Broke after the holidays and tired of eating cold deli meat for lunch? As one of the culinary capitals of the country, Philly has plenty of tasty diverse offerings that don’t break the bank. From Chinese to Indonesian to Vietnamese cuisine, these restaurants are certainly not identical at all. However, they all consist of two ubiquitous elements: foods that excite your taste bud for a ridiculously reasonable price.
Note: Most of them are cash-only so bring some if you don’t want to end up with an unpleasant surprise.
Sitting humbly inside Wing Phat Plaza, Sky Cafe is definitely South Philly’s hidden gem. Despite its lack of advertisement, the restaurant still gets busy times to times. You know the place is legit when the majority of patrons are local Indonesians who frequent the restaurant often. The restaurant offers authentic Indonesian cuisine that truly satisfies a few requisites of quality, texture, flavors, and ingredients. Their coconut rice platter (Nasi Lemak) is debatably the best in town.
Suggestions: Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng (Coconut Rice Platter with Fried Chicken) ($7), Mie Komplit (Combination Homade Egg Noodle Soup with BBQ pork, chicken, mushroom, wonton, meatballs, and soy eggs) ($7).
Address: 1122 Washington Ave b, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Located in Chinatown, this no-frills decor eatery specializes in Cantonese BBQ meats and various Hong Kong dishes. Ting Wong has long been the locals’ favorite spot for a quick yet fulfilling meal at any times of the day. There must be a solid reason why this modest restaurant was ranked as the #34 best restaurants in 2016 by Philly Magazine. And I know why: nothing pretentious, just straight up tasteful food.
Suggestions: Any of their BBQ meats including roast pork, roast duck, barbecued spare ribs, soy chicken, or steamed chicken. You can choose to have it on white rice or with noodle soup and wonton ($4 - $7)
Address: 138 N 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
While Vietnamese and Thai cuisines have a larger presence in Philadelphia, Cambodian cooking seems to be of a lesser known brother. Run by a Cambodian family, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in South Philly serves up only a few Cambodian dishes, and they do it well. Most of their customers are locals from the neighborhood who come in for breakfast and lunch before the restaurant closes at around 7pm. Compared to its Southeast Asian counterparts, Cambodian flavors are bolder and less spicy. Their Phnom Penh Style Noodle could be served either in dry or soup version. The dry one that features minced pork, quail egg, shrimps, fish balls, etc. is served with a soy-based sauce and a small bowl of broth, while the soup one is literally all their dry compartments in soup.
Suggestions: Phnom Penh Style Noodle Soup ($8), spring rolls ($3.50)
Address: 2301 S 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19148
“Their Bun Bo Hue is the best” is what you will hear when someone mentions Cafe Diem. Even though their one-page menu still offers a handful of Vietnamese choices, locals come here for Cafe Diem’s infamous Bun Bo Hue (Hue Style Spicy Beef Noodle Soup). While pho is already a staple for Vietnamese cuisine, Bun Bo Hue is an aromatic, “slurp-worthy” beef-based noodle soup combines of lemongrass, shrimp paste, and chili oil. The soup’s heat level, though can be troubling for newcomers, is adjustable. Just ask the servers to make it less or more spicy.
Suggestions: Bun Bo Hue ($9)
Address: 1031 S 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Fishtown is thriving as one of Philly’s most most vibrant neighborhoods and Street Side is adding a flair of Vietnamese cuisine to the map. The decoration and ambiance reminisce the street restaurants in small alleys of its native Vietnam, with Vietnamese-style utensils and artifacts placed all over the dining area. The menu is simple with signature Vietnamese dishes such as pho, summer rolls, and noodle bowls. Their pho is delicious. The broth is clear yet delightful, compared to other more popular pho places in town. Their homemade Grandma’s pork and chive dumplings, which taste as if they are just served straight out of the steam basket, are a must-try. Customers can opt out for Street Side’s “Me Wrap” option when diners get to customize their filling and personally wrap their summer rolls.
Suggestions: Gma's Pork and Chive Dumpling ($4.5), Beef Pho ($7), Kroeung Beef Vermicelli Bowl ($6)
Address: 165 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123
Founder of Hungry Chopsticks. We are a Philly and Hawaii based food blog that connects, embraces, celebrates Asian food and culture, one restaurant at a time.