How to Eat, Drink, and Shop Your Way Around Philly’s Little Saigon
We tapped Chris and Thanh Nguyen of Gabriella’s Vietnam for a look at the best Vietnamese restaurants and businesses in the neighborhood.
Bordering Passyunk Square, the Italian Market, and Queen Village sits Little Saigon, a sliver of South Philadelphia stretching along Washington Avenue east of Broad Street that’s home to some of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants and markets.
In the mid-1970s, after the Fall of Saigon, Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County became a relocation processing center for Vietnamese refugees and many made the move to nearby Philadelphia. More recently, according to an analysis from Pew Charitable Trusts in 2016, Vietnam was the second most common country of origin among foreign-born immigrants in Philadelphia—and these immigrants largely concentrated in South Philadelphia.
In the 1990s, Vietnamese strip malls Hoa Binh Plaza and Wing Phat Plaza opened along Washington Avenue, sparking what would become Little Saigon. In the years following, New World Plaza and 1st Oriental Supermarket opened, with dozens of restaurants, bakeries, groceries, spas, jewelers, and other businesses populating the plazas. “You definitely get a sense of the Vietnamese and Chinese vibe just driving down Washington Avenue,” Chris and Thanh Nguyen, owners of Gabriella’s Vietnam, say. “The language is posted all over storefronts along the avenue.”
When they’re not in the kitchen at their newly opened restaurant on East Passyunk Avenue, the Nguyens often venture to Little Saigon to grab a bite to eat. So we sat down with the duo to learn about all of their favorite restaurants and dishes in Little Saigon for an expert’s guide to the neighborhood. Here are their picks:
There’s one thing on the menu at this laid-back spot: Pho. The neon sign beckons you in and ample seating means it’s best to bring an entire crew to feast on these bowls. “They’ve been in business since I can remember,” Chris and Thanh say. “They’re always quick and consistent. You always know what you’ll get and it never disappoints.” When pressed for time, the Nguyens hit up Pho 75 since the soup comes out of the kitchen in no time at all. Even better? A whole meal (plus some leftovers) will run you less then $10.
What to order: Beef pho
How to book: Tables are first-come-first serve or call 215-271-5866 for carryout
With an expansive menu that boasts bò bía (spring rolls) and bò lúc lắc (sauteed flank steak with fresh watercress), Nam Phuong has a dish for every diet, taste, and hunger level. The space is huge and although the restaurant can get crowded, seats are seemingly always available.
What to order: Ba Vị (Triple Delight). For groups of two-to-four, this sharing dish comes with shrimp on sugarcane, beef in grape leaves, and grilled meatballs meant to be wrapped in lettuce or rice paper. “The Ba Vị is a huge platter that’s meant to be shared,” Chris and Thanh say. “We don’t want anyone reading to order it for themselves.”
How to book: Tables are first-come-first serve, reservations are available online, or call 215-468-0410 for takeout and delivery
If not for the awning and the massive sign, you might mistake Cafe Diễm for another South Philly rowhome. Inside, the small, no-frills space is populated with a handful of tables and the bun bo hue (beef noodle soup) comes spicy, packed to the brim with meat, and ready to please.
What to order: Aside from the bun bo hue, Chris and Thanh recommend bánh cuốn (rice flour rolls). “These are delicately steamed rice rolls that come with minced pork, pork roll, fresh cut veggies, and the traditional fish sauce vinaigrette,” they say. “It’s light but it’ll fill you up—great for lunch or brunch if you’re not looking for something heavy that’ll weigh you down.”
How to book: Tables are first-come-first-serve
As the name implies, no one does chicken pho quite like Phở Gà Thanh Thanh. The chicken pho is available in small and large bowls, or “you can do what the pros do and get a plain bowl of pho with half chicken on the side or whole chicken on the side,” Chris and Thanh say. Soak your poached chicken in the broth but “the dipping sauce is where it’s at though—salt, pepper, and lime leaf dipping sauce takes it to another level,” the Nguyens say.
What to order: Chicken pho. “The type of chicken they use can be a little chewy if you get the breast,” Chris and Thanh say. “If you opt for a bowl of chicken pho, I’ve heard others at different tables request dark meat only.”
How to order: Tables are first-come-first serve or call 215-427-0483 for takeout
Banh mi is the name of the game at this snug deli and bakery. Choose from 20 sandwich varieties, ranging from lemongrass vegetarian pork to the Ba Le combination (crispy pork belly, pork ham, and pork bologna). They even offer party trays of 10 banh mi sandwiches, 15 summer rolls, 50 pork spring rolls, heaping platters of rice cakes stuffed with pork and mushroom and topped with pork, papaya salad, and more.
What to order: Ba Le Combination
How to order: Stop in or takeout and delivery online
A menu comprised of nothing but the hits—summer rolls, bun bo hue, hu tieu nam vang (noodle soup with pork, liver, heart, minced pork, and shrimp), and banh mi—and prices under $10, Cafe Thanh Truc is perfect for a delicious quick service meal.
What to order: Bun bo hue
How to book: Tables are first-come-first serve or order takeout and delivery online
Although this local grocery chain’s original location is in Chinatown, its Little Saigon location boasts a wide variety of products, from freshly sliced beef tongue to frozen rice cakes. With aisles and aisles of Asian delicacies to peruse, you might need an afternoon to properly make it through.
What to order: Fresh seafood
How to order: Visit the market or order takeout and delivery online