Your Guide to South Philly Vietnamese

Pho75-exterior

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.

LeViet-Vermicelli

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

LeViet-Clams

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

NamPhuong-BeefCubes

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

Pho75-Exterior2

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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True Story

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(1997, the Maria Yagoda journal archives)

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IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT

exile

Today, a piece very near to my heart was published on Bustle.

The essay chronicles my sexual education, provided by Liz Phair, in the form of her 1993 album, “Exile in Guyville”:

I heard the word “cunt” several times before I knew its meaning. I would sing it in front of my parents, on long car rides up to my grandmother’s house, during brief breaks from NPR. “I only ask because I’m a real cunt in spring / You can rent me by the hour,” I’d sing along, my beloved CD of Liz Phair’s 1993 iconic album, “Exile in Guyville,” spinning in the minivan.

I wasn’t totally oblivious. I’d skip past certain tracks that had bad words I knew, like “fuck.” The song “Flower,” for example, was explicitly about oral sex — even 12 year-old me knew this — and I certainly didn’t want my parents hearing it. The year before, some obnoxious kid at summer camp had explained to me, unsolicited, what a blow job was. “You do what to the what?” I’d thought, making sure to say instead, “Duh.” After a few minutes of solemn contemplation, I decided there was no way that was a thing, and I continued painting flowers on rocks.

But there was something beautiful about Liz Phair’s sexuality, something that extended far beyond the scope of sucking a dick — elements of passion, longing, arousal, desire, grit, vulnerability — yet, at the same time, it was all very much within the context of sucking a dick. This sent me a clear message: It’s perfectly normal to want to be someone’s “blow job queen,” or to want someone ”ramming, jamming, slamming” in you. “Flower” empowered me to appreciate and embrace an active mode of female sexuality.

So, at an unusually young age, I learned the following lessons: I can want sex. I can be raunchy. I can see a man…and then I can see him on top of me.

READ THE REST HERE AND NEVER LOOK BACK.

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Some Amy Schumer Realness

Ladies, let’s be real: We’ve all had this kind of sex. You’re zoned out and bored, and the dude is some combination of gross + sweaty + floppy + unskilled. Maybe you’re hungry, and imagining a falafel sandwich where his head should be.

Whatever the case is — YOU DESERVE BETTER. And once you’ve found better, watch this video to memorialize your time boning uninspired man-excuses.

Also watch it right now, because it’s hilarious.

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23 Lessons from my 23rd Year of Life

In a few days, I turn 24. I’m not sure how to feel. I don’t think of 24 as a particularly distinctive age, but maybe that’s because I’m not wowed by even numbers in general, especially ones that can be split so many different ways (in half, in six, in eight…). They seem at once bland and untrustworthy.

I don’t know what 24 will be like. If 23 is any indication, it will be messy. There will be sandwiches; there will be losses. There will be hot dogs; there will be victories. There will be disappointments, ketchup stains, lessons learned, dogs petted, hangovers, tears, boxed wine, and regrets.

I’m not so scared of regrets anymore. I look back on 23 and, weirdly, don’t feel any regret. I really should, though. I made mistakes pretty much nonstop.

When I look back on 23, the first thing I do is vomit, because I can’t believe how quickly the year passed. Ok, cleaned up the vomit. The second thing I do is engage in some introspection. Join me now as I reflect on the 23 things I’ve learned in my 23rd year.

  1. I am a fundamentally sloppy human, inside and out. This is just fine.

  2. There is literally no problem in this world that can’t be solved by hugging a good-natured pug.

  3. A Diet Coke every day really adds up, finance-wise.

  4. A half-shaved head is a well-ventilated head. IMG_6240

  5. People who don’t respect what you do or your time or your face or your sexy bod ARE NOT worth your energies.

  6. Waking up not hungover on a Saturday is one of the most beautiful feelings.

  7. I was really invested in Hillary Duff’s marriage, way more than I knew. That’s why its dissolution felt so awful.

  8. Tinder is not the place for me to thrive/grow.

  9. Sushi filled with eggs and ribs tastes RULL good.

  10. Once I accepted that Night Breakfast was just a thing I do, not a disease, I felt way less guilt about it.

  11. I am probably not cut out for journalism.

  12. I am probably not cut out for grad school.

  13. I am probably not cut out for earning a real human living.

  14. Broad City is the most incredible new show on television.

  15. I’m not a monster for following all of the Kardashians on Instagram. It’s who I am at my core.

  16. I like white wine more than red wine, and that doesn’t mean I’m unsophisticated. I’m unsophisticated for other reasons.

  17. Jennifer Lopez is incapable of aging.

  18. Pink Himalayan sea salt enhances EVERYTHING.

  19. I tend to not learn that many lessons, in general. That’s why I’m having so much trouble right now. Getting down to the wire!

  20. If I want to eat dinner at 3:30 pm, I can eat dinner at 3:30 pm. I am an adult and there are no rules except my heart.

  21. The Brittany Murphy Story is a movie as atrocious as it is despicable.

  22. Doing a couple of squats every day has totally transformed by butt.

  23. All I can do in this crazy cruel world is what I love. The end.

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An Open Letter to the Papaya Dog Employee Who Reminded Me I’d Been There the Night Before

papayadog

Dear Papaya Dog Employee Who Reminded Me I’d Been There the Night Before,

I have a thing for hot dogs, but you know this. You know this about me more than most, including friends and family, because I come to you, not them, late in the night for the things I need: Chili dogs. Corn dogs. Cheese fries. The smell of meat. The sound of sizzling fat juices.

We banter. I recognize your face but have never known your name. The same is true for you, I imagine. Maybe you know me by the way I leap-walk when I’m drunk, or the self-aware jokes I make to distinguish myself from the youths who stumble in and out, glopping too much ketchup on their hot dogs because alcohol has ruined their young minds. For some reason, I need you to think of me as different, though this has always been unreasonable.

You’re like an uncle, an all-knowing cool one. You did all the shit in college and just generally know what’s up. Once, when I coerced a boy to accompany me to Papaya Dog at 1 am, you knew what the deal was. For sure. You didn’t judge me but you laughed. You dispensed extra cheese. That’s how you wink at me, through cheese.

I hate that you have an accent and I don’t know from where. I should have asked you from where, when I had a chance. It’s too late now. I don’t really bro it up in the East Village anymore. I’m never around that Papaya Dog, on East 14th Street and 1st Ave, stumbling or otherwise. Nowadays, I’m never even awake at hours later than re-runs of Seinfeld play on TV. I still get cravings though, hot dog ones, and when I do, I think of you.

One night in 2013 I swung by late, all mopey. I’d been stood up for a date, which was upsetting, but not nearly as upsetting as the realization that hot dogs were my primary coping mechanism. Was 22 supposed to be like this? The part of my brain that gets a perverse pleasure in my sadness decided to remind me how much Taylor Swift, a peer, had accomplished by 22.

I needed to get to work on something.

My heart pounded faster: Hot. Dog. Hot. Dog. Hot. Dog.

I arrived at our meeting place, your place of work. My eyes were mostly dry now. It was a double corn dog sort of night, with a side of cheese fries to cut the sweetness.

You could tell I’d been crying. You asked me how I was, but not in a How are you-way, because that would have sucked. Instead, we played our usual game, full of wordless pleasantries like smiles and shrugs and knowing sighs.

You told me it was good to see me again.

Again?” I laughed.

“You were here last night. Three corn dogs, cheese fries, and a turkey burger,” he said.

“A turkey burger?” I said. “You’ve got the wrong girl.”

“It was you.” He handed me my corn dogs and turned around to fill up a soda, a sort of compassionate gesture to let me process, alone, the fact that I couldn’t keep track of the places I’d been, the sandwiches I’d eaten just days before.

“Was I alone?”

“You were.”

I paid and left. I haven’t gone back since. Not on principle. (Well, a few degrees less than “on principle,” but still in the “on principle” family.) Maybe I’m ashamed. Maybe I realized something. You’ve probably found other drunk girls to befriend and give extra cheese and I’m happy for you.

I write you this letter because tonight my heart beats hot dog hot dog hot dog hot dog and I want to keep track of the sandwiches I eat and the sandwiches I crave because you can no longer do it for me.

Love,

Maria

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six phenomenal things i have eaten of late

1. ROGAN JOSH at TULSI

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2. TOAST WITH RICOTTA, PEACH, AND TOMATOES at BROOKLYN PROPER

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3. ANDRE, SUPERMARKET CHEESE, BREAD, and BUTTER SPREAD at MY FRIEND HOLLY’S TRAILER in LA

note: "my friend holly's trailer" is not a restaurant, but is actually a trailer belonging to my dear friend holly

note: “my friend holly’s trailer” is not a restaurant, but is actually a trailer belonging to my dear friend holly

 

4. SOUTHERN BELLE CHICKEN NUGGETS at THE NUGGET SPOT

(at this at the nugget spot's stand at gov ball)

(at this at the nugget spot’s stand at gov ball)

5. SEARED FOIE, FINGERLINGS, HAM CHIPS, HOT SAUCE, AND EGG at TRAIF

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6. LOBSTER ROLL at RED HOOK LOBSTER POUND

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norman, the eccentric croatian, came and went

(This one was hard to write, even harder to publish. I found it in the 2013 archives–aka my journal–back from when I was traveling around Croatia and Italy like a madwoman. This particular vignette was written when I was living in Split, Croatia.)

my backyard in croatia, on a stormy day

my backyard in croatia, on a stormy day

My eyes burned, watered. Mostly from the semen, partly from the shock.

Norman, Croatian Man and Proprietor of Ejaculate, was alarmed by my alarm.

“No warning?” I asked, miffed, blindly feeling around the bedside table for tissues.

“Huh?”

“Well fuck that.”

“Eh.”

Norman rolled over and hoisted himself out of bed. He zipped on his baby blue flannel onesie. I had to watch him tie his brown, shoulder length hair into a ponytail. “I know this isn’t sexy,” he said. “But it is very comfortable.” He motioned me to the kitchen and warmed up some meat and beans, a hearty Dalmatian recipe his mother made him growing up. I declined.

We sat alongside the kitchen counter, in his apartment in the outskirts of Split. I watched him eat his beans with total commitment. Some landed on his oversized child’s night garment. Before I’d moved to Croatia, if I had closed my eyes and envisioned a Croatian man, I’d have seen Norman: buff, rustic, burly, chiseled, strange — though his name would have been Stipe, or Bojan. Norman was named Norman, he told me, because “his parents were eccentrics.”

He wanted to talk about past relationships. (We’d exhausted Game of Thrones.) He asked me about my longest. His was six. Years. Mine was two. Months.

“You’ve never been in love?”

“No,” I said. I could have used a bowl of beans, right then, to diffuse the sadness, however dull: of being asked this by others and by myself, perpetually.

“Well, no offense, but there must be a reason for that.” He sopped up the juices with some stale bread.

I know, I know: I’ve never been in love. And no one, to my knowledge, has ever loved me, barring my family, a few friends, and my dog (when I’m holding the can opener).

And here was Norman, saying things I knew, getting meat juice on everything, even his careful ponytail.

I had never been more repulsed by a man. Yet this repulsive man had the power to make me acutely aware, more than ever before, of the fact that I’d never been in love: not because Norman had asked me, buffoon-like, but because here I was, sitting next to buffoon-like Norman, watching him eat beans, my eyes still red from an unexpected semen blast.

I excused myself to the bathroom and flushed my face with water. Flushed my face until I was certain he was done eating. I returned to the kitchen to offer a cordial goodbye; he was asleep on the couch.

I walked the two miles home, along the Adriatic, to the small apartment I was renting by the water. The lack of love puts you in places you might ordinarily never find yourself. And this, perhaps, is a blessing, this freedom to roam and experience and, as I did that night, bury myself in pebbles, feet in the chilly water, where I slept until sunrise.

the glorious adriatic

the glorious adriatic

 

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