Gabriella's Vietnam: Philly's Top Spot For Breathtaking Vietnamese Food

After the Vietnam War, a resettlement center in the Philadelphia area was one of four to initially receive refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia — more that 20,000 came through its doors in 1975 (via Pennlive). Nearly 50 years later, the City of Brotherly Love is still home to one of the biggest Vietnamese populations in the country, and the cultural influence is evident in South Philly's "Little Saigon" neighborhood, Vietcetera says.

According to Hidden City, Little Saigon may look like a series of nondescript shopping centers, but these strip malls are home to flourishing Vietnamese small businesses, including a wealth of delicious restaurants. You can find fantastic versions of commonly known Vietnamese dishes like pho at Phở Gà Thanh Thanh — famous for its chicken version of the soup — or banh mi sandwiches at spots like Ba Lẹ Bakery. But if you want to dive deeper into the country's culinary offerings, head a bit further south to Gabriella's Vietnam.

The New York Times selected the South Philly joint as one of 50 restaurants it is most excited about in 2022, but this wasn't the first accolade Gabriella's Vietnam received. The restaurant won Eater Philadelphia's best new restaurant of 2021 and made Philadelphia Magazine's list of top spots in the city that same year.

From biochemistry to bánh bèo chén

Starting a Vietnamese restaurant wasn't initially in the cards for Executive Chef Thanh Nguyen, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam, reports Axios. Though Nguyen learned to cook at age seven (per ABC 6), she originally moved to the United States to pursue a degree in biochemistry. But along the way, it became clear that food was her true calling, and Philly's foodies are grateful she followed that instinct.

At Gabriella's Vietnam, the focus is on Vietnamese street food recipes that are meant to be shared, per Visit East Passyunk. Nguyen also aims to source dishes locally and seasonally from farmer's markets in the area. 

Highlights include bánh bèo chén, or steamed water fern dumplings, which are served open-faced and topped with "minced shrimp, pork crackling, mung beans, fried shallot and scallion," per the restaurant's menu. Seafood also plays a large role on Gabriella's menu, with dishes like sizzling catfish and fried soft shell crabs earning top reviews

No visit to Gabriella's Vietnam would be complete without taking advantage of its BYOB policy. Philly's complicated liquor laws mean a lot of restaurants forgo licenses and instead allow patrons to bring in their alcoholic beverages of choice (via Table Agent). So if you're visiting and want to get the full Philly experience, accent your lemongrass tofu or hot pot soup with that special bottle of cab sav you've been saving.