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Philly Cheesesteaks and Pho for My Birthday

September 1, 2014

Not quite the fanciest foods to celebrate my birthday but it was exactly what I was craving.  When I found out that I had to go to Philadelphia for work on my birthday, I only had one request.  Cheesesteak please!  No Pat’s or Geno’s though.  Despite how nostalgic a trip down to South Philly would have been, I wanted a slightly different experience.  On our way down to Philly, my coworker and I did a bit of research and settled on a local favorite, Dalessandro’s Steak and Hoagies in Roxoborough.

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Just on our walk up to the little unassuming storefront, we could already smell the delicious beefy goodness that was being cooked up inside.  Once indoors, the process was simple because frankly the menu was quite straightforward.  Other than cheesesteaks, Dalessandro’s also serves up chicken steaks and a variety of Italian hoagies.  But our mission here was pretty singular, two cheesesteaks with provolone and one with onions please!  We gave our orders to the ladies behind the counter and were instructed to wait while watching the guys churn out rolls after rolls on the flat top.

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Once our cheesesteaks were ready, I was offered a variety of peppers and other condiments to accompany my foot long sandwich.  I chose the diced hot peppers as well as two sweet peppers because I couldn’t make up my mind.  We quickly found a spot right out front on picnic tables and dug in immediately because cheesesteaks wait for no one.

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The sandwich here was spot on, filled with flavorful and juicy beef, just as good as I had remembered a cheesesteak to be.  What made each beefy bite even more exciting was the soft rolls that the sandwich came on.  This was much better than what I had remembered from Pat’s or Geno’s!  And the spicy pickled peppers were just cherries on top.  This was worth the long drive out of the city to the northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Roxoborough.  Now I just wish I had known about this 10 years ago.

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So that’s how I ended up on the side of the street taking down a foot long Philly cheesesteak for lunch on my birthday.  The rest of the day flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was on the Accela back into the city for dinner.  After a day on the road, I was pretty drained so a low key dinner was just what I had in mind.  For as long as I can remember, I always ate noodles in some form on my birthdays to symbolize longevity and since my lunch was not quite a bowl of noodles, I knew what I had to do, off to Sao Mai in East Village for a nice bowl of pho!

Dinner started off with a fresh coconut for each of us.  Filled with sweet coconut water and tender young coconut meat, we had quite a lot of fun digging into the little sphere long after we had drank the coconut dry.

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I thought we were be a bit adventurous and deviate from the normal order of shrimp summer roll with a pork one.  Alas, our gamble didn’t quite pay off.  The summer rolls had all the potential to be so great, from its tender fresh wrapper to the herbaceous filling to the sweet and sour dipping sauce, but unfortunately the pork fell a bit flat in flavor.

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But our disappointment was quickly forgotten with a plate of salt and pepper fried calamari.  The crunchy bites were tender and light, full of peppery notes.  It will make you wonder how you will ever be able to eat another piece of soggy boring fried calamari during happy hours.

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The waiter seemed quite enthused about the crispy crepes, a house specialty, so we felt compelled to tag it along to our already large order.  The half round of crepe arrived hot from the kitchen filled with shrimp and meat.  We tried our best to make a wrap with the lettuce and herbs on the side but ended up resorting to knife and fork.  Despite how uncoordinated we looked devouring the crepe, it was still delicious and definitely worth ordering again next time.

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And finally, we ended the night with the piece de resistance, a nice steaming bowl of pho.  I am an everything please kind of girl when it comes to pho so I went with the house special.  In addition to brisket, my bowl included beef balls and beef round eye.  The meat were sliced paper thin and were still lightly pink when the pho arrived.  I quickly tore fresh leaves of basil into the fragrant broth and dunk the meat in to finish cooking them through.  A few bean sprouts and slices of jalapeno with a squeeze of lime and I was ready to dig in.  The broth here at Sao Mai was definitely one of more fragrant ones I have had in the city with a hint of sweetness and depth.  The rice noodles were still al dente, another sign of a good bowl of pho.  I slurped everything up even though we had already filled up on the appetizers.  This definitely lived up the standard of that perfect bowl of noodles I look forward to on my birthday each year.

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Dalessandro’s Steak and Hoagies | 600 Wendover St, Philadelphia, PA 19128 | http://dalessandros.com/

Sao Mai | 201 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003 | http://www.ordersaomai.com/

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