Everything about Hardena screams cozy. The outside of the Indonesian South Philly Restaurant is not much, but inside, the atmosphere is warm, compact, and well–furnished. The whole restaurant has a reddish hue, with a few tables and many chairs, and even a faux food cart front to order at.
I ordered a lamb sate (meat on a stick), the photographer ordered a Soto Ayam soup (fried chicken and vermicelli noodles), and we split an es teler (a fruit drink).
As we finished ordering, throngs of people continued to shuffle in out of the cold, meeting up for dinner or running in for take–out. They typically went straight for the buffet option, which supplied them with a heavy plate of food for a reasonable price. It seems that the place is a local favorite for those in the neighborhood, given the rush as soon as dinner time hit, and how familiar and comfortable the patrons seemed in the space.
The peanut on top of the sate really provided most of the dish’s flavor. The lamb was rich, a bit salty, and fairly juicy for what is typically a drier meat. Each chunk of lamb was dense but chewy, flavorful, and went well with the rice and the sweet sauce provided. Just the slightest bit spicy, it reminded me of a dandan noodle dish, and filled me up rather quickly. It came with a side of a small salad of spicy pickled veggies, which were a welcome palate cleanser and even spicier than the meat. All aspects of the dish worked well together, but the rice was a bit overcooked.
I also sampled a bit of my photographer’s soup. This was less exciting than the lamb. It was very oily and salty, with too strong a flavor in the broth that overpowered most of the other flavors. The fried chicken in the soup was soggy. Granted, my photographer did enjoy the soup more than I did.
The drink we shared arrived last, bright pink in contrast to all of the surrounding environment. It looked like Pepto–Bismol, but tasted like liquid pink starbursts, and was topped with lychee and other fruits cut up into fun shapes. It went fast.
If you ever find yourself in South Philly, drop by Hardena. But get there early, it fills up fast.
TL;DR: A cozy neighborhood Indonesian restaurant, loved by locals.
Location: 1754 S. Hicks Street
Hours: Wednesday–Monday: 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.