Is there such a thing as “the best meal ever?” I can go through a long list of my favorite meals–scrumptious comfort foods that, despite visiting over, and over, and over again, never really get old. They fill you with warm, fuzzy coziness, and in that moment, you know that you are utterly and thoroughly satiated. Yet this past weekend, I happened upon a meal that is quite literally “the best meal I have ever had.” Better than my mother’s grilled cheese with hot sauce, better than my brother’s oven-broiled stromboli, better than my dad’s spicy sausage stir fry, better than my grandmother’s addicting pasta sauce, better than anything I have ever consumed. At the end of the meal, the only thought my brain could conjure up was “when can I experience this again?”
As an avid fan of Southeast Asian and Far East Asian fare, I am constantly on the hunt for the best pho, the yummiest dumplings, and the most mouthwatering mi fun around. Living in Boston (specifically, Allston), I am surrounded by every type of Asian cuisine one can imagine–so much so that I am overwhelmed with the choices, and always fall back on the same two Thai and Japanese restaurants. This past weekend in Philadelphia, however, I happened upon Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House. As the weather has gotten chillier, the leaves crunchier, and the wind crisper, my palate has made the switch from cool summer salads, avocado, and refreshing sushi rolls to warm, tantalizing, and steaming bowls of pho.
As dramatic as this may sound, Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House has officially become a culinary landmark for me. Henceforth, my visits to the City of Brotherly Love won’t just be filled with excitement over spending time with my amazing boyfriend. They’ll be filled with anticipation of dining at the Noodle House again. I happened upon this place when I typed in “Pho” into Yelp and went down the list of restaurants in Chinatown (a 2-minute walk from Evan’s loft). While several restaurants popped up with 4-5 star reviews, the Noodle House had review after raving review about the amazing food, and with only one “$” on Yelp, we all figured we couldn’t go wrong.
Let me tell you, this place is far from the usual affordable, “hole in the wall,” places in Chinatown. Upon entering, I found the decor to be very modern, clean, and simple, while the space was enormous. The front room, alone, makes for a good sized restaurant, able to fit 50 or so patrons, but as I peeked into the back room, I realized that this place can probably fit over 100 people. Apparently, they made the move from a smaller, previous location.
The service was incredibly quick, which usually has me feeling a bit skeptical as to how fresh the food really is, but this place blew my mind, and the staff was incredibly friendly, too! You could tell that they have a regular clientele because they kept making the rounds and chatting with the patrons. As for the food, first things first, not only were their noodles hand drawn, their dumplings were also homemade and fresh–something that is incredibly rare at a lot of Asian restaurants. I have been a dumpling aficionado from a very young age, as my grandmother often spoiled me with her sweet and spicy chicken dumplings. This, in turn, has turned me into a huge dumpling snob. But sitting around, waiting for our food to show up, we saw every patron enjoying tins of fresh, steamed dumplings, and by the time ours arrived, we were about ready to dive in.
On first bite, the dumplings immediately had that soft, doughy outer texture, but the inside is what makes these the best dumplings in the world. Not only was the chicken filling perfectly seasoned with coconut and ginger, it was also filled with broth, which made every bite juicy and succulent. In almost all of my prior experiences with dumplings, momos, gyoza, and shumai (aside from my grandmother’s, of course), my biggest complaint has been the dryness on the inside, or the lack of seasoning in the filling. My expectations were far surpassed. The serving was large (8 medium-sized dumplings per tin), and honestly, it was incredibly filling to share a tin, each, between two people, especially with the rest of the food we ordered.
We also ordered cream cheese puffs, similar to crab rangoons. There were four per plate, and again, exceedingly flavorful cheese filling. As someone who has zero tolerance for anything deep-fried, I expected to hate these, and, well–let’s just say I’ll be getting these for years to come. The “puff pastry” part of it didn’t have a single drop of grease or oil on it–you wouldn’t think these are fried, and when I broke one in half with my hands, the puff pastry came apart without leaving any crumbs, while the cheese on the inside melted in my mouth. It definitely packed a strong chive flavor, which I enjoyed very much.
On to the main dishes–the stewed chicken pho with hand drawn noodles had a killer broth to it. If you ask my friends, they will tell you that I am a soup addict, so it’s definitely hard to impress me with soups, but this one takes the title as the best pho ever. I found it a little less spicy than I had hoped, but a bit of chili oil did the trick. As for the kung pao chicken–the vegetables were fresh and well stir-fried, and the flavor also packed a punch. With our meals, we got a few Thai Iced Teas, which were sweet and creamy, and incredibly fattening, but oh so good. I think they make for a good dessert.
All in all, a legendary culinary experience. On the Namnom Heat Scale, this place is a 5, without a doubt.
P.S. It’s BYOB.
P.P.S. Don’t dress up as much as I did. It’s a very casual atmosphere.
Toodles for now, dolls! In the meantime, stay warm, drink soup, and snuggle up with your lovies!