The Search For Umami Pt. 3: Cafe Diem


Shola and Collin travel to the home of the soulful bowlful, Cafe Diem. Both of them are already on the Diem Team4Life, and they decide to let out the secret of the greatness to all of us. Serious soup beyond the click, and more badass photography.

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Pho is the new hoagie. Pho is the new pizza. That’s all there is to it. No, not for delivery, but for territoriality and loyalty. We all have our favorites, and believe our spot is the best. No one talks down on our Phomaker of choice, lest they be smoten. Seriously.

Among the faves in town are Pho 75, Pho Cali, Pho Ba Le, and Pho Ha. But off of the beaten path in the Pho District lies my favorite, and as it happens, the favorite of my fellow Umamihunter, Shola. Cafe Diem. Looks like someone’s house from the outside, and has space for about 15 inside, where English is an afterthought. Packed to the gunnels at lunch time, which is always a good sign. For as recession-proof as Pho is in the first place, the prices here are about a dollar cheaper than anywhere else.

We order a bowl of Pho Dac Biet (original old school beef) and Bún Bò Huế (spicy version) to get the ball rolling. Shola is always looking around the room, checking out customers, and what they’re eating. His mind is always moving 100 miles a minute keeping up with his culinary surroundings. ‘Oh, extra beef cubes, please’ he says to the waitress as she walks away. Man is quite particular. He gives a nod and greeting to one of the owners, and our Vietnamese Iced Tea was on the way.

‘Best soup in the city’, he says. I agree, but also throw Asia @ Cafe’s Spicy Curry Chicken into the ring for the title of Best Soup Of Ever. He agrees too, thinking of that beautiful burn and fluffy dough, sponging up all that broth and chicken on the bone. Funny thing, they’re right across the street from where we sit.

‘You ever eat Morimoto’s Chicken Soup?’, he continues. I shake my head. I usually don’t hit up Morimoto, and when I do, it’s not often for soup.

‘I bring a poached egg with me when I eat that.’


‘Yeah, I bring a mini thermos with a poached egg in it.’ , he replies. Dead fucking serious man looking at me. You heard it here, folks: B.Y.O.E. at Morimoto.

Our food arrives in monstrous china bowls, teeming with beef, rice noodles, and parsley. Mine is swimming with fire-engine red pepper pieces and a slick of orange flame across the surface. He dumps in most of the fixins they provide, the basil and peppers, and a healthy amount of bean sprouts. I am a fan of kiss of lime and just a few peppers. Not big on the sprouts in my soup, but a couple add a nice crunch.

Flavor tour-de-force. It’s truly the best broth anywhere, deeper than a ten dollar hooker. Umami Tsunami. I ask and implore all of you who live by the 75 to stop over a few blocks and live like this. Not for the faint of heart, though, as ham hocks swim in every bowl they serve. Tendon, knobby knuckles, and everything ugly that tastes so good.

So the question: ‘Why is this broth so much better?’

‘Well, Pho Ha is too watery, same with 75.’, Shola starts. This definitely has a lot of MSG. And they obviously spend much more time letting the broth do it’s thing. Also, these guys use a much fresher meat, and don’t use the fermented kind most other places do. It’s just that much better.’

Be forewarned on the spicy side, though, that shit burns like a herpes flareup. Shola took a picture of me dealing with the soup, but it’s not very attractive and makes me look like a date rapist. I’ll save you from the sight.

The noodles that come with the Dac Biet are the thinner rice noodles, which I prefer. The spicy version has the thicker noodles, which help transport the spice a little better, more surface area to latch on to. The chicken version is also quite special, but they don’t make it every day. But don’t bother calling to see if they have it, just show up and get lucky. So the next time you’re making a jaunt to the District, give Diem a shot before heading to the P.O.P.E. for a few. Can’t imagine a better way to spend a chilly autumn night.

After 2 Asian trips in a row, look for our next stop to be something teeming with parmesan cheese or anchovies. UMAMIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!

Cafe Diem, 1031 S. 8th St.  (215) 923-8347

  • danya

    Now those are some pretty pics. ;)

  • Jess

    I am loving this series.

  • DB

    pretty sure thats cilantro, not parsley >_>

  • CEf

    @DB its a bit of both, but there’s always extra cilantro along for the ride.

    Eat up!

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