Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me, “Where’s the best place for South Asian food in Philadelphia?”
My standard response? “My mother’s house.”
Given the current plethora of South Asian cookbooks in English, I would argue that home-made South Asian food is still preferable to any restaurant offerings. (See Mahdur Jaffrey. Or Anupy Singla.)
This is especially true given the city’s stunning lack of authentic South Asian food. While restaurants like the now-closed Bindi featured a more diverse menu (Goan-inspired pork vindaloo, yum), many of Philadelphia’s South Asian eateries add nothing to the industry.
But as a busy working professional, I found myself at many a South Asian eatery after I left home to start grad school. The list is not inclusive of all South Asian restaurants in the city by any means. There are a few I have yet to try (Ekta, Desi Village Indian Restaurant) and others I find too pricey for my grad-school budget (Palace at the Ben, Tashan). But listed below are a few of my personal favorites.
About: Wah-Gi-Wah opened a few years ago to glowing reviews from Craig LaBan. Located in West Philadelphia, this hole-in-the-wall spot features more than a few delightful Pakistani favorites.
Address: 4447 Chestnut St Philadelphia
Neighborhood: University City
Pros: Order the chicken charga. Order the chicken charga. Order the chicken charga. It’s easily one of the top best fried chicken meals in the city. The chicken itself is marinated for hours in a savory lemon and spice mix.
Cons: Service can be sketchy. Waiters are notoriously unreliable.
Pro-Tip: Call ahead for your order and spare yourself the inevitable wait.
Name: Philadelphia Chutney Company
About: When Uduppi Dosa House closed down in Bensalem, an entire generation of South Indian food lovers in Philadelphia mourned its loss. Then Philadelphia Chutney Company entered the scene a few years ago as the first Center City-based South Indian eatery and introduced more Philadelphians to the dosa, a crepe-like concoction made from rice and lentils And while Philadelphia Chutney Company’s dosas are not as gigantic or crisp as traditional dosas, they are perfectly tasty and come in a variety of fun fusion-inspired offerings.
Address: 1628 Sansom St.
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square
Pros: Inexpensive. Healthy vegetarian options.
Cons: South Indian food purists will probably find the dosa itself falls flat. Literally. It’s not as crispy as those that are more traditionally prepared.
Pro-Tip: Philadelphia Chutney Company’s Facebook and Twitter often offer exclusive deals.
Name: International Foods & Spices
About: Disguised as a South Asian grocery store, International Foods & Spices contains one of the best (and certainly most authentic) variety of Punjabi take-out foods you can imagine.
Address: 4203 Walnut St.
Neighborhood: University City
Pros: Surprisingly inexpensive. You can also do your grocery shopping while chowing down on a samosa or a kabob.
Cons: There’s no place to sit and eat.
Pro-Tip: If you’re hosting any sort of party, order a tray of samosas. They’re easy to store and re-heat well. Plus, your guests will love you. Trust me.
Name: Mumbai Bistro
About: A small, friendly eatery with a relaxed atmosphere.
Address: 930 Locust St.
Neighborhood: Washington Square West
Pros: Multiple vegan-friendly, gluten-free and lactose-free options. Online delivery through the website. Also, a kick-ass garlic naan.
Cons: The small dining-room often fills up with local students and doctors from nearby Jefferson Medical College, so seating can be difficult. The store is closed on Mondays and only open until 9PM the other six nights.
Pro-Tip: Don’t overlook the tasty Maaza Guava Juice Drink while ordering – it’s the perfect complement to spicy entrees. And during nice weather, take your food outside and enjoy the Jefferson Medical College lawn.