Fear not, dear foodie. There is so much more to Filipino food than just the infamous balut (duck embryo). Food critics have touted Filipino cuisine to be the next big food craze because of its Spanish, Pacific, and East Asian culinary roots. In contemporary Filipino cooking, a hodgepodge of humble ingredients — such as peanut butter and beef oxtail — can be transformed into a cohesive dish with refined flavors like kare-kare (beef oxtail stew). While naysayers will argue that the island nation’s fare cannot be elevated, here are three Filipino restaurants that prove them wrong
Last October, Chef Janice Lagaza, former senior sous chef of the Malacañan Palace (presidential residence and offices in the Philippines), opened Elena Una in San Francisco’s Marina District. Taking its name from Lagaza’s grandmother Elena and the Tagalog word for “first,” the Filipino-Asian pop-up restaurant takes Filipino dishes to new heights with a modern twist on traditional favorites. For the Filipino food newbie with a sweet tooth, we suggest the bibingka skillet (coconut and rice cake) for brunch. Holding true to the Filipino cooking tradition, Elena Una’s bibingka is still baked in a banana leaf, but its contemporary take of this sweet-meets-salty dish is served with sweet coconut flakes (instead of shredded raw coconut) and a salted egg créme anglaise (in lieu of a salty preserved egg). If you are more savory brunch inclined, try the eatery’s self-proclaimed favorite staff meal pacham fried rice, which is made of mixed meat, annatto, chili, and cilantro and topped with an egg. The pop-up will close down shortly when the building will be razed, so pop on over now!
San Bruno’s Patio Filipino is a fabulous Filipino-Spanish fusion restaurant renowned to dish out some of the best Filipino food in the nation. With its use of saffron and rich olive oils, its entrées are a delectable celebration of the Spanish influence in Filipino cuisine. If you are a fan of the other white meat, we highly recommend the crispy pata, a party food mainstay in Filipino culture. Crispy pork foreshank is simmered until tender, rubbed with fish sauce, then deep-fried until its skin is crunchy. To cut the richness of the pork, try dipping your crispy pata into a vinegar soy sauce. No trip to Patio Filipino is complete without its signature dish Paella Valenciana, a traditional Spanish dish. Saffron rice is cooked to order with chorizo, mussels, scallops, shrimp, and chicken. End your meal with the classic Filipino dessert halo-halo, the restaurant’s best seller. Served in a young coconut shell, halo-halo is a mélange of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and an assortment of accoutrements such as tapioca pearls, red mung beans, and leche flan (egg custard). Once you’ve stuffed yourself to the point of no return, be sure to doggie bag your leftovers. The portions at Patio Filipino are generous.
Located on South B Street in downtown San Mateo, Attic is heralded for its California state of mind approach to street food inspired pan-Asian dishes. You can never go wrong with the sizzling sisig, a Filipino classic, which is skillet of tender chopped pork, tossed with mild chiles, and aromatic garlic. It’s served with wedges of calamansi, a sweet-sour citrus native to the Philippines. Long live the restaurant’s long life garlic noodles, which are fresh egg noodles with fragrant garlic, its special house sauce, and Dungeness crab meat. And don’t forget to get your mitts on Attic’s most popular dish, the adobo wing lollipops, crispy chicken drumettes painted with an adobo glaze. Be sure to allow for 15-20 minutes for your order, but they are well worth the wait.