Cultural Dining in the Lehigh Valley
Living in Philadelphia (for the majority of the year) certainly has its perks. Urban living offers convenient transportation, almost constant activity, inspiring architecture and public spaces, and a diverse mix of people. As a fan of food and eating in general, I really enjoy the global variety available in my home-away-from-home. Thankfully, coming home to the Lehigh Valley doesn’t limit my taste buds’ travels. While I can’t walk a city block to any of these places, several culinary adventures are just minutes away!
United Kingdom| McCarthy’s Tea Room (Main Street, Bethlehem): Now before any of the guys tune me out, this is not your lacy Victorian tea room. Walking into McCarthy’s is like entering your corner pub in a Dublin neighborhood, where you might meet your friends after work or duck into on a rainy weekend. For an extra dose of atmosphere, live musicians perform on Sunday mornings, when you’re likely to hear Irish folk songs or tall tales. Tea fanatics will delight in the wide array of available choices, all of which taste even better accompanied by their incredible scones. Hearty meals compose the majority of the menu, with traditional offerings such as shepherd’s pie, Scottish smoke salmon, Irish bangers, “pudding,” and porridge. This emerald of a gem is an affordable and fun option for breakfast or lunch any day of the week.
Mexico| Cactus Blue (Bethlehem): Four-time winner of the Lehigh Valley’s Best Mexican Restaurant award, Cactus Blue delivers quality and flavorful Mexican cuisine for a great price. While I’m a huge fan of Chipotle, eating at Cactus Blue feels more like a home-cooked, family meal. The owners pride themselves on quality ingredients and making every guest feel welcome. I would recommend their chimichanga, or really anything served with their from-scratch guacamole. This topping is seriously one of the best I have ever had! They also flavor their own Mexican sodas, which come in a variety of fruity flavors. Make sure you save room for dessert—their fried ice cream will be well worth the self-discipline!
East Asia| Komé (Center Valley): This is the Japanese restaurant that convinced me, a professed hater of seafood, to try sushi…and I loved it. This is a restaurant I return to time and again for its delicious offerings, crisp and clean design, and friendly wait staff. Excuse me while I briefly indulge my architectural “nerdiness,” but Komé’s minimalist design evokes a sophisticated and decidedly zen atmosphere that I love to enter. The open layout facilitates ease of serving, but privacy is still provided by low-lying enclosed seating contrasted by lofty ceilings that give an intimate feel to your dining experience. Neutral colors punctuated with accents of green feel calm and yet simultaneously refreshing. As for the cuisine, the restaurant is divided into two separate dining areas, one for regular serving and the other for hibachi style meals, both delicious options. A variety of appetizers, soups, and seafood entrees tempt the taste buds, but for me the sushi is the star of the show. Sushi rolls vary from the traditional (California Roll) to the house specialties, such as the Godzilla Roll, Promenade Roll, or Dragon Roll (my favorite). At around $30 for an entree, book this Japanese adventure for your next celebration dinner!
South Asia| Spice India (Whitehall): Offering both take-out and dine-in options, Spice India brings the vibrant, flavorful cuisine of India to the Lehigh Valley. Start your meal with a mango lassi, a smooth drink made with mango and yogurt. This sweet beverage is a real treat, but you’ll be glad to have it once the spicy main dishes arrive! Of course there are offerings like tandoori chicken, butter chicken, and as much naan as you can eat, but they also have seafood, lamb/goat, or vegetable meals. Lamb karahi and chicken tikka masala will give your taste buds a kick, and the varied menu allows for sampling a new dish each time you visit. Entrees are well-portioned for sharing and come with plenty of rice. Just remember, if the heat gets to be too much, simply order another lassi!
Middle East| The Aladdin Restaurant (Allentown): Bringing the Arabian Nights to Union Boulevard, the Aladdin Restaurant invites you to relax and lounge against plush pillows while dining on Syrian cuisine. Aladdin has been family owned and operated for over a decade, so you know you are going to enjoy an authentic Middle Eastern meal. A belly dancer performs on Saturday nights, dancing under the twinkling white lights and red tapestries, transporting guests to a sultan’s palace. The menu offers a variety of inexpensive options, delivering flavorful dishes at a great value. The stuffed grape leaves, hand-rolled by the owner, shawarma, and falafel will leave you asking for seconds. Finish your experience with a warm cup of Turkish coffee, a unique departure from your usual cup o’ “joe.”
Of course, these are not the only kinds of cultural offerings the Lehigh Valley has to offer, but these are some of my favorites. Now that I’m home for the summer, I’m looking to book my next culinary adventure! Any suggestions?
Thanks, and happy “traveling!”