photo credit: EMILY SCHINDLER
There are two types of neighborhood restaurants. The first kind includes places that no one else besides the people who live within a two-block radius know about. It’s small, it’s cozy, and, most importantly, it feels like its your little secret. If anyone else were to bring it up in a casual conversation, you’d probably feel the same pang of jealousy that you feel when you go over to your friend’s apartment and they have a wall hanging from an Etsy shop you thought only you knew about.
Then there’s the second kind. The kind of neighborhood spot that everyone knows about and people who live nearby eat at more than once a week. This is the type of place where you don’t need to dress up at all, but you usually do anyway because you’ll see at least three people you know as soon as you walk in the door. It’s somewhere that becomes a sort of unofficial clubhouse for the neighborhood, and you’re happy to tell the world about it because people think you’re cooler for living near it.
Cheu Fishtown falls in the second category.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
As soon as it opened in 2017, pretty much everyone who lived within Philadelphia’s city limits showed up. It was loud and a bit disorganized, but it was fun. That’s partially because it just looked like fun. It’s located in an old police horse stable that’s been gutted and plastered with wacky, mismatched wallpaper and stickers, and even the bathroom is a piece of art. There’s a long bar at the front that looks into the open kitchen, and above it is what looks like a movie theater marquee announcing what’s on draft.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
But you’re not just here to pretend you’re at a movie theater with really nice bathrooms, you’re here for the food. Much like at Cheu Old City and their sister restaurant, Bing Bing, they serve a mix of buns, dumplings, snacks, and noodles, but here the menu is much longer and includes more inventive options, like brisket ramen with a big matzo ball in the middle of it. It’s a lot of food and most of it is somewhat heavy, but if you fill up on small dishes and can’t make it through your miso cod fried rice, we can report that it tastes just as good for lunch the next day.
Since opening, the hype has died down, and Cheu Fishtown has settled into being the perfect neighborhood gathering spot for everything from a casual dinner with a friend to a solo ramen bowl at the bar. You might still have to wait a few minutes for a table, but you can order a drink with the host in the meantime and he’ll bring it to wherever you happen to be hanging out—unless it’s down the street in your apartment because you saw an ex at the bar. Then you’re out of luck.
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Since rangoon options here change more than the couch scene in the Simpsons’ opening credits. But if you have a chance to get some of these zaatar sprinkled pouches, go for it.
This is the ramen you should get here. The pork is sweet, which we weren’t prepared for, but it works really well with the broth and noodles.
This bowl of ramen is the main reason why people come to Cheu. The noodles, thick cuts of tender beef, tennis-ball sized matzo ball, and kimchi, all swim in red chili broth. It has a good flavor, but the dish doesn’t really stand out from any other ramen in the city. Ask for some sriracha if you go for it, since the red chili doesn't bring too much spice.
Black Garlic Wings
These are the best wings you can get in Philly, and they’re something we grab everytime we come here. Crisp enough that they don’t go soggy when smothered in a syrupy garlic soy sauce, these wings are the perfect blend of tanginess and sweetness. Plus they’re coated with sesame and scallions, which gives them a nice oniony kick.
Beet and Avocado Salad
Like the rangoons, the salads are always changing, and there’s usually only one of them on the menu. This one is pretty well done, though, and comes with huge cubes of beets and avocado and gets tossed in a ginger miso dressing. The salad gets some crunciness from the bits of apple sprinkled on top, and it's something to go for when you want something colorful and different from the rotation of noodles and sushi.
Cheu has whiskey highballs on the cocktail menu, and for an extra $3, you can get a liquor boost and take out the ice. When the night doesn’t call for whiskey, they have a pretty lengthy cocktail, wine, and draft beer list (including some Japanese lagers)—not to mention some hot teas like chun mee green to sip on when it’s cold out.