An increasingly diverse array of Southeast Asian flavors are surging in South Philadelphia, largely as those who arrived as young immigrants have come of age and decided to open restaurants that showcase their home flavors of Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, the well-established Indonesian community, which has long had the star draw of Hardena, among others, is entering its second wave.
That’s the case with D’Jakarta Cafe, where Alfitri Ho and husband Beddy Sonie hired Ho’s mother, Cararina Ho, as chef, and built a charming BYOB decorated with murals, newspaper cartoons, and memorabilia in the corner space once occupied by Sky Cafe, which unfortunately burned down and relocated a few years ago (to 1122 Washington Ave.).
Unlike Sky, whose cuisine is more typical of Sumatra, and Hardena, which draws a sweeter profile from its Java roots, D’Jakarta channels the more cosmopolitan melting-pot flavors of Jakarta, where Ho once operated three street-food restaurants, as well as the Chinese influences of her original home, West Borneo.
The chicken satay skewers were among her specialties in Jakarta, and I can see why. Not only is the halal thigh meat incredibly tender from a nightlong marinade in sweet soy, it’s dipped multiple times in the tangy-sweet peanut sauce at different stages in the grilling process so it can take on layers of caramelization as it cooks. Ground orange leaves in the mix add another level of complexity.
Though the satay is an easy crowd-pleaser (it is, by comparison, quite saucier than the aromatic Malaysian sticks made famous across Broad at Saté Kampar), D’Jakarta has number of other worthy dishes. Flavorful stir-fried egg noodles and pristine wonton soup perfumed with sesame oil. Fried chicken glazed in sticky sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce. The superbly tender beef rendang brings beef shanks that have slow-cooked for nearly six hours in coconut milk steeped with orange leaves, lots of lemongrass, bay leaves, shallots, and candlenuts. Served à la carte over a banana leaf for $13.95, it’s just one of many tremendous values at D’Jakarta Cafe giving its community a soulful taste of home and giving South Philly’s menu of international flavors yet another humble gem worth seeking.
— Craig LaBan
Chicken satay, $7.95, D’Jakarta Cafe, 1540 W. Ritner St., 215-463 8888; djakartacafephilly.com