Today I have another travelogue for you. This time it is of several Russian markets and Uzbek restaurants of Northeastern Philadelphia.
NE Philly, particularly the neighborhoods of Bustleton and Somerton, is home to a huge population of fairly recently arrived immigrants from Russia and its neighboring countries. That influx (and that money) has ensured proliferation of some very unique food culture. This means outstanding markets (generally far better in than most US mainstream groceries), and some very notable restaurants. After a return to that area today, I provide a few examples below of what I see as highlights, especially from Uzbek and Georgian food traditions.
The Northeast is pretty far from Center City (or pretty much anywhere else in Philadelphia). Driving is best way to get up there. City buses or biking will take some time, likely more than an hour, and the markets and restaurants are spread out a bit. Just FYI, I updated my map with the markets I visited today.
I started on Bustleton Ave, just near the city’s boundary. Here are some images traveling south from there by bicycle:
Having studied Turkic languages in college, and Uzbek as a specialty, I was initially shocked to find so many Uzbek restaurants in NE Philly. I now understand “Uzbek” as a sort of comfort food to many Russians (especially plov and shashlik), perhaps something like how [American] Chinese food is to most Americans. Still, even though the food is filtered through the Russian palate, the Uzbek cuisine up in the Northeast is good and definitely worth the trip.
Uzbekistan, formerly Chaikhana Uzbekistan (“Uzbekistan Teahouse”). This restaurant is a crowd-pleaser. Fairly large menu, BYOB, reasonable service, and accommodates large groups. Kind of a party house, like I envision Samarkand Restaurant (see bottom of post), just north across the city line, to be.
Not far from Uzbekistan is NetCost Market (11701 Bustleton).
NetCost Market is one of three large Russia/East Europe/Europe-focused markets on Bustleton Ave. It is spacious, and well-stocked, with specialty counters for bakery, charcuterie, cheese, smoked fish, pickles and salads. I was on the lookout for unique items from Russian and Russian-influenced Asia, and picked up the following:
Here are a few more observations from the NetCost Market:
A few blocks down from NetCost is the slightly smaller (and more mom-pop feeling) Petrovsky Market (9808 Bustleton). This is actually pretty well stocked, and I rate it as one of the three big markets on Bustleton. It has a great bread room, with huge loaves of crusty breads, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Jersey (Efes Market).
Further south we reach Grant Avenue. This is where you can find the great Shish-Kebob Palace (1683 Grant Ave). This is slightly more humble than restaurant Uzbekistan, but I would highly recommend it:
The restaurant seems to have Bukharan Jewish origin, and specialty Bukhara items can be found on the menu, like bahsh (бахш), a rice pilaf that is similar in oily heaviness to other Central Asian pilafs (like my Uyghur polo for example), but cooked with chopped cilantro and veal:
I also had a small portion of their lagman. It was pretty good, though too soupy for my Uyghur-influenced food tastes (see here for Uyghur laghman).
Just another block down from Grant Ave is Welsh Rd, where you can find the great Suzani Art Cafe (1916 Welsh Rd):
This, being a second meal, needed to be more of a snack. I will be back though, as the restaurant seemed quite good. AND, they even had a wait-person who spoke Uzbek!
The samsa here were delicious. They were baked into a very flaky pastry (about as flaky as filo dough), and they must have used lamb fat. Even the pumpkin tasted like lamb (in a good way). Really brought me back to great culinary memories of Xinjiang.
One more market to go… the great Bell’s Market (8330 Bustleton):
This is the third great Russian/East European/European market on Bustleton. This market has a huge bakery section, and it seems to have more Georgian (the country!) items overall.
Here are some tasty things I found here:
I hope you pay a visit to some of these places. There is quite a lot to see. To recap on the Uzbek-themed eateries:
Uzbekistan (12012 Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19116)
Tashkent (842 Red Lion Rd Ste 3, Philadelphia, PA 19115) (not confirmed whether it is still operating)
Shish-Kabob Palace (1683 Grant Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19115)
Suzani Art Cafe (1916 Welsh Rd, Philadelphia, PA)
(and, just across the county line:) Samarkand Restaurant (1135 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville, PA 19053)