Engraved in the concrete front step of D’Jakarta Cafe is a quickly drawn single rose. Perhaps a vestige of the building’s past residents, the homemade emblem serves well to welcome visitors to this very homelike Indonesian BYO in South Philly. Inside, staff members crowd around the front counter conversing and laughing—but nevertheless were immediately available to seat and welcome us and ask if it was our first time dining with them. The walls are full of white–framed photographs, and the light wood floors emphasize the airiness of the space. Though the restaurant is by no means large, the tasteful decor creates a clean and uncluttered atmosphere.
To begin, we each ordered a “happy soda” ($3)—a beverage that arrived transparent and bubbly but quickly turned opaque pink with a few stirs. A perfect drink for those choosing not to imbibe, it has a base of club soda and is sweetened with condensed milk and cocopandan syrup. Its sweetness balanced well with our appetizer, an order of fried shrimp and pork rollade ($5). Imagine crispy fried dumplings sliced into assorted sizes and shapes.
For the main course, we split three entrees that span the flavor palate of the menu. Two were hot soups—some welcome warmth in the cooling fall air. The first bowl was bakso djakarta ($6.50), a meatball soup with clear broth. Though the broth itself isn’t too flavorful save for a vinegary taste (squirt some Sriracha in it), the dish takes a kitchen sink approach to ingredients, combining crunchy fried wontons, scallions, egg and rice noodles, and soft tofu into a successful smattering. The second soup, soto betawi beef soup ($6.50), is far more flavorful. It’s curry like, with a spicy coconut taste and medallions of beef and tripe and potato slices bobbing below the surface. A side of white rice and corn chips on the side are a welcome break from the spicy broth. To round the course out, we ordered a nasi ayam goreng, traditional fried chicken. We were disappointed that we only got one chicken thigh, but its breading was perfect, and the tempeh, tofu, and sauces on the side made up for the quantity issue.
A fried banana with chocolate syrup capped off the dinner, though we wished it was a little warmer. Overall, the place has a comfortable family business feel—our server throughout the meal was a very attentive, grandmotherly waitress. Important to note, though, is that D’Jakarta Cafe is cash only. There’s a small convenience store across the street for all your cash withdrawal needs, a bridge between the old Italian neighborhood and the new business.
Outside the fragrant restaurant, the fall air nudged leaves up onto the concrete rose, and as we walked to SEPTA, an elderly couple screamed at their beagle in Italian.