The numerous immigrants that call Point Breeze home brought with them more than their own languages and customs when they settled here: they brought their food. Flavors from Southeast Asia and south of the border crowd store shelves and spice up restaurant menus as immigrant-owned businesses sell a taste of home.
El Soto Deli and Grocery
1649 S. 15th Street
Julio Rios (above) came to the United States from Mexico City 14 years ago. He has cooked in some of Philly’s most prestigious kitchens, including Jose Garces’ Tinto and Stephen Starr’s Parc. It was on his nightly rides home from Center City that he noticed a vacant ice cream parlor at the corner of 15th and Morris streets.
Julio and his brother Jose liked the space and thought it was the perfect location for a Mexican grocery. Finding that the rent was in their price range, they began renovations, during which they found a deli slicer and refrigerator that inspired them to offer unique fresh sandwiches. The customer feedback has been very positive.
“I invented the Mexican Hoagie in Philadelphia,” said Rios. “It is one of our most popular sandwiches. It is made of pork head ham, pepperjack cheese, fresh cilantro, and pickled jalapeno peppers.”
In the future Rios has plans for outdoor tables and a larger menu.
1745 Hicks Street
(215) 271 9442
Hardena is a family business. Matriarch Ena Widjojo is the head chef. She honed her skills working as a chef for the Indonesian Consulate in New York City in the 1990’s. Whenever Suharto, former President of Indonesia, came to New York, he requested Ena’s cooking. He continued to hire her as freelance caterer even after she and her husband, Harry, moved to Philadelphia and started Hardena Restaurant in July of 2001.
Ena and Harry were drawn to Philadelphia because by 2001, the local Indonesian community had grown to around 10,000 people. The cost of living was also much lower than New York City. Business has been good ever since.
Ena, Harry and their three daughters cook a different seasonal menu every night. Customer favorites include collard greens, beef Ren Dang and sautéed Tempeh. Their famous dessert is Es Cendol, a Pandan tapioca with coconut and palm sugar.
1529 Morris St.
A wide range of freshly prepared Indonesian foods line the shelf and fridge space in this compact corner eatery. Indonesian fried chicken and satay meat skewers are pair with rice and vegetable sides but the standout item is the house-made tempeh, a type of fermented soybean cake.
“You can’t get this anywhere,” said Iwan Tran, an Indonesian immigrant who opened the shop with his father 10 years ago. “But you can make a lot of meals with it.”
One Stop Market
16th and Morris
The One Stop has had multiple owners over its 10 year history, but it currently belongs to a Vietnamese immigrant. Instead of the usual hot cheese curls and packaged pastries that saturate other corner stores, One Stop stocks a wide range of fresh spices, produce and meats used in Vietnamese, Chinese and Fillipinno cooking.
Kenny Chen, a Chinese immigrant, calls succinctly describes the fare as “Asian stuff.” That includes fresh a variety of noodles, rice, shallots, Vietnamese chilies and Tuong, to name a few.
1443 Tasker Street
Santos Fnu opened up his eponymous grocery four years ago. Most of his Indonesian food stuffs come pre-packaged, but he has no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables with a variety to rival a traditional super market.
“It’s good healthy food for the neighborhood,” he said.
– Text and Images by Jad Sleiman and Jessica Griffin.