Where You Should Eat Filipino Food In Los Angeles Right Now

The dish palabok served at Mari, a Filipino pop-up happening every Thursday in August 2018. (Courtesy of Mari)

In Los Angeles, home to the largest number of Filipino immigrants in the United States, Pinoy restaurant roots run deep. No city except Manila has a higher concentration of Filipinos — and the restaurants to match. Filipino cuisine is blowing up. Like Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Thai food before it, its popularity has moved beyond its diaspora to dazzle the mainstream American palate.

Old school bakeries, mom and pop establishments and turo-turo joints (Tagalog for "point-point," as in you point to the items you want) laid the foundation. We're talking about local favorites like Bahay Kubo, Max's of Manila, Leelin Bakery, Point Point Joint, Ilonggo Delicacies and Pinoy Pinay. Now, a new crop of restaurants run by classically trained first and second-generation Filipino chefs is familiarizing diners with flavors from their motherland.

"I was at Canelé, sautéing yet more pasta and the thought came to my mind, 'Why isn't this pancit?'" says Chad Valencia, about the indigenous stir fried noodle dish. At LASA, his award-winning Chinatown restaurant, he uses local, seasonal California produce to replicate — and expand on — familiar Filipino dishes. "We're just using our technique," Valencia says. "We keep the flavor profile on the traditional." (You can catch a longer interview with Valencia on today's Take Two segment.)

Want to take a deeper dive into this cross-section of salty, sweet and sour flavors? Start at Eagle Rock Plaza for a sampling of old school joints. Anchored by a Seafood City Supermarket, it's also home to Leelin and outposts of fast food chains Jollibee, Crispy Town and Grill City. "It's like visiting a smaller mall in Manila," says USC professor Karen Tongson. For new school options, read on.

Various dishes at The Park's Finest, a restaurant in Historic Filipinotown. (Courtesy of The Park's Finest)

The Park's Finest
Kicking off L.A.'s new wave of Filipino restaurants, The Park's Finest started as a catering company in 2009 before it opened as a restaurant in 2012. They infuse proteins with smoky Pinoy flavors to create dishes like Mt. Maladang pork ribs and Mama Leah's coconut beef. The cornbread bibingka, slightly sweet with a hint of coconut, is the perfect accompaniment to his meats.
1267 W. Temple St., HiFi. 213-481-2800.

Big Boi Filipino Food
Big Boi is Barb Batiste's sophomore effort, following her success with bread pudding mecca B Sweet. Named for her father, the mostly takeout restaurant with a few counter seats offers an affordable menu of classics such as a sour sinigang soup; salty, sweet and garlicky pork tocino and a punchy chicken adobo. Don't miss the freshly baked sweet rolls, which come with a sweet and savory housemade ube butter.
2027 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles. 424-832-7199.

Sari Sari Store
James Beard-nominated Margarita Manzke (the pastry half of the Republique empire on La Brea) serves inspired garlic rice bowls, known as silog, inside Grand Central Market. Whether loaded with eggplant, organic chicken, crispy pork head, pork ribs or pork belly, the bowls are always topped with a fried egg. Enjoy one with a calamansi or passion fruit soda. The term "sari sari" means "whatever" in Tagalog and was inspired by the small stores in the Philippines that sell a cornucopia of items.
317 S. Broadway, downtown L.A. 323-320-4020.

RiceBar
Charles Olalia's first solo project after four years at Patina is a humble, ten-seat counter. Opened in 2015, it serves snacks such as shrimp and uni potstickers as well as rice bowls featuring housemade longganisa sausage (or Impossible Foods' vegan version), chicken adobo and beef kaldereta (a stew typically made with goat in the Philippines) on a bed of garlic, jasmine and tamarind rice. You can add SPAM and avocado for a California twist.
419 W. 7th St., downtown L.A. 213-807-5341.

Butter roasted garlic prawns. #🦐

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Ma'am Sir
"If RiceBar is homestyle food, I want Ma'am Sir to present banquet party and drinking food," Olalia says. Palm frond wallpaper and hanging ferns decorate this tropically themed space. The bar boasts a weekday happy hour with discounts like $7 glasses of wine and $10 plates of lumpia topped with uni. Among the large plates, called ulam, the tart ribeye salpicao and the milkfish inihaw, grilled and served whole under a soy glaze and a crunchy relish, are standouts. Pica pica selections, meant to be enjoyed over rice, include pork sisig made with sweetbreads and butter roasted garlic prawns with black pepper noodles.
4330 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. 323-741-8371

Tatang Filipino Food
Chef-owner Jamby Roi Martin has a light touch when using high-end ingredients to prepare traditional dishes at this newish North Hollywood gem. He makes the crunchy spring rolls known as lumpia with free-range chicken (instead of pork) and tops sizzling sisig (normally finely chopped pig parts but also made from chicken) with organic eggs and li-em-po, heritage pork belly marinated in calamansi and seasoned with pepper, soy and garlic. His balatong, a mung bean stew with freshwater prawns and bacon, is a rare treat.
10829 Oxnard St., North Hollywood. 818-331-6771.

Various dishes at LASA, a Filipino restaurant in L.A.'s Chinatown. (Courtesy of LASA)

LASA
It's hard to believe that brothers Chad and Chase Valencia only opened Food and Wine's L.A. Restaurant of the Year in April of 2018 — as a pop-up. LASA continues to wow diners with its fast-casual lunch bowls and sit-down dinners. Shrimp inihaw are grilled with palm vinegar and served with a spicy, green garlic dipping sauce known as sawsawan. Seared octopus a la plancha is infused with smoke, paired with sweet housemade longanisa and served as "surf and turf." Rockfish kinilaw, a raw fish dish similar to ceviche, is brined in bright citrus, fish sauce and calamansi then combined with avocado and crunchy watermelon radish.
727 N Broadway #120, Chinatown. 213-443-6163.

The Mess Around cocktail at Genever, a new bar in the Historic Filipinotown neighborhood of L.A. (Courtesy of Genever)

Genever
Gin cocktails take center stage at this brand new bar, which showcases variations on gimlets, Tom Collins and Tiki drinks. Owners Patricia Perez, Roselma Samala and Christine Sumiller have created an elegant, retro lounge complete with a crystal chandelier, hand-painted gold walls and a Beaux Arts-style tin ceiling. The daily happy hour features $7 Negronis, martinis and gilmets. Or you can sample one of the 24 gins they carry.
3123 Beverly Blvd., HiFi. 213-908-5693.

Beef cheeks served at Mari, a Filipino pop-up happening every Thursday in August 2018. (Courtesy of Mari)

Mari
This pop-up happens every Thursdays, from August 9th through the 30th. Filipino food was a fusion cuisine long before it arrived in the United States, an amalgam of colonialist influences from Spain, China, Malaysia, Singapore and America. Sous chef Brian Bellicourt pays homage to those multicultural influences — and his heritage — through imaginative hybrids of Filipino, Italian and American dishes. He makes the noodle dish palabok with spaghetti and annatto pork ragu and his spicy beef cheek kaldereta features pea puree. There's also chicharron-crusted sea bass and pork belly sisig toast. For dessert, he combines cashews and calamansi to make a multi-layered almond sans rival cake with a light, sweet, tropical note.
InterContinental Los Angeles Century City: 2151 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. 310-284-6500.


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