Tucked away in the heart of Philly's Chinatown, Ocean Harbor is an incredible Cantonese style restaurant located at 1023 Race Street. The bright yellow sign hanging above the front entrance catches my eye from across the street, as it stands out against the sleek, modern gray tiling that makes up the bottom half of the exterior surrounding the doorway.
Beautiful red carpeting with swirls of gold covers the entire floor, and grand golden pillars line the room. I walk up the stairs from the front entrance to the check–in booth and see, behind the counter, a stunning red calendar with metallic gold writing on it. The woman behind the front desk seems busy, but seats me immediately. As she leads me to my table, I take note of the fact that the interior looks more like a banquet hall than a typical restaurant. There are square and circular–shaped tables draped in white tablecloths and metal–framed chairs at each one. I also observe what appears to be a stage in the back of the restaurant, framed by golden curtains.
Sparkling chandeliers hang from the ceiling and there are TVs and speakers all around the room. It seems like a large party could be hosted here, and it adds to the feeling of excitement and energy despite there only being two other families present. I opted to come for dinner on a weeknight because I’ve heard it’s packed on weekends, and I feel good about my decision.
I’m seated at one of the square tables in the middle of the room and a friendly waitress comes over to ask if I want anything to drink. She places a metal teapot on the table and brings water over very quickly. When I pick up the menu I’m excited to see such a wide variety of options: They have everything from a beef flank hot pot to shark’s fin soup. Almost all of the main dishes on the menu are affordable (under $15 to $20), and their dim sum gets rave reviews, but I’m in the mood for a diverse array of appetizers. I ordered wonton soup ($2.95), egg rolls ($2.50), spring rolls ($3.00), and steamed shrimp dumplings ($2.75).
Waiting for my appetizers and soup to come, I see the back corner of the restaurant adorned with a shining golden folding partition. There are also tanks with live crabs and eels. Just as I’m starting to space out, listening to the conversations and laughter from the groups eating near me, one of the TVs turns on and starts playing sounds that can only be described as “game show noises,” bringing me back to the present moment and filling me with excitement and anticipation for the food that is on its way.
The first item to arrive is my soup. Two large wontons float in a translucent broth, garnished with scallions. The soup’s temperature is just right: Not too hot, not too cold. The broth itself is salty and delicious, and the wontons are doughy and flavorful. It’s a very good portion for what it costs, too.
Next come the egg rolls and spring rolls. The egg rolls are fairly large and have a thick, fried pastry on the outside, with hot shredded vegetables on the inside. The spring rolls are similar in appearance to the egg rolls but different in terms of content. The outside shell is thinner and flakier, and they’re filled with delicious shredded pork that is briny and juicy.
Lastly come the steamed shrimp dumplings. There are four of them, and they almost look like little seashells. The outside consists of a wrapper that’s white, noodle–like, and chewy. I can see the light pink shrimp peeking through the wrapper on the inside. They taste super fresh, and I can detect a hint of sesame oil. While the wrapper is sticky, the shrimp themselves are soft and well–cooked. After I finish eating and pay the check, the waitress brings over orange slices and fortune cookies—it’s a perfect way to end the meal.
Not only is the delicious food at Ocean Harbor inexpensive, it’s also easy to get to from Penn’s campus. You can simply hop on SEPTA at 40th Street Station and take the Market–Frankford Line to 11th Street Station. It’s open from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, so there’s plenty of opportunities to check out this lovely dining experience.