On the Road: Philly’s Chinatown

By on March 22, 2017
Philly's skyline at night. (Photo by Mel Upton)

Philly’s skyline at night. (Photo by Mel Upton)

Food desert: noun. An urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.

Beer desert: noun. An urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh beer.

Okay, so I made the second definition up, but beer connoisseurs all around the world have experienced a beer desert. If not, imagine you’re travelling and have to stay in an unfamiliar city. “Where can I get a good beer,” might be one of your first questions after checking into that swanky/seedy hotel. Cringe when the answer is “not around here.”

The first beer desert I experienced was Nashville, Tenn. Sure, there are several breweries in the land of the Grand Ole Opry, but nothing like we are used to here in the northeast. (Most Nashville Breweries do not have tasting rooms or affiliated restaurants and simply distribute suds to city eateries.) We tend to have entire sections of cities &tstr; or in our case, counties &tstr; with thriving beer scenes.

Which leads me to Chinatown, Philadelphia, an area notorious for a lack of libations, which over time has become reliant on the BYOB rule. With a visit planned to the area, I reached out to Matt Falco at Philly Beer Scene to see if there was any hope of spotting some good beer amongst the neon noodle spots. My pickings would be slim.

Chinatown Tiger beer (Photo by Michael Upton)

Chinatown Tiger beer (Photo by Michael Upton)

Falco pointed me to a new endeavor on the 1000 block of Race Street known as Chinatown Square. This 24-hour food hall features a handful of restaurants, a karaoke bar, and The Johnnie Walker Lounge. I took a seat and a menu at Hi Kori, which offers kushiyaki (skewered nosh), craft cocktails (many tea infused), and a small selection of Asian brews. It was early and there wasn’t much going on, so after a snack we headed to Penang Restaurant &tstr; a Chinatown staple &tstr; for an entrée; here I found Tiger beer.

Tiger “Original” is your standard Asian lager reminiscent of Kirin, Sapporo, or Asahi, which can be found at many Asian restaurants in our area. Having not seen Tiger before I wanted to do a little research. This Heineken brand sports two other brews: Tiger Crystal, described as crisp and ice filtered (whatever that is); and Tiger White, an Asian wheat beer professing notes of clove, coriander, and orange peel &tstr; I’m thinking Blue Moon.

No food desert, Philly’s Chinatown has its ducks (and chickens and ribs) in a row. (Photo by Mel Upton)

No food desert, Philly’s Chinatown has its ducks (and chickens and ribs) in a row. (Photo by Mel Upton)

A few blocks away from the heart of Chinatown is Reading Terminal Market. This is the first farmer’s market I ever discovered housing a bar. Molly Malloy’s now boasts 35 taps and a lot has changed since I’d been here last. They have a full selection of unique brews to offer-including Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery’s (Cherry Hill, NJ) Morro Castle American smoked porter, Stone & Key’s (Montgomeryville, Pa.) Cherry Pie Cider, and Stbenjamin Brewing’s (Philly) Junto Coffee Kolsch-alongside the Miller and Budweiser offerings I expected.

There are not a lot of hoppy choices in Philly’s Chinatown, but it’s no beer desert either. Cheers and thanks for reading!

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

Michael C. Upton grabs a snack to go on his way out of Chinatown. (Photo by Mel Upton)

Michael C. Upton grabs a snack to go on his way out of Chinatown. (Photo by Mel Upton)

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