Each week in our Chefs Off Duty series, we talk to some of our favorite chefs and industry folk around the country to find out their secret late-night spots where they like to grab a bite and a pint when their kitchens are finally closed. Next up: Jose Garces, the Philadelphia-based Iron Chef, and chef/owner behind a slew of restaurants in Philly, Atlantic City, Palm Springs, Scottsdale and Chicago including Distrito, Amada, Tinto and Mercat.
Where do you like to go grab a bite to eat and a drink when you're leaving your own restaurants?
I like a place called David's Mai Lai Wah. It's a Chinese restaurant that's opened 'til, like, 4 in the morning. It's in Philly's Chinatown. I really like their salt and pepper shrimp. They make this really delicious pork congee. There's also a drinks spot in Chinatown that's open really late that I also like called Hop Sing Laundromat. It's run by a gentleman named Mr. Lê, a really nice guy. There's a gated front entrance and you have to ring the doorbell. There's a doorman that comes out -- there's a whole ritual about going into the place. You go in and sit in this sitting room and he comes out and explains the rules of the club. There's no cell phones allowed, no picture-taking, no tweeting, no Facebooking, nothing. If he catches you, then you're removed from the establishment. He makes incredible drinks but my favorite is an Old-Fashioned he makes there. He has pretty much any whiskey you can think of -- I like the Pappy Van Winkle.
How did you first find these places?
It's funny because in Philly, there are very few late-night spots. If you don't like cheesesteaks, you go to David's Mai Lai Wah. Being in the industry, you seek those places out.
David's Mai Lai WahWhat's the vibe like at those places?
It's on a pretty prominent corner in Chinatown and there's probably ten tables in there. It can be pretty rowdy in there -- a lot of late-night revelers go there. Hop Sing is really cool. There's only a handful of tables -- maybe eight -- and they're pretty spread out. There are couch chairs and comfortable seating. It's pretty dark and candlelit. The décor is really eclectic and oddly pieced together. It's a good place if you want to lay low, catch up with a friend or have a date spot.
What are some of your favorite things to order?
Besides the shrimp and pork congee, they also have a pan-fried chicken noodle dish that's really good. I like their hot wings, too. It seems like the poach them in a broth and then fry them really crispy with corn starch. They're juicy and crispy on the outside. I love all the condiments that they have on the table -- they have a Chinese red chili oil, garlic ginger scallion mixture that's steeped in oil, a few vinegar sauces. Whatever food comes to the table, you can doctor it whichever way you're feeling.
Outside the entrance to Hop Sing Laundromat
Any good stories from nights at either of those places?
[Laughs] Well, one thing at Hop Sing that happened recently is that Mr. Lê has a supposed secret membership. We had an out-of-town guest who is, let's just say, pretty well-to-do. He's from Dallas and is the type of guy who can pretty much buy anything he wants. Lee got to talking to us and our out-of-town guest and found out he was from Dallas. I think Lê is an Eagles fan [Ed note: Lê is a New York Jets fan] and Eagles and Cowboys fans don't necessarily mesh well. My friend was like, "I want to buy a membership" and Lê refused to give him a membership just because he was from Dallas. It became kind of awkward and funny for a moment. My friend was offering him 3x the amount of a normal membership and the membership only gets you, like, Lê's cell phone and access into the club -- it doesn't get you much else. Lê stood his ground though and didn't sell it to him.
David's Mai Lai Wah, 1001 Race St., Philadelphia, PA; Sun-Thu, 11:30am-3am; Fri-Sat, 11:30am-4am
Hop Sing Laundromat, 1029 Race St., Philadelphia, PA; daily, 5pm-2am