Dating in Your 20s

My beautiful, kind, smart friend sent me these screen grabs from her recent forays into online dating. Beautiful, kind, smart ladies: this is what we’re up against.

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The Museum of Sex: Is It a Fun Sexy Time?

Have you ever been to Grope Mountain?

I guess we’ve all been to Grope Mountain, if you know what I mean, but yesterday morning I found myself climbing an actual “wall of orifices and appendages,” grabbing onto protruding penises and breasts and balls to make my way around the course. The Museum of Sex’s new exhibit — Funland: The Pleasures and Perils of the Erotic Fairground — was filled with such interactive pleasures that would make any person who knows what germs are faint. There’s the bouncy house made of oversized breasts, which is worth the price of admission for the photo op purposes, but is actually not that bouncy. Who knows how many people have licked and touched these boobs? And I’m not just talking about my own. ZING. (Needless to say I washed my hands and body afterwords.)

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After making your way through a small course of mirrors and pathways to find the “elusive G-spot,” there’s a four-person carnival game, like skee ball, except when you roll your ball into the hole, a plastic dick figurine moves forward on a racetrack. The first participant to get their dicks to the end of the line wins and is handed a whipping paddle (or whatever the term is; I’m so vanilla) and gets to spank the three losers. I played the game with my friend, Jane, and a random couple. The dude won, and when he was handed the spanking device, he turned to us and shrugged. I said, “Thank you, but we are actually very good.”

It takes fifteen minutes, max, to finish exploring the Funhouse, and afterwards, the connection being made between carnivals and eroticism seems murky at best. The installation was imagined by London artists Bompas & Parr, who claimed that “participants will be left with a breathless rush of endorphins similar to those released at the point of orgasm.”

I don’t know about that.

I also wasn’t able to discern any “erotic subtext” of carnivals. They took traditional carnival activities — bouncy house, skee-ball — and added penises and boobs, but what does that illuminate about actual carnivals and actual eroticism?

What I do know is that the permanent installations were far more compelling. A room on Linda Lovelace — the first real porn star, after her breakout role in the 1972 film Deep Throat — was sad and fascinating, but the large projection of Ms. Lovelace sucking a large penis, which sprawled across a whole wall, definitely distracted.

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The room on animal sex shook me the most. Animal sex is so unreasonable. Did you know there are ladies of certain species who eat their male partner after sex? Who eat the male’s penis after sex? Did you know that zebra penies are long and terrifying-looking? That ducks have corkscrew-shaped ones? That camels get infections in their genitals because they use sand to masturbate? That the term for giraffe orgasms is “liquid streaming?” If there’s a God, she’s a sick bastard.

Admission to museum: $17.50

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Laughter Therapy Is a Beautiful Thing

Earlier this year, I spent two weeks laughing hysterically each morning and night. The laughter wasn’t organic, but rather an exercise meant to get my endorphins pumping. Did the experiment work? Read my new essay up on The Hairpin to find out whether I lived or died — the answer may surprise you!!

An excerpt:

Each day on my laughter diet began the same as a regular day: Wake up. Eat whatever half of sandwich is left on my pillow from the night before. Gear up emotionally to start working in bed, as a freelancer does. Grow saddened by the long stretch of day ahead, so full of nowhere-to-be and children’s gummy vitamins and reloading Twitter.

But on these mornings, when the prospect of existence antagonized and nagged at me, I fought back. I put on my novelty sailor cap (an impulse purchase from Croatia that is now the only thing I love), played a 12-hour laugh track reel, and strolled around my room, laughing, listening to laughing, and tipping my sailor cap at imaginary friends on the streets of Bushwick. Five minutes were enough to neutralize my mood. At nights, I’d repeat the routine, swapping a striped onesie for the sailor cap and subbing Broad City for the laugh track.

A fun feature of my apartment is that the M train goes through it. One night, the sound and rumbling woke me, even though I was three Advil PMs and two long-expired beers deep. I almost committed to fury, my go-to state, but then decided to try something different. “HA HA HA, HO HO HO, HEE HEE HEE,” I howled, making sure to engage my stomach, chest, and head with the techniques I’d learned on YouTube, the people’s university.

I finished laughing and the rumbling was gone. As the M is a sporadically-running trash train, I savored a luxurious 30-minute window to drift back asleep.

 

A professional laugh therapist suggested wearing goofy clothes and hats as a therapy technique. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to put on my Philadelphia Phillies maxi dress, my most prized possession.

A professional laugh therapist suggested wearing goofy clothes and hats as a therapy technique. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to put on my Philadelphia Phillies maxi dress, my most prized possession.

 

 

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How Should a Vacation Be?

A few days ago, I returned from a brief trip to the Dominican Republic. I’m not as golden as I’d hoped, but I have a nice red hue on my cheeks and boobs. I imagine the color will transition to some cousin of tan, but who can really say?

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I went on the trip because last year, I didn’t really take a vacation. People think that when you’re a freelancer, you have an unlimited amount of time because you set your own schedule and there’s nowhere you actually have to be besides your bed or the toilet. Last summer, I did manage to set aside time to visit my friend Holly in California for a weekend. The break, however brief, was incredible: she drove me around places, including the beach and mountains, because California has both beach and mountains, which every Californian will tell you at every opportunity. Those few days were my favorite few days of 2014. But I was still completing assignments and worrying about work throughout, plus there was also the incredibly long airplane schlep, which felt like half the trip. Some day in my future, when I star in Major Motion Pictures, as well as on Broadway, the back and forth commute between NYC and Hollywood will be an agonizing adjustment.

The Dominican Republic seemed closer — about a 3.5 hour flight, plus incredible Jet-Blue-provided snacks — and felt far more vacation-y. I booked an all-inclusive resort through a shocking deal on Groupon: four nights, all you can drink and eat before and after puking. Only 300 dollars a person. I flew into Santiago and rode a black car for two hours through the mountains to our resort in Sosua, a town I would learn from the Internet, after booking the trip, was a sex tourism hub. I would be reminded of this as the car pulled into town. There were prostitutes everywhere, standing by the road in plain sight, at all hours of the day. There were also a remarkable number of old, grubby white men, varying degrees of obese and goateed, strolling about with a strange comfort and air of ownership.

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This may have been my first trip where I didn’t go for the culture or the adventure; my intentions were to sit on a beach, sip drinks, dip my toes into different bodies of water, and get some color. I’ve been a tourist several times, but this was the first time I actually felt like one — staying exclusively in the resort area, beaching and pooling, eating at the on-site restaurants (all-inclusive, baby), not searching for a full, nuanced sense of Dominican culture aside from drinking Presidente beer and practicing my pre-elementary Spanish with hotel employees.

I felt a little guilty.

Being separate from Sosua and the Dominican people (outside of hospitality workers) was weird and novel to me, but the vacation fulfilled all of its purposes, except for providing me with a bronzed glow. I drank and ate exorbitant amounts of meat and cheese and bread. I rubbed sand all over my body. I drank Piña Coladas that were as sweet as rock candy. I basked in the warmth of then sun. It was therapy. I’m still buzzing from all the Vitamin D I soaked up.

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I wish I could have explored the country more, but maybe on another trip, when I don’t feel so vacation- and relaxation-deprived. As we drove to Sosua that first day, up and down mountains and through small towns, there were chickens everywhere, running around the streets. It would have been fun to chase and play with them. To go to a corner store and buy weird candy with labels I couldn’t read. To talk to an old man sitting outside his bright pink home, selling boiled corn. This is what I missed.

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I do, however, feel well-rested. And I’m energized to start an exciting new job as a staff writer/reporter for People.com! I’m leaving behind the tormented freelance life for a position at my first favorite magazine. 2015 is finally beginning for me.

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Losing My Undercut

In September of 2013, I walked into a small barbershop in Split, Croatia, clutching a picture of Rihanna and smelling of sausage and beer. Lunch had made me bold.

“Bok,” I said, “hello” in Croatian, to the woman blow-drying warm air into a fantastically red-headed old woman. I could have listed groceries in Croatian all day — eggs, “jaja.” cheese, “sir” — but “bok” was the scope of my street language, so I pronounced it like the spirited bat from Anastasia and smiled dumbly to convey good-will and enthusiasm. She paused her blow-dry and accepted my picture: Rihanna performing on stage, hair flopped to one side (revealing buzzed perfection on the other). The picture would be indistinguishable from me in only an hour’s time.

“Can it be done?” I asked.

The hairdresser didn’t speak English well, or at all, but she nodded and laughed.

“Yes,” she said, deliberately, acing the pronunciation. A terrier seated in the lap of the old woman slipped off his perch and crept towards the spot of sunlight peering through the door to resume his nap. The sausage and beer hit my brain simultaneously and it occurred to me I could use a nap, too.

The style wasn’t as dramatic as I dream it. I like to say I shaved off half my skull, but it was really just the lower, left quadrant of skull, a look that, in a few months, cultural rule-breakers Demi Levato and Avril Lavigne would adopt. (I don’t know how they got my picture but I’m flattered nonetheless.)

Yet I clung to the drama then, sleepily, as I watched my long, horrifically damaged locks flutter to the ground. And I cling to the drama now, as the left, sad side of my head joins its right-sided brother in shoulder-length, nothing-to-see-here curlitude.

“Ahhh,” I said. The hairdresser laughed again, borderline too much for someone cutting people’s hair, let alone shaving it. The terrier slept in his sunbeam.

Until this day at the barbershop, I never knew what my skull looked like. As far as I was concerned I didn’t have one, and my hair went straight to my brain. I watched the procedure — the combing, the parting, the thoughtful eye-squinting — in the mirror until that first DDZZZZ lulled me out of shock as she turned on the shaver.

Then, contact with the head. Huh. There’s that skull. There it is. The hairdresser’s teen apprentice stood behind us now, snapping pictures and doing what teens do with pictures. I hoped the Croatian on her Instagram captions read, “my boss is killing it right now with this haircut,” and not, “lol my boss is taking advantage of another American who’s looking for something indescribable in our country <laughing emoji> <laughing emoji> <laughing emoji.>”

The hairdresser and I locked eyes in the mirror. I nodded as if to say: “I’m not scared; super into this.” The cool gesture was cut short as she grabbed my head to keep it still. This is how we communicated, through our physicality, just as the physicality of my shaved head would communicate “BAD BITCH” to everyone, from now on, till the day I decided to re-enter nice society.

On the social media channels, too, they’d be like: that girl who fled NYC to live in Croatia is a bad bitch and has the hair to prove it. She may not have a job, but that’s because she’s really committed herself to an alternative lifestyle.

After the cut, I took the local van-bus back to my suspiciously cheap apartment on the Adriatic, but not before buying some beets and cabbage at the market — that’s all the market seemed to have these days. I walked up to the entryway of my hideaway, a seaside one-bedroom where I sought refuge from New York and Brooklyn and Bushwick and essays and crying into pad thai and URGENT gmails and lost unlimited metro cards (that I could have gotten refunded if I were less lethargic and more of a go-getter) and cat calls and train traffic and Sephora and crying into pizza and crying into tote bags and crying into bagels. I looked in the mirror, and flipped my hair back and forth, flipped my hair back and forth, felt up the buzzed left side, posed, grabbed some red lipstick, put it on, and asked myself, in the lipstick microphone: Do I look fucking Brooklyn now.

That night I ran along the water, sneakers on the pebbles, over and around little boats covered in plastic tarp for the winter, and I watched the water change from one blue-blue (dark, endless) to another blue-blue (green-like, pure) to a profoundly different blue-blue (tied-dye, every blue). There were so many blue-blue’s I’d never noticed. The run wasn’t that long, only ten minutes: the sun hadn’t really changed positions. But I had changed positions, ten minutes worth of jog-steps, and that made a difference in the color of the sea.

***

Last January, I moved back to the city, to America: I feared the repercussions of living in a foreign country without a visa — even though locals assured me that the authorities “would never get me” because I was “white and nice.” This made me want to leave even more. Above all, I was sick of cabbage and tiny little Euro coffees that made me feel like a giantess with each careful sip.

For my second go at New York, I landed in Harlem, right by the 103rd street White Castle. (Important background: I only ever live next door to White Castles. Currently, by the Bushwick White Castle.) I shaved my head again for upkeep, a move that would force me to commit to the New, Badder Maria, who was no longer traumatized by the speedy and horrific passage of time. NBM, for short, looked like an artist, and that would help her make art.

Back in America, showing my friends my head, I made jokes about employability, the real joke being I’d never be hired anywhere anyway. What skills did I have? If I were a coding wizard, an advertising wizard, a journalism wizard, even a wizard wizard, it wouldn’t matter if I were full-bald with one long, purple dread sprouting from the middle of my head; I’d still find employment.

The undercut made for spirited conversation on Tinder, though, my point of re-entry into the New York dating scene.

“Hey.”

“hey.”

“I like your head.”

“thanks”

“wanna give ME head haha”

“rly labored transition bro L. so it’s a no from me”

I shaved for upkeep in March, to assure myself that time was forever static, with quick maintenance shaves in April and May and June. My hair, dumb dead protein that it is, never got the message, so it kept growing.

In August, I made the decision, without any deliberation, to grow it out. I wasn’t sure why or how it occurred to me to get serious about my life, and why or how my buzzed, lower quadrant of skull prevented me from getting serious. Deep down, I think it bugged me that every time I mentioned growing out the undercut, no one said, “Wait, stop!” They were like. “Cool…” Subject change. “Wanna get sandwiches?”

I bet Rihanna doesn’t make decisions based on statements designed to trap friends into saying how they really feel about her hair. But if last year taught me one thing, it’s that I’m not Rihanna.

***

On my 23rd birthday, shortly after the buzz, I blacked out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I was taking a short vacation with my friend Rebecca. After a night of drinking and eating and ballroom dancing with a cheery bulbous man in Sarajevo, we skipped through the city, eventually stopping to pee on the segment of the Latin Bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand, bless him, was assassinated, the event that set World War I in motion.

I question whether the evening would have been possible with a full head of hair, or without the Bosnian moonshine that the old man, Sasha, poured into our mouths throughout dinner.

I’m looking in the mirror now, a year later, and the left side of my head is a bob, a relic of someone else’s urine adventures, freedom, alternative spirit.

I live in Bushwick now, by the White Castle, of course, and wear boots that look worn when you buy them.

I was an ambitious 5th grader, I recall, smoothing down my bob hairs, hairs reminiscent of my mortifying, little-Dutch-boy 5th grade look. I ran an “Insurance Company” with my friend Annalea. During class, we put together a box full of index cards, with the names and roughly sketched faces of our kid classmates who had signed up for our services. We would ask them for snacks — apples, popcorn, cake, pistachios — in return for “protection.” Protection, we insisted, meant all sorts of useful things: getting to cut in line before recess, saving spots in line before recess, us being nice to them. We were little thugs is what we were, but we were committed to something and we had dreams.

The year went by so fast. I don’t know more words, I don’t think. I said “ostentatious” out loud for the first time, in August, so there’s that. I didn’t break any limbs or laws. I wasn’t incarcerated. But I look for progress, not just not-regression, and I can’t find it. I’m once again jobless, once again by choice, once again with too-easy access to a White Castle, a privilege I abuse relentlessly.

Time passes in hair.

***

I was recently in a room full of young writers, discussing the phenomenon of the undercut.

“Everyone should have one,” a petite woman with clear-rimmed glasses said. “It adds edge.”

She showed the group the remnants of two separate grown-out undercuts — one from a year ago, the other from two years ago, one ending at her chin, the other, mid-neck.

“It’s like a tree trunk,” I said, lifting my face up from the glass of red wine I’d been romancing. “When you cut it open you see the rings. Your layers are like the rings.”

Each layer tells a story. Each layer begins at the root.

“That’s what people forget,” my hair-stylist roommate told me the next day as she cut my hair in the common room. “The end of your longest strand started here.” She pointed to my skull. She continued to trim around my former undercut, now long enough to put behind my ears, with just a little fluff peaking out.

When I wake up in the morning, I look deranged. Like I killed someone and then cried all night about it, eye bags puffy and flecked with dried-out discount eyeliner. I hoist myself out of bed and flip my part to the left like it never happened.

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A Guide to the (Very Eclectic) Southern Italian Craft Beer Movement

Read my new piece for Medium’s travel vertical, “Gone.”

It may not seem that big a deal, but a top pizza-maker’s interest in craft beer marks the first dent in the centuries-old monopoly enjoyed by wine as the only accompaniment to serious food. In the past decade, birrificios have sprouted throughout Campania; and prestigious Neopolitan restaurants, enotecas, and specialty drink shops have begun to offer micro-brews alongside the best Falanghinas and Fianos. It’s an exciting, eclectic movement that could only have happened here: Free from any institutionalized traditions, brewers are setting their own rules, dabbling in new techniques and creating amazing new flavors.

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2014: Weird Year

What was 2014 like.

Notice the lack of question mark, or don’t, if you resent being asked things by bloggers. Nonetheless I ask you to think of that statement as a sigh, a rhetorical device that comes from a very tired place.

I always feel compelled to write something at the end of every year. It’s like how I ski: screaming “make this end, I hate this” while trailing my feet through the snow to stop myself from propelling ahead. Time thrusts me forward and I drag my feet at the end of the year, trying to slow the whole production down so I don’t ski into a tree or do whatever the non-metaphorical equivalent of that would be. (Moving back home?)

The left profile of my head looks like that of a little Dutch boy’s, maybe one who doesn’t have access to showers or vegetables. Looking in the mirror, I grab at my shaggy former undercut, which I’ve been growing out since August; the hair is grubby yet thin, and only reaches my earlobe. I guess the pace of time depends on what it is you’re looking at: the growth of formerly buzzed hair (slow) or the missing of opportunities (fast).

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I’m ready for normal hair again, but I’m not ready for 2015. 2015 is the kind of year that if you told me, as a 7-year-old, there would even be a 2015, I would have shrugged it off with all the skepticism a 7-year-old can muster and offered something like, numbers don’t even go up that high. It’s a scary, futuristic-sounding year, and I’m not done with 2014. So here I am, dragging my feet in the snow and considering throwing myself off to the side and laying down, motionless, until a ski medic comes to retrieve me and if all goes well provide me with blankets and hot chocolate. (I don’t have a great grasp of ski culture, one of the few areas of ignorance I feel proud of.)

There were a lot of Worst Parts of 2014. I imagine there won’t be any of those lists circulating, though we should all work, collectively and individually, to remember the horrors, tragedies, and injustices of this year, because they are by no means 2014-specific.

But for now, I want to focus on what made 2014 bearable, and sometimes, bright.

1. Best Song: Tinashe, “2 On”

Any song that reminds me of Cassie’s “Me & U” and makes me feel like the sexiest girl at school when I’m cleaning my room wins the highest possible amount of points from me.

2. Best/Only Time Kristen Stewart Was Apart of Something That I Loved: Jenny Lewis, “One of the Guys”

The Voyager is a phenomenal album. I was blessed enough to see Jenny Lewis in concert at Governor’s Ball this summer, and she glanced my way several times, in a manner that suggested to me she wanted to hang out. Tragically, I couldn’t find her after the show. Missed connection.

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3. Best Getting Ready/Stuck in Traffic/On the Train Song: Tove Lo, “Stay High”

I adore this song. It’s catchy, adds drama to pretty much any situation, and  definitely inspired me to wear more eyeliner, which I think has been good for my sense of self.

4. Best Pug: Frank

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IMG_6259No other pug came close. Here are a few lessons Frank taught me this year.

5. Best Movie: Obvious Child

Jenny Slate is a goddess angel. While she only lasted a season on SNL, that girl has legs. I love her in everything she does — she’s everywhere now — but her performance in Obvious Child was truly masterful, funny and tragic. (Marcel the Shell is great, too.)

6. Best Macaron: Matcha Green Tea from Macaron Parlour on UWS

IMG_61507. Best/Dirtiest Beach: Garbage Beach on Randall’s Island in the East River

IMG_7437There’s this little patch of sand/granulated garbage on the Queens-facing sliver of Randall’s Island. I refer to this riverside paradise affectionately but by no means ironically as “Garbage Beach,” and sometimes I go there with my friend Gaby, and sometimes we paint flowers on our faces.IMG_7390

8. Best Refreshing Drink that Don’t You Even Think About Judging Me for Loving/Cherishing: Bud Light Lime-a-Rita

Photo on 7-16-14 at 10.23 PM #2REFRESHING + AFFORDABLE + LIME-TASTIC + FLIRTY + FRESH + PERFECT MIXED WITH SLURPEES.

9. Best Vacation Spot: Holly’s Trailer Home / The Beach in Ventura, California

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10. Best Way To Gain Weight With No Regrets, Just Love: Dough Loco’s Maple Miso Doughnut

IMG_9902 Dough Loco‘s maple miso doughnut is fluffy, savory, and sweet — just like me. I think that’s why I love it so much. There was a week in July when I ate a doughnut a day, thinking it would be cool if I somehow lost weight and could write an article on “The Doughnut Diet,” which would then go viral and land me a book deal. I ended up gaining 4 lbs and breaking out all along my right jawline. But still: no regrets, just love.

11. Best Place to Nap: The Toilet Paper at Costco

photo-3So luxurious, and definitely more comfortable than my cereal-covered floor mattress.

12. Speaking of napping, I’m tired. Almost done here.

13. Best Book: John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van

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This debut novel is dark and strange and smart. Short, too. All the makings of my dream book. Plus, it’s written by John Darnielle, the genius lyricist behind the Mountain Goats. Here’s a good review on Slate.

14. Best Time Stand Up Show: Hannibal Buress

photo-38When I told my dad I was going to a Hannibal Buress show, he said to make sure I peed beforehand, because it was going to be a “laugh riot.” He was right. I laughed for two hours, non-stop. I’m very glad I peed beforehand. Thanks Dad.

15. Best Christmas Pug: Frank

photo-39Frank won in a landslide.

So, that’s my 2014 for you. I wish all y’all a very peaceful holiday and disaster-free New Years. Thanks for sticking with Snax and Sex for yet another year in this ever-changing media landscape; I know you have a lot of choices when it comes to what you look at on your screen.

XX

MARIA

 

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Your Guide to South Philly Vietnamese

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Just south of Philadelphia’s Washington Avenue, strip malls emblazoned with neon script advertise pho, banh mi, and, necessarily for tourists, bubble tea. The air smells of chargrilled pork, sometimes fish. The neighborhood, referred to by some as “Little Saigon” but by most in the area as “home,” is nestled in South Philadelphia, a few blocks wast from the historic Italian Market and a growing sprawl of taquerias.

Philadelphia boasts one of the largest Vietnamese populations in America, even larger than New York’s. From 1990 to 2010, Philadelphia’s Asian population grew 277 percent, and nowhere is this more delightfully apparent than in this wedge of South Philly. Along and around Washington Avenue, you’ll find some of the best Vietnamese food on the East Coast — that is, if you can find a parking spot in one of the crowded lots, where families and opportunists from out-of-town load up car trunks with exceptionally cheap produce, gelatinous sweets, ten pound sacks of rice, chicory coffee, and meat.

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Planning a Vietnamese crawl in South Philadelphia could take days, even weeks: Philly’s own Little Saigon seems to grows a pho counter, or banh mi shop, or family-style restaurant each hour. Unlike the quaint pedestrian strip of the Italian market, this neighborhood is not particularly conducive to strolling, with its wide roads and chaotic parking lots, which is why you’ll need a plan. So, this might help: Here are your best bets for exceptional Vietnamese in South Philly:

Le Viet

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While the aesthetic at Le Viet is sleeker than most restaurants in the area, the food here is unpretentious and inexpensive. Chef Sinh Cao is true to authentic Vietnamese flavors, from aromatic, oxtail phos to tangy raw salads of green papaya and watercress, while offering a few fun fusion items, like the banh mi slider, a nod to Philly gastropub culture. The unequivocal star of the menu is listed as an appetizer, so don’t miss it: spicy sautéed baby clams, ground beef, and peanuts served in a giant rice cracker. (Order it as an entrée for less of an expectation to share.) The clams, served in a statuesque, sesame-flecked rice cracker bowl, are artfully sprinkled with chopped basil and peanuts, as delicious as it is imaginative. For more classic Vietnamese comfort food, the vermicelli bowls are reliably satisfying. The bowls topped with the house’s tender chargrilled pork and spring rolls (an essential garnish, of course) achieve a masterful balance of chewy and crispy.

1019 S. 11th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 463-1570

Nam Phuong

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Even on a dreary Tuesday, the large banquet dining room at Nam Phuong exudes celebration, with its glistening chandeliers and elevated wooden stage, just waiting for birthday party karaoke. The place is perpetually bustling — with families, couples, friends, and small children, weaving in and out of tables. While Nam Phuong’s execution of Vietnamese standards like pho, bun vermicelli, stir-fries, clay-pot pork, and papaya salad is excellent, and maybe the best in the area, their more unusual options prove worth the risk, at least until you realize that ordering at Nam Phuong is never, ever a risk. A house favorite you’ll find at almost every table is the sautéed cubes of flank steak and fresh watercress, served with a bright, black pepper-studded lime dressing. Make sure to embrace the sharing ethos and order as much as possible, and at the end, insist on a creamy jackfruit shake with tapioca bubbles, even if you’re positive you cannot eat anymore.

1100-1120 Washington Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 468-0410

Pho 75

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The best, and coincidentally quickest, bowl of pho in Philadelphia is served at Pho 75, the bare, unassuming shop across the parking lot from the Hung Vuong supermarket. Unlike at Nam Phuong, where a book-like menu can overwhelm, Pho 75 does not provoke any menu anxiety, as the menu is short and concise, limited mostly to pho, the classic beef noodle soup. Order the Number 1 (the pho with all the fixings, so not recommended for the innard-phobic), along with the vast majority of patrons, and never look back. The service is lightning fast — well, less-than-one-minute-fast. (I actually timed it, from the moment I finished ordering to the moment the pho was plopped on my table. They likely have a vat of pho simmering in the back, and that’s what makes it so spectacular — the aromatic, well-developed broth.) The steaming bowl of vermicelli noodles, filled generously with tripe, fatty brisket, and skirt steak, demands an assertive squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of bean sprouts and Thai basil, all served on a plate alongside the soup. After, succumb to the dense, sweet Vietnamese iced coffee, hot or cold, an inevitable finish. You’ll have time to spare, so take advantage of your precious parking space and walk five steps to the Hung Vuong supermarket, where you can stock up on Café Du Monde coffee and condensed milk to re-create the thing at home.

1122 Washington Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 271-5866

Ba Le

BaLe-Interior2

First, you must learn the lingo: In Philly, the banh mi is known as a Vietnamese hoagie, and the place to get it is Ba Le. An unassuming counter shop at Washington and South 6th, Ba Le has a steady stream of traffic throughout the day — people swing by for colorful gelatinous desserts, lush taro milk tea, and pre-made stir fries, but more often than not, they’re here for the stellar Vietnamese hoagies, stuffed with a choice of rich pork pate, BBQ pork, meatball, chicken, or even perfectly oily fried sardines. All hoagies are served on fresh baguette — slightly gummy, but necessarily so, to absorb all the flavors properly — with crispy pickled veggies and a handful of cilantro crammed inside. A Buy 5, Get One Free special is popular on Sundays, before the Eagles game. (Or maybe it’s the after church crowd.) The service can be rude, but it’s almost always fast, unless an employee is finishing up her lunch before getting started on yours.

606 Washington Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 389-4350

Other Good Bets:

Pho Ha

Delicious, quick pho. Endless combinations, but the tender, buttery flank steak is the best.

610 Washington Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 599-0264

Café Diem

The essential destination for bun bo hue, a fiery beef noodle soup (otherwise known as pho’s sassy, volatile older brother).

1031 S. 8th St.

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 923-8347

Pho Ta

Consistently great pho, addictive fish-sauce chicken wings, and fast, warm service.

1111 S. 11th St.

Philadelphia, PA 19147

(215) 755-4000

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