Philly Pho ‘Ph’est

Pho Cali 
1005 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

entrance

Once again, I am on the hunt for “pho”-tastic bowls of delicious pho from all over. What can I say? I’m a pho-colic. (#Copyright) One of my old reliable spots where I know I can go for a tasty, steaming bowl of pho anytime is at Pho Cali, located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

wall deco

interior

Pho Cali has very fast service, big portions and a revamped interior—very modern, but still typical layout for the neighborhood. While it’s not a huge place, there are about 50 seats and usually a seat available. Each of the tables is outfitted with its own condiment tray filled with traditional pickled jalapeños, Sriracha sauce, sambal olek—a Southeastern garlic and chili paste, among others, as well as packets of chopsticks, a squeeze bottle of hoisin sauce and Asian soup spoons. Very convenient. While this place might not be as cheap as some of the places on Washington Avenue in South Philly, but you’re also paying slightly extra for Center City location. Typically it’s about $6.50-$9.50 for a bowl of pho. Still cheaper than a lot of other places.

summer rolls

Pho is delicious. Fact. But it tastes even better when it follows some sort of tasty appetizer. Not only does the starter whet the palate, but it also stops me from inhaling the entire bowl of pho in like five point two seconds flat. Is that a world records? One of my favorite appetizers here is the Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Pork or Tom Cuon. The summer rolls are wrapped in a thick chewy wrapper of pliable, soft rice paper. It’s stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, though not a ton of pork, and lots of vermicelli noodles to help fill it up. The dipping sauce was pretty thin and a little bland on its own, but after adding a bit of the sambal, tithe flavors really popped. The heat made the earthy, peanut overtones of the sauce pop. Very fresh appetizer and at $3.95 for two rolls, it’s a pretty good deal.

pho

Up next is the pho. I usually go with the Deluxe House Combo (Dac Bet Xe Lua). For $9.50 you get a huge bowl of food. It might be more expensive than some Vietnamese restaurants, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. The broth is very clean and clear, and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy. At the same time, the soup gives you a blank canvas to work on—perfect to doctor up with some chili sauce, hoisin, lime, herbs, etc. There’s a good amount of noodles and meat—especially for the price—mostly brisket and flank steak. There are also scallions in the soup, which isn’t seen everywhere, but gives it a very mild onion flavor.

garnish

Pho Cali always provides a super fresh plate of traditional noodle soup garnishes including basil leaves, sliced jalapeños, bean sprouts, and lime wedges. The basil gives the soup a slight floral note as well as a sense of freshness, the bean sprouts help cool the soup down, the jalapeños give it s nice bite, and the lime helps cut through some of the fatty meat. I also add hoisin to sweeten it up a bit and chili sauce, which flavors the broth over time. The heat of the broth not only cooks some of the beef, but also helps release the spice from the chilis. By the end of the bowl, I’m ready to gulp down the leftover broth, which is deliciously full of concentrated flavors from all the add-ins.

Overall, is this the best pho house around? No. Is it always tasty and able to satisfy my pho-holic cravings? Oh yeah! Next time you’re in Philadelphia’s Chinatown and craving a meaty, comforting noodle soup, head on over to Pho Cali for your “ph”-illing of pho.

Authentic Thai Spice in Hell’s Kitchen

Pure Thai Cookhouse
766 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10019

I love spicy food. It’s a fact of life, and I’m always on the hunt for a new dish to satisfy my heated cravings. For me though, even better than a dish that makes me sweat, is a plate of food that also brings flavor to the party.

Photo Mar 21, 6 57 43 PMPure Thai Cookhouse is a small, hole in the wall restaurant in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood styled after a historic Thai shophouse. Pure is the sister restaurant to Chef David Bank’s Land Thai Kitchen, located on the Upper West Side. While Land is also known for its spicy dishes and heat, it features more traditional Thai meals. Pure specializes in dishes found from Thai street vendors, as well as farm dishes or rural and market dishes throughout Thailand. The food at Pure is super authentic, and takes you on a culinary tour of the many regions of Thailand. While it only has about 20 seats, this place is packing people in for its bold flavors, great service and unique spin on Thai eats. This is a great place to take a date, some friends or even your parents for elevated Thai food.

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The Chicken Curry Puffs ($8) appetizer might have seemed to be pretty standard fare, but were anything but ordinary. The filling was made from moist caramelized chicken, earthy onions, and tender sweet potato. Although the sweet potato gave it a touch of sweetness, the filling was also flavored with warming spices that gave it a mild touch of heat. The chicken was aromatic, and had an almost creamy consistency from being braised and helped along from the potato starch. The puffs had a perfectly flaky crust, that was slightly chewy with crisp edges. The plate came with four good-sized pieces and garnished with a tangy cucumber relish. The relish not only cut through the heaviness of the dish, but also helped cool it down.

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The Ratchaburi Crab and Pork Dry Noodles ($11/$13 lunch/dinner) is a favorite of mine. The egg noodles are handmade from a secret, family recipe, and you can really taste the difference from those that come in a box. The noodles are dressed with a mild sauce flavored with fish sauce, palm sugar, rice wine vinegar and lime. It’s tangy, sweet, sour, salty and pungent.  The lump crab meat is flaky and delicate, and there’s a lot of it to soak up excess sauce. The pork was slight salty—in the best possible way—with a pleasant chewiness that makes it almost “chashu”-esque, similar to the delicate pork belly found in a bowl of ramen. The yu choy and scallions gave the bowl a wonderful crunch and textural contrast to the other soft components. The sauce is mild enough and the perfect vehicle to spice up with the chili and sauce garnish basket placed on the table. Be careful though, you don’t want to overwhelm the vibrant taste of the noodles with too much heat.

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If you’re in the mood for something more stir-fried or curry style, the Wok Chili Turmeric with Beef ($11/$13) is absolutely delicious. Flavored with kaffi­r lime leaves and thai chilis, the heat is very prevalent in this dish. I ordered it Thai spicy since I love it super-spicy and the beef can definitely handle the heat of the turmeric chili sauce. The asparagus and string beans provide a nice crunch, as well as a sense of freshness to the saucy plate. The chili marinade makes the beef very tender and keeps it from getting dry. The turmeric in the sauce gives it a lovely orange color, and a backbone of warmth. The side of rice is essential to this dish to not only sop up extra sauce, but also to take the edge of heat off of the dish. A generous portion of jasmine rice is included for no extra charge, but for an extra $1 you can get sticky rice. I like to use my fingers to grab pieces of rice and dip it into the excess sauce.

Photo Jun 19, 7 09 54 PMThere’s so many great dishes to choose from on the menu at Pure Thai Cookhouse to satisfy everyone–from a Thai spice novice to a expert noodle slurper. Make sure to check out Pure, and also its sister restaurant Land Thai Restaurant a couple of miles uptown for a meal that will make your face sweat and your taste buds tingle!