Stylish Vietnamese in Pennsport

Mekong River bar-restaurant is done up in wood and ceramic with fieldstone, offering rice vermicellis and a dozen varieties of pho. ELISE WRABETZ
Mekong River bar-restaurant is done up in wood and ceramic with fieldstone, offering rice vermicellis and a dozen varieties of pho. ELISE WRABETZ
Posted: June 01, 2012

Liem Ma, whose family owns Pho & Cafe Viet Huong at 11th Street and Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia, looked east and realized that Pennsport could use a Vietnamese bar-restaurant.

And so last week, he opened the stylish Mekong River (1120 S. Front St., 215-467-6100) down the street from the Ugly American. It’s done up in wood and ceramic, with fieldstone, reminiscent of Pho Hoa’s neighbor, Le Viet.

Mekong River’s extensive menu starts at No. 101 and ends at 273, including your regulation rice vermicelli selections and a dozen phos. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.

Lansdowne doings

Lansdowne Borough is awakening as a destination. At the corner of Lansdowne and Baltimore Avenues, Argana Moroccan Cuisine (2 N. Lansdowne Ave., 484-461-9595) was opened recently by Zouhir Oullaf and Chris Arouh, who longed for the tastes of their homeland. Decor is a spiffed-up version of previous occupant Lansdowne Diner; menu hits the high points and nothing is over $12.95; it’s BYOB. It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (till 11 on Friday and Saturday).

NoBL — as in "NOrth of BaLtimore Avenue) — is an international BYO coming next month to 24 N. Lansdowne Ave., a former hardware store, from owner Steve Wagner and chef Sam Jacobson of the nearby Sycamore.

What’s coming and going

Shake Shack, the New York-rooted burger shop, opens Wednesday at 20th and Sansom Streets.

The second Federal Donuts shop is pegged for a former video store at 1632 Sansom St. this fall.

Bones Grille in Lansdale is gone after six years, to be replaced late this summer by Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant.

What’s new

Morgan’s Pier (221 N. Columbus Blvd.) represents a clean, new look for the former Rock Lobster; it’s now a beer garden whose easy-on-the-budget menu is by David Katz of Meme. It’s open for lunch through late night Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and at 4 p.m. the rest of the week.

Han Chiang has soft-opened his fifth location of the Sichuan palace Han Dynasty, taking over the former MidAtlantic in the University City Science Center at 3711 Market St. (215-222-3711). Chiang changed little in the industrial spaces. There’s a full bar, whose operation will be ramped up to make the spot — on a lonely stretch of Market Street after hours — more of a late-night destination.

The Sabrina’s Cafe in Ross Commons at 34th and Powelton on Drexel University’s campus (227 N. 34th St.) has opened Spencer ETA Burger across the hall. (They’re playing with college Greek-dom here, as the “e" in "ETA" is fashioned from a sigma.) It keeps college hours: 8 p.m. to midnight Thursdays, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays. All burgers are $8.50, and a combo of burger plus fries (parm, plain, or sweet potato) is $12.

Iron Chef Jose Garces, who owns Distrito and JG Domestic in the area, hosts a preview video for the next University City Dining Days, which will be July 12 to 26 with specially priced three-course meals at a record 34 restaurants.

Photos, menus, and more details on these restaurants can be found at Visit my blog, “The Insider, at

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