Home is where the heart is. Although my heart lives in Atlanta with my boyfriend, dog, and the city I love, Philadelphia will always be a close second for my affection. I grew up in South Jersey, then spent a couple of years living over the bridge in Philly while I did some post-bacc courses at Penn. I can’t lie: I miss living in Philadelphia. I miss biking everywhere. I miss walking the places I didn’t bike. I miss people caring about the sport of hockey, other Flyers fans around, and going to Flyers home games. I miss seeing weathered old brick everywhere, and workout water breaks by the art museum where I could watch the tourists running up and down the stairs like Rocky.
I’m not looking to move back to Philadelphia anytime soon. We will probably live in South America or Europe first. But I love the city enough that a weekend back definitely forces me to consider the possibility of living there again.
I’m not saying that the following bites are the very best in Philadelphia and South Jersey, but they’re my favorites. Since I have outstanding and discriminating taste, they are places that you should check out if you find yourself in the area!
First and foremost, there is this place called Han Dynasty that pretty much owns my soul. It’s a Szechwan restaurant serving up some of the best and spiciest Chinese food I’ve ever tasted. If you think typical Chinese is General Tso’s chicken, Han will rock your world with dishes like wontons in chili oil, dan dan noodles, and cumin lamb. Even their string beans are mindblowing. Crunchy, crispy, tender, and light.. it’s a vegetable miracle (albeit enhanced by pork). And if that doesn’t surprise you, maybe this will: they serve a cucumber dish that is crave-worthy. I never thought it was possible to crave a boring cucumber until trying Han’s cucumbers in chili oil; they’re impossibly crispy and spicy.
Philadelphia is also home to my favorite taco in the world. It can be found in the Italian Market neighborhood of South Philly at Taqueria Veracruzana. This is the jalapeño relleno taco. Imagine a jalapeño pepper, stuffed with cheese, deep-fried, and served in a corn tortilla with cilantro and onion. As amazing as that might sound, it tastes better.
You can see the jalapeño taco in the foreground of this photo. (Behind it is chorizo, and a chorizo-steak mixture that were also awesome).
And here’s what the jalapeño taco looks like after I’ve begun to attack it. That’s a whole pepper in there, folks! It’s stuffed with gooey, delicious, mild queso. Tacos don’t get any better.
The tacos here are fairly spicy, so if you’re sensitive to that stuff, be warned.
If your mouth is on fire from these endeavors, you can refresh your taste buds with a cool treat… well, as long as it’s between March and October.
Water ice is a regional specialty that can be found in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Chains like Rita’s have introduced a crappy, watered-down version of the stuff to the whole nation, but you should just ignore them. The real deal can only be found in the Northeast. My favorite water ice can be found in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is about fifteen minutes away from Philly. Their version is like sorbet, but a little looser. Its texture is really a lot like the helado de paila that we tried in Ecuador.
That is vanilla chip water ice, and I’ve been eating it since the tender age of six. In fact, I think I might need to develop a recipe for it… check back later.
Those places should keep you full for at least one day. And if you’re wondering why there are no cheesesteak references here, well, it’s because I’m not a huge fan of them. They’re generally made from crappy meat and drowned in crappy cheese. I only indulge in ridiculous amounts of calories when they taste incredible – otherwise, why bother?
108 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
908 Washington Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19147
Diane’s Water Ice
2999 East Evesham Road Voorhees, NJ 08043