and well-known restaurant/bar scene on Main St. I live in this section of the city and I speak from vast experience -- Main Street has some cool places, but after 9 p.m. it becomes really hard to deal with because of the college crowd. So I try and find some dives up in Roxborough, which is a middle-class neighborhood with no hipster appeal whatsoever.

My favorite local dive bar is the Henry James Saloon. It's really tiny and tucked away at the corner of Jamestown and Henry Avenue, within sight of Delassandro's. It's your standard townie Philly bar -- dark, a little dingy and filled with guys talking about local high school basketball rivalries. The beer selection isn't much. They have a few HDTV's for sports fans, with a big preference towards the Phillies and baseball. In fact, anytime Chase Utley hits a home run, everyone at the bar gets a free round.

They have a shockingly big menu, however. And my favorite thing on it is the "HankJim" which is a sandwich with chicken fingers, peperoni, provolone cheese and spinach. It's a great foodie food for those of us who like our meals to come without rare aioli.

3) Las Andreas Grocery -- S. 9th Street (between Washington and Federal) in S. Philly

The stretch of S. 9th between Washington and Pat's/Geno's is really awesome. It's really dark/bleak and sketch looking at first glance. But it's become the home of Philly's blossoming Mexican community. Most of the Mexican immigrants here are originally from Puebla, which is Mexico's food capital. So these guys know what they're doing.

There are a bunch of really awesome taquieras down there. I don't know any names off the top of my head, but whenever I'm down there I just pick a random one and go in. I've had some awesome chorizo and tacos al pastor. The menus are almost completely in Spanish and the staff don't speak much English at all, so communicating can be a bit of a problem but it's well worth it.

My favorite spot, though, is Las Andreas Grocery. It's this tiny grocery store right across the street from Connie's Ric Rac (rock club that's gaining notoriety). There's nothing much inside except for Mexican soft drinks and cereals, with a few lucha libre masks as well.

But outside, they have a little stall where one can get elote -- a Puebla street food where freshly grilled corn is put on a stick like a corn dog, dipped in mayo, smothered in a Mexican cheese (don't know which kind they use) and topped with whatever seasoning they also have.

It's an awesome snack food. It also costs a mere $2. You can only get it after 5 p.m., though.

Any other places I should check out?

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  1. Love this sort of thing. Le Mendingue sounds awesome. No suggestions come to mind here but keep them coming!

    4 Replies
    1. re: isadorasmama

      I liked Le Mendingue's food enough but I'm not sure if I'd go back just for the food. The fish was good but bony. But it's definitely really cool to check out just to see what a restaurant catering to the African immigrant community is like. It's a completely different Philadelphia.

      The elote on S. 9th Street is seriously one of the best things I've ever eaten in my life. So, so, so good.

      The Hank Jim sandwich at the Henry James Saloon rules. It's definitely on par w/ The Schmitter, which is the legendary sandwich they sell at the ballpark that was actually created at McNally's in Chestnut Hill.

      I don't consider it "out of the way" but maybe it is for people not familiar with NW Philly. McNally's NEVER makes any Top 50 bars list (that I can find) but it's awesome. Super old-fashioned with a really great gross bar food menu and great beer selection. Chestnut Hill-ians have been going there for decades. The staff knows the names of all the regulars. I really don't go there enough.

      I also just hit up a deli at the Vietnamese Mall at 12th and Washington and had my first Vietnamese Hoagie. I don't want to write about it for the website because Vietnamese Hoagies are a bit played out in local foodie writing. But the sandwich was great. English speaking anywhere at that mall is also completely limited. I've been to some of the Pho places there, too, and they're terrific.

      Thinking it over, S. Philly might be one of the best food neighborhoods in the country. The Mexican/Vietnamese places are within five blocks from each other and are 100% authentic and cater to those immigrant communities. Pat's/Geno's is right down the block; while us locals scoff at them, the cheesesteaks are pretty good and that corner is really ingrained into what Philly's all about. And then the stretch on E. Passyunk going South has a great mix of new restaurants and old school Italian joints. Marra's is my second favorite pizza joint after Tocanelli's.

      I really blabbed on in this reply.

      1. re: Greggulator

        good stuff. i've been rather broke lately so haven't gotten out as much as i would like to (and therefore haven't been around here much to tempt me!)... but i was strolling around south philly maybe the sunday before last, and there was a neat mexican festival in the field at 4th and washington. a lot of the little taquerias had stalls set up, but then there were a few stalls set up by families. one lady made me something i can only attempt to describe: first she flattened two corn tortillas on the thicker side, put some beans between them, slapped them together, placed them on the grill. when it was done she put all sorts of toppings on it - cactus salad, crumbly mexican cheese (don't know if it's cotija or chihuahua - i always mix the two up) and some tomatoes and onions and all. though it was thoroughly messy to eat, it was delicious and unlike anything i've ever had. cool little festival to stumble upon. there were tacos al pastor and jarritos sodas aplenty.

        sorry i don't have any more permanent fixtures to contribute for ya. i'll work on it. oh, well if you want an old one - there was that little cafeteria in the islamic school up at germantown and jefferson that serves some of the best damn felafel in the city, but that's only for lunch on weekdays. haven't been there since the winter though.

        1. re: rabidog

          That park at 4th and Washington also is home to Taco Loco, which is a taco truck that my friends down there swear by.

          I'll have to check this Islamic School out. I hadn't heard about that yet. I'm putting that on my list.

          1. re: rabidog

            That dish is called Huaraches. You can get them at many of the South Philly taquerias. Garces even has a rendition at Distrito, but his are quite different than what you'll find below Washington.

            I ordered once from a place called El Huarache Azteca de Ozolco (1122 S. 8th St) that specializes in them. They advertise their Huaraches as homemade, and the hauarches themselves (the cormeal patties with the beans) were amazing, but the toppings were terirble--tough, bland bone in steak. Most of the other taquerias do a good job with them, but I haven't had any that tasted as fresh as these. You can get them plain, so a really good idea is to just get them plain and do your own toppings. Hmmm...

      2. Great thread idea Greggulator, thanks for starting it. Here are a few places I like that are either out of the way or seem to be off people's radar:

        1) Indonesia Restaurant, on Snyder near 15h St. Awesome Indonesian food with a nice atmosphere that is a step up from hole in the wall, and they deliver. Try the satay, lamb noodle soup, and salty fish fried rice.

        2) Mr. Joe's Cafe, S. 8th St between Dickenson and Tasker, across from Termini's. Not really out of the way but I never hear anyone talk about it. They have excellent old school South Philly red gravy cuisine and the staff is great. For the price of a $12 or so entree you get salad, bread, a glass (or two if you're lucky) of red wine, your dish, and a Termini's cannolli. Lunch only.

        3) Heng Seng, S. 7th near Jackson. A little hole in the wall Cambodian place in this fledgling (and a bit sketchy) ethnic neighborhood. I don't know much about Cambodian food, but their noodle soups, which are pork broth based, are a nice change of pace from Pho. If anyone knows this Cambodian strip well, please chime in, I need to explore more but I don't know where to go or what to order.

        4) Pho Ha (NOT Pho Hoa), a Pho joint in the Vietnamese shopping center at 6th & Washington. Again, not really out of the way, but I hear so much about Pho 75 and I think the Pho here is better. And they also have good summer rolls and bun.

        5) Phillip's Steaks, W. Passyunk near 22nd St. A steak shop in the style of Pat's and Geno's (ordering window, self-serve peppers, stainless steel decor) but much better. Not the best in any category but good steaks and roast pork if you are in the area. They are open late, too, but I'm not sure how late.

        4 Replies
        1. re: barryg

          I've been dying to try Mr. Joe's Cafe for the 3+ years I've lived about two blocks away from it. I wish they were open weekends, since I work during the day I haven't been able to experience it...argh.

          1. re: micreynolds

            I'm almost positive I've been there on Saturdays but maybe the hours have changed.

          2. re: barryg

            Is this the Indonesian restaurant you are talking about? Looks like this one is on Snyder near 17th.


            1. re: Philly Ray

              That's it, I got a little mixed up on the cross street.

          3. Everybody knows about it, but I think Tierra Colombiana qualifies here. Most of us aren't really going to 5th and Wyoming unless we're going to eat there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Philly Ray

              went there last night. this place is consistently yummy. first of all, you get an absolute mountain of food, all of it good. those sweet plantains... those are to die for. i had the shrimp in a red spicy sauce... comes with rice, black bean soup... solid food there.

            2. Is Grey Lodge Pub on Frankford in the Northeast out of the way enough? It definitely has an AMAZING, unexpected (for the area) beer selection, and while not a gastro-pub, the cheap fare is tasty and done well.

              1. Southwest Philly African Food sounds awesome... I get really excited when food writers are willing to explore beyond center city and the usual... there's really a LOT of food in this city that has yet to be written about. Like-

                Port Richmond/Fishtown Polish - bars and pierogies and etc
                North Philly - BBQ trucks and Korean way North, almost suburbs
                Kensington/Northeast - cuban/puerto rican/etc
                Essington- pizza shops, apparently they invented the Stromboli Here??
                Oregon Ave- might be some gems to seek out, buy crabs on the street, etc
                Cambodian/Indonesian- Definitely a 2nd for Indonesia on Snyder. That whole neighborhood , as far north as Tasker, on the west side of broad, has TONS of combodian/indonesian grocers and markets and a few restaurants, and I think even one that also has mexican products, so maybe some wild fusion going on....