Have it your way, as Burger King used to say. Now it seems that every cuisine has customization. Center City's Yong Chi is out with a new incarnation of his Korean restaurant Giwa that offers build-your-own bibimbap in a snap. Also this week, I found a hand-drawn noodle shop on a Chinatown corner, a new fast-casual vegan eatery with a sterling pedigree, and Venezuelan cooking served from breakfast through dinner in Ardmore. (And watch out for Ardmore, folks. Big things on the horizon, including a French restaurant called The Bercy that's coming to the old Primavera Pizza Kitchen.) Bar-wise this week, I get a kick out of the ginger-lime drink called the mule, especially the one served at Martha. I have some dining notes, and critic Craig LaBan opines on his favorite water ice. If food news has special meaning to you — and there is no shame in that — click here and follow me here and also here. Email me tips, suggestions, etc. here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here and you'll get it every week. Be sure to check your spam filter if you don't receive that all-important confirmation email.
Entrepreneur Yong Chi has long been tinkering with the build-your-own Korean bowl, first at his Rice & Mix in Washington Square West. He now has it down and streamlined for the masses at his other restaurant, Giwa, which he moved a block away near Rittenhouse Square. The reconfigured Giwa Kitchen opens Wednesday, Aug. 9, serving lunch through dinner in a mod, spacious storefront at 1722 Sansom St. (267-758-2112). It's a former crepe shop a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square. Menu focuses on customizable bibimbap, the signature rice and vegetable dish, available as dolsot (sizzling stone bowl) or classic, in a cold bowl, and served with banchan. Korean BBQ, Korean tacos, and soon du bu (the soft tofu soup) are available, as well. Order at the counter or sit upstairs or at street level.
Martha mule at Martha
Mules have been in the news this week because some study determined that the effervescent summertime drink's traditional copper mug may be harmful. Patrons of the Kensington bar Martha (2113 E. York St.) have no worries. This mule is served in a glass. (Barman Jon Medlinsky is stubborn that way.) Martha's mule is made from local vodka, lime, and scraps of ginger and jalepeño from the kitchen. It's served on tap.
Chinatown's best deals may be at the hand-pulled noodle shops. A new one popped up last month outside the Chinatown Friendship Gate at 10th and Arch Streets with the hyperbolic name Authentic LanZhou Hand-Pulled Noodles (935 Arch St., 215-982-1997) and specializing in soup. It's nothing fancy, and the six-top tables are great for groups. Choose thin, pulled noodles or thicker, shaved noodles, add your protein, and go. Bolder palates may groove on ox stomach and other offal offerings, while roast pork was just fine for me, thanks — a generous portion of sweet pork, bok choy, and chopped cilantro in a richly seasoned broth. All told, a belly-filling steal at $7.25. Menu also has more traditional Chinatown dishes. It's open from early morning (with a breakfast menu) through late night (but not super-late or even souper late).
Wiz Kid, the fast-casual side of the Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby's plant-based empire (Vedge, V Street), just rolled out next door to V Street at 124 S. 19th St., just north of Rittenhouse Square. Wildly bold, graffitoed interior, limited seating. Specialties are sandwiches, including a vegan approach to a South Philly roast pork, and salads, including a Cobb. Cool feature: Booze — two beers from Neshaminy Creek, two wines, and gin or whiskey. The spirits, however, are not offered straight up or on the rocks; use 'em to spike watermelon lemonade and julep tea for $5 more. It's open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Ardmore now has Pala'a, a Venezuelan seafood specialist, on the main drag (18 W. Lancaster Ave., 484-413-2392). It's serving breakfast through dinner (9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.) Tuesday to Sunday in a beachy atmosphere with counter service and plenty of smiles.
Chez Novak's | Brewerytown
Well-traveled chef Mark Solomon Evans has set up a quirky, French-inspired BYOB in a 20-seat storefront at 2829 W. Girard Ave., sharing a block with Pizza Dads, Spot Burgers, the Monkey & the Elephant, and Rybrew. Kitschy '60s decor appears straight out of Austin Powers (or an Ikea catalog), and the menu appears underpriced. Want quirky? Evans serves instant coffee, as he'd rather you get java at Monkey & the Elephant. Days of operation are listed as Wednesday-Saturday, but it's open erratically now; call 201-844-2211 for a res.
Eulogy | Old City
The Belgian tavern on Chestnut Street near Second is closed for about a week for renovations, says owner Mike Naessens, declining specificity.
Percy Street BBQ | South Street/South Philly
Owners are renovating this barbecue restaurant on South Street just off Ninth. No timetable has been issued for relaunch.
Sarcone's Deli | Italian Market/South Philly
After a shutdown over unpaid city taxes, owner Anthony Bucci, who's had heart problems, shut down this Ninth Street hoagie shop.
A really last-minute deal: Verts, the Mediterranean quick-serve at 1601 Market St., will give away 50 lunches, coffee, and hummus samples on Wednesday, Aug. 9, through 6 p.m. It's part of a promotion involving WeWork.
Media personality Reuben "Big Rube" Harley fries a mean batch of chicken, popping up hither and yon. Sunday, Aug. 13, he'll pop at Bok Bar, on the roof of the old Bok Vo Tech, serving chicken and waffles for brunch from noon-8 p.m.
At 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, Northeast Philly landmark The Dining Car stops its 24-hour operation after 57 years. New hours will be 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Manatawny Still Works' tasting room/bottle shop is now open Wednesdays-Sundays at 1603 E. Passyunk Ave., just across from the Singing Fountain.
You've read this far. How about another giveaway? Tell me your favorite unsung restaurant in the Philadelphia area (city and Pennsy/New Jersey burbs) and why you like it so much. Fancy or not. I'll treat one reader to lunch. Email me here. Last week, reader Tom Hoff entered our li'l sweepstakes and scored a free pass to next week's Diner en Blanc. Also, reader Lewis Silver correctly answered my recent trivia question about a long-ago restaurant occupant of 555 City Ave. (Charlie's Place — and yes, we're dating ourselves). I treated for lunch at Paladar Latin Kitchen at King of Prussia Town Center. The guac rocks.
Reader: It's still summer, so I need to know — what's your favorite place for water ice?
Craig LaBan: All the buzz this season may well be about Thai rolled ice cream — the frozen fad of the moment — but Philly will always be a "wooder ice" town at heart. Of course, it's yet another century-old legacy of the city's venerable Italian tradition. And, of course, the corporate rendition from mega-chain Rita's saturates the market. But I find their ices too intensely sweet and artificial-tasting. For a more genuine flavor, try the old-school lemon ice (filled with bits of rind) at Lucio Mancuso & Son (1902 E. Passyunk Ave.), where he also makes an excellent chocolate-flavored ice. The natural flavors at John's Water Ice (701 Christian St.) are also a regular stop for me — I love the cantaloupe special. Closer to the stadiums, my other preferred stop is Pop's Homemade Italian Ice (1337 W. Oregon Ave.), where the Italiano family has been serving natural juice-flavored ices since the original "Pop," Filippo Italiano, set up a pushcart in Marconi Plaza during the Great Depression. Try the mango (my current favorite), peach, black cherry, or patriotic "gelati" (blueberry and cherry ices with vanilla custard) that the current "Pop," Philip Italiano, created in honor of the Democratic National Convention. One place I still need to visit before the end of the season that I've heard consistently great things about is Siddiq's Water Ice in West Philly (264 S. 60th St.), where Siddiq Moore opened a storefront connected to the food cart Temple students have been familiar with for two decades. Siddiq's is known for vivid ices steeped from natural fruits for flavors like strawberry daiquiri and mango-berry, but also Moore's social activism with local youth: "This is bigger than water ice," he told me. "It's about making a difference."