We’re in Philadelphia for a bit of a visit. Have we yet visited Independence Hall? Not yet. Gone to the Betsy Ross House? Nope. Seen the Philadelphia Eagles? Not on your life! Eaten cheesesteaks? You bet! We travel for food and that’s mostly what gets us into different towns and then different neighborhoods.
So it’s Christmas Eve and we’re hungry. Where to go for a meal? As our Jewish friends know, it’s Chinatown! We were there the other night and happened upon a Vietnamese restaurant that was recommended to us: Pho Xe Lua, also known as Restaurant Viet Thai, at 907 Race Street. I had the “beef and beef balls rice noodle soup” and Dave had the “shredded chicken with rice noodles soup.” The former is very similar to a pho we’ve had often at the New Century Restaurant in Syracuse, but I have to say, it was a shade better and, unbelievably, even less expensive at only $5.50 for a meal that is more than filling. The broth was heavenly and beefy; the beef was just rare enough to still have lots of flavor and it was incredibly plentiful; the Thai basil and bean sprouts were fresh and flavorful. The meatballs were good but a tad grisly. Dave’s chicken pho was equally glorious, with a very chicken-y broth, tender chicken and fresh veggies. A warming and welcome dinner on a blustery night. Dave had a coconut drink and we got out of there for under $15 including tip.
But tonight Pho Xe Lua was closed. So we wandered around a bit, looking at a few of the many Chinese options. One had Zagat ratings and other accolades all over its front door, so we decided to try out Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, also on Race Street. Fortunately, we were seated very near the kitchen so we could easily watch the noodles being made.
A pot of tea landed on the table almost the second we sat down. Our order was taken quickly and was served within five minutes. We had Seafood Noodle Soup ($5.75) and Roast Duck Noodle Soup ($5.50), both of which were astoundingly good. The seafood included shrimp, fish balls, clams and scallops. The duck was indeed a roast – the flavor was not diluted by the soup. The broth on each was heavenly, the vegetables were an interesting contrast between fresh and pickled. But the starring role was played by the noodles. I generally find noodles to be pretty boring, but these had a flavor and texture that made you think you were eating food, not filler. We were stuffed by the time we left, quite warmed up after a cold walk and thoroughly satisfied with a delicious and interesting experience.
The above photo does not do justice to the work that goes into making the noodles. To get a better idea of how they’re made, just do a search on YouTube for hand drawn Chinese noodles. This video and this one are two particularly good ones for seeing basically what we were watching tonight.