There is a little known place, in a village called East Oak Lane, on the physical edge of Philadelphia. I'd heard rumors about this place from foodie friends. It even got a shout-out from Anthony Bourdain on The Layover. You drive for miles, north up 5th street till you swear you can't be in the city any more. All of a sudden the storefront signs start changing to Korean. In the span of a few blocks you are transported to South Korea. You pass Jong Ka Jib on the left, Kim's Korean Bar-B-Q on the right. You round the corner onto Cheltenham Ave and tucked between a bank and a gas station is Café Soho. The exterior unassuming to the extreme, save for the uniquely Asian designed chicken sign hanging out front.
Inside, the place looks like a failed night club from Old City circa 2005. Mirrored ceiling tiles, black and red leather banquets, a discoball like chandelier, K-Pop blasting from a big screen TV. To the untrained eye, these should all be big red flags to turn around and walk out. But wait, is that a call button on the edge of each table? Do they give you a plastic pitcher of water at each table, and pour with both hands? Ah-ha. We've found the place.
Café Soho is an ode to Seoul and the ubiquitous Hof's that are too numerous to count in that city. In Korea the Hof (from the German Hofbrauhaus) is basically a sparsely decorated restaurant serving two things - pitchers of cheap beer and plates of fried chicken. If Japan was all about fish, Korea was all about land animals - namely chicken & beef. Fried chicken is a staple there. It is cheap and it is done impressively well - fried hard and slathered with a sweet & spicy sauce. It is the go-to for college kids, after-work office workers and just about anyone else that needs a beer and a bite.
The kim chi pancake was tasty. Just crispy enough to not flop over when you pick it up for the dipping. A little heat, but not enough to make you wince. On it's own it merits a decent nod, but it is just a warm up for the main event.
Ahh, this is what I've been waiting for. Look at those beautiful little nuggets of fried deliciousness. These little guys are of the boneless variety. It's like popcorn chicken, but actually good. The meat to breading ratio is spot-on and the spicy sauce coating each piece packs a punch. Between the four of us, we devoured these in about 5 minutes. Even the girl that doesn't like spicy stuff couldn't stop eating them. She was visibly sweating and going back for more.
And now onto the original. The bone-in chicken wings. The head of the class. The reason hot oil matters. Oh Captain, my Captain. Fried to a shattering crunch that is audible with every bite. The meat is tongue scalding hot, but that won't stop you. They are light and crispy, not greasy. They are near perfect on their own. A little soy dipping sauce puts them into an ethereal plane of existence.
They do a take-out business, but I don't see how anyone could make it home with a box of that chicken sitting next to them on the passenger seat untouched. I have joined the ranks of those that now make pilgrimages to Oak Lane for Café Soho. It's a hankering that cannot be denied, and satisfied only one way. This is hands down the best fried chicken I've had in Philadelphia. It is worth the drive, and so much more.
Food Baby Rating: Triplets!
468 Cheltenham Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19126