Let's Eat: Smile and order lunch

You’ve seen touchscreens in restaurants. One eatery has gone a step further.

I’ll tell you about that, as well as tasty Indonesian food in South Philly, the flavors of Hawaii in Center City, and fast-casual Latin fare in Marlton. Craig LaBan offers suggestions on lamb dishes, begging the question: Will spring ever get here? Wool see.

If you need food news, click here[1] and follow me on Twitter[2] and Instagram[3]. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here[4]. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here[5] to get it every week.

Michael Klein[6]

That face looks familiar

Camera icon MICHEAL KLEIN / StaffFranco Chima orders on a computer at the Fuel location at 1225 Walnut St.

Last week, I told you about M2O[7], the Queen Village burger shop where you can order via touch screen. Further ramping up the tech game is the health-forward eatery Fuel[8], whose shops at 1225 Walnut St. in Center City and 3200 Chestnut St. in University City just got order kiosks with touch screens equipped with facial-recognition software. (Its East Passyunk location is not yet wired.) First-timers simply look into the webcam to set it up.

On the next visit, a glance at the screen brings up the customer’s “usual” — a particular salad, wrap, or smoothie built to the previous specs. Just confirm the order, swipe the credit card. Boom.

Done. There’s a certain Big Brother aspect to this. Kiosk engineer Nextep says that while its system requires users to allow the company to store facial geometry for up to three years, the images will not be disclosed, except “if compelled to do so by law enforcement.”

You may simply order via touch screen or by entering a phone number, if you’re not exactly Russian to go the camera route.

What we’re drinking

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / StaffBlack cherry caipirinha at Alma de Cuba.

Black Cherry Caipirinha at Alma de Cuba Of course, a Cuban restaurant can specialize in a caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil. Alma de Cuba (1623 Walnut St.) has had them on the menu since its opening in 2001, and the sweet-tart black cherry delivers a refreshing kick. Pair one (or two) with a ceviche, tacos, guacamole, or empanadas in the first-floor bar, as sultry as ever.

More traditional drinks? Cuba Libres and mojitos rock, as well. Happy hour is 4-7 p.m. weekdays.

Where we’re eating: Hardena, Poi Dog, Andale Latino Grill

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / StaffBeef rendang at Hardena.

Hardena[9], the Indonesian mainstay at Hicks and Moore Streets in South Philadelphia[10], happens to be that rare spot that satisfies vegans and carnivores, and at bargain prices.

The Widjojo sisters are carrying on for their semiretired mother, Ena, dishing out signature platters of beef rendang, chicken satay with peanut sauce, gado gado salad, and tempeh in a modest space that resembles a former luncheonette. You’ll have trouble spending more than 10 bucks a head. Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Small spicy tuna poke and a cup of hibiscus ice tea at Poi Dog.

Cuisine inspired by Hawaii[11] is the deal at Poi Dog[12], the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca’s food truck.

You can eat light at this counter-service drop-in at 100 1/2 S.

21st St. (just off Chestnut) perhaps a poke bowl or Spam musubi, or do a caloric splurge with a hearty “plate lunch” such as mochi nori fried chicken, served Island-style with two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad. Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Tilapia bowl at Andale.

Andale Latino Grill[13], which launched a couple of years ago in Feasterville[14], now has a New Jersey outlet, at The View at Marlton (1041 Route 73 North), with tasty bowls, burritos, arepas, tacos, and quesadillas, all ordered at the counter. Menu may be a bit too extensive for its own good; since everything is cooked to order, lunch lines can back up.

Your patience, however, is rewarded.

This week’s openings

Branzino | Rittenhouse Luan Toto’s swish Italian BYOB[15] is back at 261 S.

17th St., two years after a fire. Lumbrada Cocina Mexicana | Wayne

Tableside guac, tacos, quesadillas, tropical beverages you know the drill. It’s in Devon Square, near Whole Foods (821 W. Lancaster Ave.).

Honeygrow and Shake Shack | Marlton The Philly-bred stir-fry specialist and the New York-rooted burger shop are side by side at Marlton Commons (321 Route 70 West).

This week’s closings

Fair Food Farmstand | Reading Terminal Market This champion of the region’s locavore movement[16], a victim of its own success, is winding down its operation after 15 years.

Khmer Kitchen | South Philadelphia After about six years, it’s lights out at this Cambodian spot, which Craig LaBan two-belled in 2013[17]. Owner “Rick” Neth did not return messages seeking elaboration.

William Street Common | University City Avram Hornik has closed the indoor beer garden after three years, as he wants to focus on the rest of his empire, including Morgan’s Pier.

Craig LaBan answers your dining questions

Question: Around the spring holidays, I always get a craving for lamb. I still have fond memories of the rack of lamb at Deux Cheminees.

Any suggestions who is doing a great lamb dish, other than the obvious lamb shoulder at Zahav? Craig LaBan: There are so many good lamb dishes to be had in town, and with an especially international array of options. The Uzbek places of Northeast Philly (like Uzbekistan[18], Suzani[19], Shish-Kabab Palace[20], and Samarkand[21] in nearby Feasterville) showcase some of the best lamb cookery around, from charcoal-grilled skewers to fragrant plov, soups and dumplings.

The Cypriot-themed Kanella Grill is another can’t miss lamb destination, with aromatic ground kofte kebabs, the occasional braised lamb dish, and, I’m told, a charcoal-fired spit planned for this weekend’s celebration of Greek Easter. There are compelling Asian lamb traditions, too. Lamb loves the ma la spice of Sichuan peppercorns in the cumin lamb at Han Dynasty[22] (one dish that is pretty consistent at its various branches), but I’m especially fond of the spice-crusted Xi’an BBQ lamb skewers (and lamb-pita soup) at Xi’an Sizzling Woks[23] in Chinatown.

Some meaty Thai-style lamb chops with Massaman curry[24] left an impression in me at Chabaa Thai in Manayunk, where the coconut milk curry is mild but aromatic. In Cherry Hill, I love the Vietnamese-flavored chops of “Lambs on Fire” at Lemongrass[25], a charming little Vietnamese bistro on Route 38. For the straight-ahead Italian lamb chops, Caffe Aldo Lamberti[26] in Cherry Hill does an excellent Tuscan-style rendition.

Some perfectly medium-rare little chops, stacked with feta and gravy over fries, are the poutine-styled star of the lamb frites at Bar Volver[27] (where the lamb sliders there with harissa aioli are also hard to resist). If classic French chops are what you crave, it might be worth a special request to Pierre Calmels. His menus at Bibou[28] and Le Cheri[29] change regularly, but I still dream about the big lamb chop he once served me over a lamb-stuffed Pithiviers pastry.

Speaking of lamb and pastry combos, if you’re lucky, Sam Jacobson will make one of his crazy Bedfordshire Clangers at Stargazy[30], a pastry tube that starts with curried lamb sausage at one end, then morphs about two-thirds down into a sugar-dusted peach pie at the other. Jacobson often changes the meat and fruit fillings of that Clanger, which may sound bizarre. But the lamb version was totally delicious.

The Clanger this week will feature coffee-cardamom lamb sausage with minted pineapple at the sweet end. If there’s one Philly lamb dish other than the Zahav shoulder you must know, however, there is no denying the lamb barbacoa served at El Compadre[31] on Ninth Street each weekend. Whole lambs are cooked Mexican-style overnight then chopped down to order in the front window for tender tacos, alongside pancita sausage and a lamb-chickpea consomme that is simply a sublimely earthy feast.

One could not get farther from the fancy French version once served at posh Deux Cheminees, but I believe El Compadre’s barbacoa is such a powerfully soulful dish that the late, great Fritz Blank of Deux Cheminees certainly would have also been a fan.

Email Craig here[32], and join his chat at 2 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month at Philly.com/food[33].

More Coverage

  • Pizzeria Beddia’s last call (for now) is Saturday
    Mar 27 – 9:14 AM
  • Ardiente is ready to open in Old City – wait, what?
    Mar 7 – 1:37 AM
  • Yards brewery is better, not just bigger, with move and ambitious new taproom
    Mar 23 – 5:29 AM
  • Video: ‘It is the best pizza I’ve ever had and I’ve had some good pizzas’
    Mar 30 – 7:27 AM

Published: April 4, 2018 — 11:15 AM EDT


  1. ^ click here (philly.com)
  2. ^ on Twitter (twitter.com)
  3. ^ Instagram (instagram.com)
  4. ^ here (www.philly.com)
  5. ^ sign up here (www.philly.com)
  6. ^ Michael Klein (www.philly.com)
  7. ^ I told you about M2O (www.philly.com)
  8. ^ Fuel (fuelrechargeyourself.com)
  9. ^ Hardena (www.facebook.com)
  10. ^ the Indonesian mainstay at Hicks and Moore Streets in South Philadelphia (www.philly.com)
  11. ^ Cuisine inspired by Hawaii (www.philly.com)
  12. ^ Poi Dog (www.philly.com)
  13. ^ Andale Latino Grill (www.andalelatinogrill.com)
  14. ^ launched a couple of years ago in Feasterville (www.philly.com)
  15. ^ Luan Toto’s swish Italian BYOB (www.philly.com)
  16. ^ This champion of the region’s locavore movement (www.philly.com)
  17. ^ Craig LaBan two-belled in 2013 (www.philly.com)
  18. ^ Uzbekistan (www.philly.com)
  19. ^ Suzani (suzaniartcafe.com)
  20. ^ Shish-Kabab Palace (www.myshishkabobpalace.com)
  21. ^ Samarkand (restaurantsamarkand.com)
  22. ^ Han Dynasty (handynasty.net)
  23. ^ Xi’an Sizzling Woks (www.xiansizzlingwoksphilly.com)
  24. ^ Thai-style lamb chops with Massaman curry (www.philly.com)
  25. ^ Lemongrass (www.facebook.com)
  26. ^ Caffe Aldo Lamberti (www.caffelamberti.com)
  27. ^ Bar Volver (philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com)
  28. ^ Bibou (www.biboubyob.com)
  29. ^ Le Cheri (www.lecheriphilly.com)
  30. ^ crazy Bedfordshire Clangers at Stargazy (www.philly.com)
  31. ^ El Compadre (www.facebook.com)
  32. ^ here (www.philly.com)
  33. ^ Philly.com/food (philly.com)
  34. ^ comments powered by Disqus. (disqus.com)

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.