Exuding Zen-like swank and sunny swagger, Buddakan beckons foodies and scene-seekers alike. In 1998, Buddakan added drama and daring dining to Philly's historical district in Old City. Today, this cosmopolitan small-plate emporium is a major player in the scene – a de rigeur stop for celebrities, savvy tourists, and local devotees. The glamorous digs with the iconic 10-foot high gilded Buddha statue, silky walls, soaring ceilings, glamorous décor, and flowing water wall whirls with an irrepressible kinetic vibe, an Asian-centric slate of irresistible dishes, and one of the city's hippest staff of servers.Read More ...
Fifteen years have slipped by since Philadelphia restaurant magnate Stephen Starr introduced Buddakan, his hip and bold “will-this-really-work-in-Philly?” concept restaurant. Suffice it to say, Starr's hunch that Buddakan would weave seamlessly into the city's historical fabric borne out with flying colors. Located at Third & Chestnut Street, directly across from Carpenters' Hall, Buddakan’s impressive presence in Independence National Park injects a unique kind of swanky funk and spunk into the city's oldest 'hood.
Outside Buddakan, there's always a lively buzz. A personable patrol of valet parkers greet everyone as they arrive. A kinetic mix of patrons, tourists, and Old City pedestrians mill about the large sidewalk in front of the building. Inside, the world of Buddakan unfolds within a former post office -- of which nary a hint nor vestige abides. The chic interior with its lofty ceilings and expansive dining space sweeps us into a different realm. Other diners saunter past a large wall of flowing water, passing mammoth circular columns that spire up to the ceilings. Centered in the dining room, a communal dining table of onyx guides the gaze to a tranquil, 10-foot-high, gilded Buddha awash in radiant crimson backlighting. Each chair back in the huge dining room sports a black-and-white portrait of some anonymous face. Hip, handsome staff members glide about ubiquitously, smiling and tending to their duties with flawless detail. And yet, as envisioned, this entire Zen scene somehow fuses harmoniously within the red-brick confines and cobblestone soul of our nation's most historic mile.
Stephen Starr claims no visionary prowess for such a transformational coup. He admitted long ago, “The Buddha idea just popped into my head.” Starr had toyed with placing a Cuban-themed restaurant in Buddakan's spot. However, to the delight of legions of Philadelphians and tourists alike, he settled on the Zen-Buddha vibe, because as he later opined: "People, no matter what their religion, get a warm feeling when they see the Buddha." And so they do. Characterizing Buddakan as a raging success is not fluff or hyperbole. Starr's restaurant has received such acclaim that he established the concept in Manhattan as well. For Philadelphians accustomed to witnessing that process in reverse and tired of playing second fiddle to the chest-thumping Big Apple, that's a feat, a Rocky-esque rally for hometown pride. Not to mention, there's also a Buddakan scion in Atlantic City.
And how popular is Buddakan in Philadelphia? Consider this: In 2010, Buddakan participated in Philly's annual Restaurant Week, where a host of downtown restaurants offer $35 prix fixe meals. Philadelphia foodies took note. As Buddakan Manager Josh Levine noted, “We had more hits at the Buddakan site than the Restaurant Week website itself did. We did 500 covers every night.” I happened to be dining here during Restaurant Week. At 10:00pm, every table was full and guests were still arriving.
I hasten to add that there was no dip or blip in the quality of service, despite the relentless stream of hungry arrivals. The Buddakan staff is an armada of attractive, attentive enthusiasts who have not only memorized the “rote details” of the menu, but who can wax rhapsodically about the nuances of each preparation, the derivation of each dish, and the singular touches that make it memorable.
To kick-start the meal there's a tempting list of specialty cocktails that play on the Buddha theme. “Enlightenment” first pops the palate with the heat of Thai bird chili cordial, followed by Sauza Blanco tequila, and finishes with a cleansing purée of cucumbers. It's like a Japanese mojito with kick. Or you can try the “Zen-gria”: a house-favorite dicey mix of white peach, Junmai sake, pinot grigio, and ginger brandy.
In addition to a full slate of western wines, you might like to try some Japanese sake. There are a number to choose from ranging from light-bodied varieties like Kaori to full-bodies like Otokoyama. Your server will guide you through the selection or offer you a Sake tasting, where for you can choose three full glasses for $30.
Although Buddakan soars with Asian fusion plates meant for sharing, don't discount the entrée menu; Chinese black bean sauce notches up the sizzle of whole fish, while the black pepper ponzu and the bite of wasabi temper the richness of succulent filet mignon. As for the small plates, a perennial favorite is the free-form Edamame Ravioli. Tender white pasta squares stuffed with velvety edamame puree arrive tableside bathed in a delicate broth infused with Sauterne and powered by deep-brown truffles and shallots. The bean filling is a winsome payload of edamame, leeks, and truffle oil puréed silky smooth. The dish is garnished with tiny whole edamame beans.
With my first bite of Tuna Pizza, I realize Buddakan's version has raised the pizza bar significantly. A generous ruby-red portion of tuna carpaccio, pounded thin and accented with pickled ginger, stretches across the entirety of a large, paper-thin pizza crust. Ponzu sauce and pickled jalapeno spikes the carpaccio with bold accents, while the spicy aioli spread on the crust lends a sweet, pungent undercurrent to the ensemble. As a masterful final visual touch, the carpaccio topping is sprinkled liberally with bonito flakes.
The Grilled Octopus plates a tantalizing tangle of grill-kissed, marvelously tender octopus pieces. The meaty octopus texture softens and soars with two sauces: a miso reduction that infuses sweet highs into each forkful, and a hot chipotle miso sauce provides a spicy balance to the creation.
The Crispy Duck Salad gathers a garden of greens in delectable harmony. Finely sliced and shredded Bibb lettuce, paper-thin cucumbers and shredded wontons meld with Shitake mushrooms. The mélange is sluiced in piquant sherry vinaigrette and topped with a poached egg; this touch gives an earthy feel to the busy-yet-balanced dish.
Peking Style Chicken perches atop a mound of glistening eggplant spears. Wafting a heady scent of garlic, the crispy-skinned chicken proves moist yet lean, and surrenders readily to a fork. Pooled around the chicken is a pale pink chili-soy-garlic sauce that perks up the taste of the chicken and insinuates a tasty, muted heat to the dish.
As a fitting finale, the Chocolate Bento Box for Two has become another Philly treasure. A traditional wooden box is distinguished into six compartments, each holding a singular sexy, decadent dessert. On any particular evening, the culinary booty might include spectacularly creamy panna cotta, ganache, silky mousse, or flourless chocolate cake. Order it; savor it, and be sure to include a visit to the gym the next day. Guilty pleasures like this are worth the payback.
Yes, the City of Brotherly Love was the main crucible for the New World's melting pot. And though there was no prominent Buddha in the Quaker city's halcyon history, there certainly is one in its gastronomic, food-centric present. You'll find him in the culinary temple that is Buddakan.
Insider Tip: The Communal Table is great for large parties with space for up to 24 people, but for those in need of a somewhat private dining space, the Mezzanine is available to book for parties of 50-55 people.
Copyright © Restaurant Agent Inc.
Worth the experience, one of our favorite mid atlantic restaurant
Went to Buddakan for the first time the other night with my wife and had an excellent time. Great food and service complimented the ambiance...Would definately reccomend to a friend or family member!! Thanks for a great evening!!!
I eat at Buddakan frequently and have never been disappointed! Great atmosphere, drinks and excellent menu. If you are going for lunch, you have to try the homemade doughnuts which were featured on the food networks "Best thing I ever ate". Can't go wrong with Buddakan!
Great atmosphere and excellent food and service. Would definitely go back next time in Philly.
We just had our second luncheon at Buddakan celebrating a graduation. It is always a favorite choice and it never disappoints. We had a great time, I highly recommend it for special celebrations.
My first time at Buddakan and certainly not the last. The atmosphere was very humble and enjoyable. I feel like going out and connecting with business clients just so I can bring them to this very fine restaurant. I would recommend Buddakan to anyone!!
I would highly recommend this restaurant for a special occasion. The atmosphere is perfect. The wait staff are excellent. Food very fresh.
Food was very good and the service outstanding. The waiter was knowledgeable about vegetarian options. The drinks were awesome.
This restaurant is a visual overload! There are so many things to look at and the food was wonderful. I loved the "waterfall wall"... I would highly suggest going there the next time your in Philladelphia.
You will not be disappointed!
I to Buddakan with my wife son and his girlfriend for a couples night out! The staff is great and the restaurant itself is amazing. i would say just remember to order side with your meal cause to me its ala cart and they dont really tell you that!
It was great fun to go in town to share one of the girls celebrations. The food was great the service lovely and all a great day.
Buddakan is a restaurant that is a "must" in Phila. Fantastic meal and service.
Food was great service was great and atmosphere was fun.... Would go back again
I took my girlfriend to Buddakan with plans on proposing before a show at the Walnut St Theater and it went off perfectly! Everything was truly first class. I couldn't have asked for more. The food is incredible and service, impeccable.
We returned to Buddakan after a long absence and weren't disappointed. The staff treated us great. The food and drinks were, for the most part, delicious. We will be back!!
We had a very good evening because of very interesting dishes. I recommend Buddakan in Philadelphia as one of the best restaurants in town. The service was excellent.
From our delicious cocktail to the tuna pizza, calamari salad, Peking buns, crab rice, I was still not prepared for the exquisite deliciousness of the lamb chops nd the wasabi mashed potatoes! The service was friendly and attentive. Buddakan is the right setting for a special evening celebration.
I wanted a great dinner for a first dinner date with a new girl friend. I wanted a great experience, ambiance, food and wine AND I got it all. She loved everything and we had a great night....Thanks very much
I wanted a great dinner experience for my new girl friend and I got it.....Everything was perfect Service, atmosphere, Drinks, Wine list, Food was wonderful and presentation was superb , afterdinner drinks, coffee dessert STELLAR !!!!!!! I chose it cos I have been there and I wanted the best for her ....... again again I got the BEST !!! Thank You
Had an incredible first date at Buddakan. The service was excellent, ambience was great, and the food was outstanding. From the minute we walked in e from the host to our waitress to our server, their attention to us was great. Will definitely be returning!!
The focal point of the restaurant is a large gilded Buddha, who inspires high-quality fusion cuisine. We sat on the balcony overlooking the lower level and took in great views as well as delicious dishes, which included grilled octopus for an appetizer,a duck and pork dish for mains and a wonderful chocolate fondant for dessert. The service was gracious and efficient and the meal was well paced. Highly recommend Buddakan for an atmospheric dining experience in Philadelphia.
The food is delicious and the portions are for the most part generous enough to share which you will want to do because it is all so good. The atmosphere is great but it would have been nice if they had honored our request for a table in the main dining room near bhudda since it was a b-day special occasion. The cilantro/yuzu martini was transcendent but the glass was not full and at around 3 and 1/2 ounces and $16 the price is just silly...
First time at Buddakan. It was a enjoyable experience. The food and ambiance were great. Would definately come back. Good extensive menu.
My experience at Buddakan was wonderful! The service was timely and pleasant! The food is DELICIOUS and well worth the price. The interior decoration is beautiful, calming and conducive to conversation!
very cool place with a good food and a great vibe
Upscale...fun...great menu choices....fabulous food.
We were visiting for two nights and were urged by a local to try Buddakan and were so glad we did. Menu was creative and very good. On my next visit back I will return.
My friends and I traveled from Baltimore to visit Buddakan. It was a truly enjoyable experience. The decor and ambiance are fun and hip. The bar had all of our favorites. One of my party has a shellfish allergy and they were extremely accommodating. The food was heavenly and we walked away full and happy to have made the trip.
Great food but noisy atmosphere.
What a fun, fun, fun and exciting place to dine and such a hoot to be sitting by the GIANT gold Buddah and taking pictures was like being on vacation, it makes you feel like a step in time somewhere else, other than Chestnut Street in downtown Philly! The food top notch, Swordfish to die for, and ambience so really great. What a memorable experience we had and you will too. Our party of 6 all loved what we ordered, no complaints at all with our choices. The wait staff fantatic, hosting staff top notch and the only thing that was not to our liking was the incredible amount of nosie. It was hard to hold a conversation without screaming it felt, and we are not old folks at all. I highly recommned Buddakan, you will love the experience for sure.
I went to Buddakan when visiting Philadelphia on business. The ambiance was what I expected as I had read this was a fairly "trendy" place. I go to restaurants for the food and the selections sampled by me and my associate were, at best, average. The presentation was delightful as, obviously, fine attention is paid to how the food looks. But tasting was another matter. Although the food was not bad, it came off as something that could be obtained at "lower end" Asian restaurants at much lower prices. Something of a disappointment after a very nice visual build up. Offsetting this, the service was found to be outstanding and the staff seemed genuinely interested in our experience. Overall, I would encourage my youger, hipper friends to stop by, but not so much for the food.
great food in a quantity that with two person you can do without one of the entrees and still had more than enough. the wine was well adviced and tasted great, price was value for money.
The menu had a nice selection of vegetarian dishes and eating family style was a nice social experience . The only complaint was the terrible location of our table--next to the kitchen, next to the bar, staring at a blank white wall. It was a special night out celebrating 2 family birthdays and I was disappointed our table was not special. The seating throughout seemed tight , focusing on 2 seater tables. (and we had reservations).
We did not get the right seating because of how we made reservation. We than got reseated next to a party with a lot of noise, even when there were a lot of table in the good area open all night. The wine Barolo came in very very cold. Took at least 20 minutes to warm and breathe... We have been there at least 6 times before and enjoyed it. This last trip they totally missed it.