Anyone can dine in Chinatown, but it takes a brave palate to sample the neighborhood’s spicier fare. Several recently opened restaurants in that area highlight the hot stuff.
There are bold beef Taiwanese scallion pancakes and the zesty Sichuan panned chicken to contend with at ShangHai 1 (123 N. 10th St.), which opened in January.
At the mod Hippot Shabu Shabu bar and restaurant (1002 Arch St.), you’ll make your own spice decisions as diners cook steaming hot pots of boiling broth and accompanying raw meats, vegetable garnishes, various noodles (like udon and ramen) and a wide array of seafood (shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster, scallops) at their table.
Start with the five-alarm “hot & spicy” soup, a sumptuous but tongue-stinging broth that you can cool to your taste (and split with another broth option, such as pork bone soup). Plus, there is the Hippot Sauce Bar where risky eaters can add their own levels of tang, heat and spice to any offering, including wasabi, lao gamma chili, sriracha, sesame oil and more.
Then there is Bonchon (1020 Cherry St.), the newly arrived Philadelphia link in the Manhattan-based chain. Sure, you can grab a cocktail and dine on tender bulgogi sliders — marinated rib eye burgers — at the bar. You can enjoy the tall, tasty salmon avocado all of shredded crab, diced cucumber and tobiko wrapped in seared fresh salmon with unagi sauce and spicy mayo. Or you can play the favorite and eat what Bonchon is renowned for: over-sized Korean chicken drumsticks, wings and tenders, with or without its famed spicy sauce.
The Philadelphia Bonchon braintrust fashioned their Chinatown location into a hangout — a vibe that will increase now that they announced serving drinks and food (chicken and fries only) until 2 a.m., with take out until 11 p.m.
Like the Colonel’s secret recipe at KFC, Bonchon’s sauce is a mystery, hidden from even its owners.
“They just ship that sauce to us from Korea,” says David Taing, a Bonchon Philly co-owner who also holds they keys to the Tango karaoke bar in Chinatown.
What makes the sauce such a spicy standout is that the chicken is un-marinated, so that all of its full-bodied flavoring comes from its crispy, saucy breading. Another bonus is that Bonchon’s sauce comes in hot, soy garlic and half & half and can be made-to-order for greater or lesser heat.