Everyone has their favorite local restaurants, but sometimes a good meal requires that you get the hell out of Dodge. Today my friend Katie and I did just that, heading to Philly in search of Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, the best pizza joint in town.
Nan Zhou’s atmosphere leaves much to be desired—it’s dingy and lit with fluorescent lights. But honestly? Your face will be buried in a bowl the whole time you’re there, so why should they waste their money on decorations? Since Katie and I read the Yelp reviews, we knew we had to split the beef tendon appetizer. Thirty seconds after we ordered, our server presented us with a plate piled high with cold, razor-thin tendon atop a bed of julienned, pickled vegetables.
Now, I had never eaten the tendon of any animal before today, and I didn’t know what to expect. My initial reaction was that this stuff looked like something that would, texturally speaking, offend my delicate American sensibilities. I mean, the word gelatinous came to mind—it was translucent! But I hadn’t come all this way just to turn back, so I scooped some up as best I could with my mediocre chopstick skills and shoved it in my mouth. Nothin’ gelatinous here. The texture of the tendon was actually firm, reminding me of razored beef jerky. Flavored with chili, this stuff had a definite kick, but the spiciness was rounded out with sesame oil. Definitely a full-bodied taste, but not overwhelming.
For my main course, I chose the oxtail soup with hand pulled noodles and a fried egg on top. (For an extra 50 cents, how can you say no to a fried egg?)
In what had to be less than four minutes, I was presented with a giant, steaming bowl of noodle soup. When I say steaming, I mean this stuff was molten. It was really hard to eat because my glasses wouldn’t stop fogging up. Luckily I’m a tough broad and I forged on anyway. Although the bowl looked pretty brothy, it was loaded with the fresh, hand-drawn noodles, which were worth burning my tongue on to try immediately. They were firm yet tender, the way I like my pasta and authority figures. And they just tasted…fresh. There’s no other word I can use to describe them. The broth was subtle (read: kind of bland), but they keep condiments on the table specifically for this reason, so I didn’t take any points off. I added some fish sauce, chili paste, vinegar, and a heaping squirt or ten of sriracha, and it was perfect. I needed the spiciness, and the vinegar and fish sauce added a richness and a depth that the broth initially lacked. The fried egg was perfect—the yolk was still the tiniest bit runny—definitely fifty cents well spent. The oxtail was tender, but came with bone and gristle still attached. It made me really wish I had a fork and knife, because like I said, my chopstick skills are sub-par at best. I won’t fault Nan Zhou for this either.
I can’t wait to go back to this place! Not only was the food amazing (and cheap), the service was lightning fast and incredibly friendly.
To round out our savory meal, Katie brought along some butterbeer cupcakes. (Inspired by Harry Potter, obviously. And if that wasn’t obvious to you, why haven’t you read Harry Potter yet?) I am not exaggerating when I say that these were, hands down, the best cupcakes I have ever put in my mouth.
The cake itself was a moist butter cake, but the standout part of these cupcakes was the icing. I need to preface this by saying that I’m typically not a fan of icing. When I say I’m not a fan, I mean that I scrape it off with a napkin before eating the rest of the cupcake plain. If I wanted that stuff, I’d dip a stick of butter into some sugar and cut out the extra work. But this icing was different. Far from the standard heavy buttercream, this was light and delicately creamy. When I think of icing, I think of some one-dimensional flavor. It either tastes like straight up BUTTER, or it tastes like straight up SUGAR. This was different. It was complex. The butterscotch created a sweetness that blended with the richness of the butter itself. And the ganache. My god, the ganache. I didn’t want this cupcake to end. I ate carefully so that I’d get a mouthful of that ganache with every bite. Luckily, they were very messy, so I had the added pleasure of licking my fingers and eating the crumbs out of my lap when I was done. Hey—I never said I’m not disgusting.
On the way home, we avoided slipping into food comas by singing Katy Perry and discussing those cupcakes in excruciating detail. We have excellent taste in food and music.