The early 2000s were a weird time. Upgrading your phone meant standing in line to get the new Motorola RAZR, and you had to ask a stranger to take your photo in front of the LOVE statue with a bulky digital camera. While most of the things we loved back then have since been put behind glass in museums, some are still roaming the planet alive and well, but mostly forgotten - like Livestrong bracelets and the song “Over And Over Again” by Nelly and Tim McGraw.
Pod is another relic from the early 2000s that we sometimes forget about, but it’s still very much open and serving food on a daily basis. And while you don’t need to go out of your way for a meal here, it’s still kind of a fun place to end up if you spend time around University City.
Attached to The Inn At Penn next to campus, Pod is a futuristic restaurant that serves a mix of mostly Japanese and Chinese dishes, and we’ve heard it described as a “Sushi Spaceship” and “The inspiration for Disney Channel’s Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, probably.” At this point, it’s become a Philly legend, evolving from one of the trendiest spots in the entire city when it first opened, to a time capsule of sorts that few people outside of University City think about regularly.
Walking into Pod almost feels like you’re stepping onto the set of a low-budget sitcom set in a “futuristic” space station, complete with a fog machine burning dry ice somewhere nearby. It’s entirely painted white and accented with neon lights everywhere. The bar constantly glows orange, the walls have colorful circles projected on them from the ceiling, and there are booths (or pods) that you can control the lighting of inside.
The food at Pod includes everything from sushi and dim sum to pad thai, and it’s almost as much of a time capsule as the space itself. There are a lot of aiolis and sticky sweet teriyaki-ish sauces, and cheesesteak bao buns are still something you’ll see on every other table. In other words, the flavors aren’t in the least bit subtle. There’s a section of specialty nigiri where the first thing you’ll find listed is a piece of toro topped with tomato jam and parmesan that’s not bad, per se, but it’s also not something we’d go out of our way to eat again. The rest of the menu is more of the same - over-the-top food that might make you feel like you’re watching an old infomercial with the ingredients of the dishes panning over the screen in a never-ending list.
While we can’t recommend you go to Pod for a particularly great meal, we still kind of weirdly like it - even if it’s just as a back-pocket option for grabbing dinner with a few friends after class. Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s because we think there’s a chance that 2001-era Justin Timberlake will walk in complete with his frosted tips, but we’re not ready to let go yet.
Raw tuna topped with tomato jam and parmesan cheese is just a weird combination. It’s a little heavy-handed, and while we don’t actively hate it, it’s not something you need to order when you’re here.
Shrimp Pad Thai
This is one of our favorite large format dishes here. If you live in the area, it’s worth stopping by and picking up an order of this to-go when you’re hurting after a long weekend.
Robata Grilled Street Corn
There could be less mayo on these corn-on-the-cob skewers, but otherwise this is a solid starter.
Robata Pork Belly
This is another thing on the menu that’s just a little bit too much. The pork belly is glazed with a sticky-sweet teriyaki sauce, served over mustard, and comes with a side of cherry compote, and it’s about as subtle as the Kool-Aid Man blasting through the wall of a dive bar. You don’t need this, skip it.
Pork Belly Steamed Buns
Definitely heavy on the hoisin sauce, but otherwise a solid dish to share with a friend while you reminisce about the perils of T9 texting.
This might be the tackiest dish here, but it’s apparently still one of the most popular things on the menu. Get it if you really need to eat a cheesesteak in a bao bun. Otherwise, feel free to pass.
Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice
It’s exactly what the name suggests and tastes exactly as you would imagine spicy tuna on crispy rice would taste. Regardless, it’s a decent shareable appetizer.
Spanish Rock Octopus
The octopus is served with chunks of potato and topped with way too much aioli. The whole thing kind of tastes like french fries with mayo, so it’s one you can definitely skip.