There are two types of neighborhood restaurants. The first kind includes places that no one else besides the people who live within a two-block radius know about. It’s small, it’s cozy, and, most importantly, it feels like its your little secret. If anyone else were to bring it up in a casual conversation, you’d probably feel the same pang of jealousy that you feel when you go over to your friend’s apartment and they have a wall hanging from an Etsy shop you thought only you knew about.
Then there’s the second kind. The kind of neighborhood spot that everyone knows about and people who live nearby eat at more than once a week. This is the type of place where you don’t need to dress up at all, but you usually do anyway because you’ll see at least three people you know as soon as you walk in the door. It’s somewhere that becomes a sort of unofficial clubhouse for the neighborhood, and you’re happy to tell the world about it because people think you’re cooler for living near it.
Cheu Fishtown falls in the second category.
As soon as it opened in 2017, pretty much everyone who lived within Philadelphia’s city limits showed up. It was loud and a bit disorganized, but it was fun. That’s partially because it just looked like fun. It’s located in an old police horse stable that’s been gutted and plastered with wacky, mismatched wallpaper and stickers, and even the bathroom is a piece of art. There’s a long bar at the front that looks into the open kitchen, and above it is what looks like a movie theater marquee announcing what’s on draft.
But you’re not just here to pretend you’re at a movie theater with really nice bathrooms, you’re here for the food. Much like at Cheu Old City and their sister restaurant, Bing Bing, they serve a mix of buns, dumplings, snacks, and noodles, but here the menu is much longer and includes more inventive options, like beet and goat cheese-filled dumplings and brisket ramen with a big matzo ball in the middle of it. It’s a lot of food and most of it is somewhat heavy, but if you fill up on small dishes and can’t make it through your mushroom bibimbap, we can report that it tastes just as good for lunch the next day.
Since opening, the hype has died down, and Cheu Fishtown has settled into being the perfect neighborhood gathering spot for everything from a casual dinner with a friend to a solo ramen bowl at the bar. You might still have to wait a few minutes for a table, but you can order a drink with the host in the meantime and he’ll bring it to wherever you happen to be hanging out - unless it’s down the street in your apartment because you saw an ex at the bar. Then you’re out of luck.
These are in the “buns” section of the menu, but it’s more like a Reueben on flatbread. Which isn’t to say it’s wrong, nothing about this dish is wrong.
These are done in more of a classic bao-style, except with fried chicken and pickles. A great way to start your meal.
The only salad on the menu, and it’s very well done. It has puffed rice and apples for crunchiness and the ginger miso dressing really rounds it out. Get this when you need a break from noodles for a night.
One of the most interesting dishes on the menu and we think one of the best. They’re basically beet and goat cheese-filled crispy dumplings in sweet and sour sauce, and they’re incredible. We get them pretty much every time we come here and are never disappointed.
The cabbage here is grilled and comes with a tzatziki sauce that makes no sense, but compliments the cabbage perfectly.
It seems like whenever a new restaurant opens up and puts calamari on the menu, they always pair it with some sort of thick aioli. And while we don’t hate that, we love that this one comes with some old-school cocktail sauce. The calamari itself is lightly fried and really delicious. You should order this.
This is the ramen you should get here. The pork is sweet, which we weren’t prepared for, but it works really well with the broth and noodles.
This is the most popular thing on the menu. It’s interesting for sure, and we don’t often find a matzo ball in our ramen, but the broth isn’t our favorite and the brisket is sometimes tough and overcooked.
Cheu only serves one dessert per night, and it changes pretty much every day. If they happen to have mochi carrot cake when you stop by, order it. It’s perfect, and the little ginger candies on top make us wonder why we haven’t been putting these on all of our desserts.