Traditional Asian cuisine is right here in Philly

If you are craving unusual Asian food, Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai is for you. For casual Japanese dining, you can’t go wrong with Hikaru. Bridget Maxwell Rebecca L. Henshell Have a craving for duck

If you are craving unusual Asian food, Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai is for you.

For casual Japanese dining, you can’t go wrong with Hikaru.
Bridget Maxwell

Rebecca L. Henshell

Have a craving for duck leg noodle soup? Or perhaps you would fancy some pan-fried frog in garlic butter? Well, at Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai Restaurant on 907 Race St., you can have both while spending no more than $20. Pho Xe Lua may look like the typical eatery, but will quench your most unusual longings with its wide array of exotic drinks, appetizers, soups, rice dishes, combination platters and chef’s specials. But fear not picky eaters – there is something on this menu for everyone.

This cozy two-story restaurant displays pink, green and beige colors in its paintings and pictures on the wall, making the restaurant reminiscent of a diner or a café. A waitress sat customers almost immediately at one of the 10 tables situated on the first floor.

There is also a bar at the front entrance, which carries a wide selection of drinks – the first indication this place differs dramatically from the average and cheap Chinese cuisine. Alcoholic beverages ranged from piña coladas to amaretto sours, each served with a diced orange and a cherry, while non-alcoholic drinks included a variety of milkshakes and juices. The fresh coconut drink (Dua Tuoi- $1.75), which is served in a tall glass of iced sugar water with fresh coconut, is an especially good choice. It was refreshingly cool with just the right amount of sweetness. The fresh coconut is a plus and adds an authentic feel to your dining experience.

For an appetizer, three spring rolls (Cha Gio $4.50) are a classic and satisfying pick. These stuffed rolls were served with lettuce, cucumbers, shredded carrots and onions, and served with a side of tangy and tasty dipping sauce. As an alternative, the steamed rice flour rolls with Vietnamese sausage ($4.50) was a more interesting dish. The thin sheets of flour were wrapped around delicious sausage bites, which were served over a bed of lettuce, ham and mint leaves. These were just a few of the many sumptuous starters at reasonable prices. Be sure to try the tempting steamed mussels, served with a spicy dipping sauce or the papaya salad with beef jerky.

For an entrée, you can’t go wrong with the stir-fried chicken with lemon grass and hot pepper (Ga Xao Xa Ot $7.95). The colorful dish included all-white meat chicken covered in a light brown sauce, white rice, a hearty portion of red and green peppers, onions and lemon grass. The chicken had a teriyaki and ginger flavor to it that reminded me of a lighter and healthier version of the Chinese General Tao’s chicken – something else not frequently experienced at reasonable Chinese restaurants. Hu Tieu My Tho Kho (#120 on the menu – $4.95) was also a good option, which offered a large bowl of shrimp, noodles, squid and tofu, and was served with a side of soup that possesses a chicken flavor with a touch of mint.

Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai Restaurant offered a generous menu, from simple rice and soup dishes to larger combination platters at a convenient and comfortable location. There were the typical spring rolls and beef soups to the more exotic shelled snails poured over coconut sauce and sprinkled with basil (toothpicks are provided to get the inch-long slithers out). Prices ranged from $1.50 to $18.95, so there is something for everyone’s budget, and do not forget about the wide-array of beverages. Avocado milkshake, anyone?

Bridget Maxwell can be reached at

With the growing popularity of raw and cooked sushi, Hikaru is the ultimate stop to make after a long day of gallivanting throughout the city. The restaurant has modern Asian flair, from the light wood accents to the deep maroon draping. The tatami rooms, (rooms with traditional Japanese design) add a fun and functional element with plush pillows and cut-out holes in the floor so your legs can dangle comfortably. There is also plenty of table seating and even a bar so you can watch your sushi creations being made.

Hikaru’s culinary masterpieces are creative and delectable. Start off with a salad with ginger dressing, or for the more adventurous, a seaweed salad. Cooked teriyaki chicken, beef or shrimp also make for a great first course.

If you are ready to dive into sushi, the choices are endless. From its house rolls to the popular California roll, all selections are extremely fresh and prepared quickly. A good idea is to try a mix of single fish pieces to get an idea of the restaurant’s selection. The featured rolls can be a bit pricey.

Don’t forget dessert. Fried bananas with honey and vanilla ice cream creates a break from the saltiness of soy sauce. Green tea and sake also make for a great final touch to the entire dining experience.

The setting is casual, so don’t worry about dressing up. It’s certainly a good place to stop by with all of your purchases for a late lunch. If it’s dinner time, reservations are a must. Entrée prices range from $12 to $20, but it’s very easy to spend sparingly on a light sushi snack.

Hikaru has two faults: It does not have a Hibachi table and the sushi rolls could be more exciting. But don’t let this element let you stray away. The servers are helpful and the place is spotless. Make your way down to Hikaru for elegant dining without the fuss.

Rebecca L. Henshell can be reached at

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