Los Angeles has the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines, so it’s anyone’s guess why Filipino fare is only growing in popularity now. The distinct flavors found in Philippine dishes have resulted from centuries of contact with other countries and cultures, and today’s chefs are using this to their advantage. Here’s our guide to the best places to try the flavor of the Philippines in LA.
Bistro, Filipino, $$$
Located in the heart of Panorama City, this hidden gem serves a true Filipino-style breakfast and lunch buffet. The best part of Bamboo Bistro, however, is the kamayan dinner, a meal eaten with your hands at a long table covered with banana leaves. Friendly staff members chat with you as they set the table with traditional kamayan dishes such as garlic rice, seafood, lechon kawali(crispy fried pork belly), salted egg and tomato salad, BBQ pork, and plenty of napkins. During the meal, karaoke with the employees or a comedy show serve as the night’s entertainment.
The house specials at Barrio Fiesta are the crispy pata (deep fried pork leg with crackling skin) and the kare-kare, (oxtail stew made with a thick peanut sauce). Food is served in the traditional Filipino way: family-style, with the dishes in the middle of the table and individual plates for everyone to grab their share. The portions here are particularly large, so taking home doggy bags is not uncommon.
Belly & Snout in Koreatown fuses the diverse flavors of Filipino cuisine with American fast food staples like grilled cheese, hot dogs, and tater tots. The Sisig hot dog, with multiple layers of fried pork and a fried egg, and citrusy calamansi juice, is a favorite among the regulars. If that’s not your style, there are plenty of other pork dishes to choose from, including a grilled cheese with longanisa sausage or pork adobo, and the two buck taco for those dining on a budget.
Ube macapuno trifle | Courtesy of Crème Caramel LA
Crème caramel, or as Filipinos fondly call it, leche flan, forms the main livelihood for this little shop on Burbank, along with other bites such as custard pies and bread puddings. The establishment’s storefront might appear to be just another one of the many hip new restaurants catering to the younger crowd in the area, but the flavors offered inside betray the store’s delicious Filipino influences. Alongside the traditional vanilla-flavored crème caramel cups are buko pandan and halo-halo varieties; many of the other treats are Filipino-inspired as well. If you ever have a craving for Filipino pastries, this place is for you.
Red snapper kinilaw, or Filipino ceviche | Courtesy of LASA
Named after the Tagalog word for ‘taste’, LASA is a weekend pop-up shop in Chinatown that provides fine-dining with a Filipino twist. The restaurant, which is housed in the renowned culinary incubator Unit 120, prepares seasonal dishes such as lumpia sariwa, crispy duck arroz caldo, and Baguio-style strawberry taho for the lucky people who manage to snag a reservation. Chase and Chad Valencia, the co-owners of the restaurant along with the rest of the staff, provide a warm welcome. With a menu that changes every week, you can try a new concoction every time. What’s not to like?
The live music and decor create a great ambiance to the LA Rose Café, but it’s always the food that keeps people coming. Their most popular offerings include the chicken adobo plate served with garlic rice and eggs, flaky empanadas, and ube cheese rolls dusted with sugar. To wash down your meal, try the Juan de la Cruz made with calamansi juice, honey, and iced tea. Looking for a caterer for your next party? LA Rose Café has got it covered. From roasted whole lechon to sapin sapin for dessert, they stand by their claim, ‘What we can prepare for you is only limited by your imagination.’ Opening hours: Mon – Sat 8 am – 8 pm & Sun 10 am – 4:30 pm
Originally hailing from Manila, Max’s has branched out, now serving its famous fried chicken with banana ketchup all over the U.S., Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. Their restaurant in Glendale, located near the bustling Glendale Galleria and The Americana, welcomes weary shoppers as well as families and friends looking to celebrate an event. The restaurant chain, also known as ‘the house that fried chicken built’, makes hospitality and passion for food their priority, and both are showcased in their service and menu.
Cafe, Restaurant, Filipino, Pastries, Coffee, Fast Food, Vegetarian
People flock to Ninong’s Pastries and Café for their ube pancakes topped with sans rival butter and coconut syrup, but don’t let that stop you from trying the other brilliant dishes on their menu. Entries include a mango and turon variety of their pancakes, and ensaymada French toast with a drizzle of ube cookie butter. Before you leave, don’t forget to check out their desserts; the pastries are baked in-house and are a must to take home. This family-owned café is closed on Mondays.
Don’t let its storefront fool you. Oi Asian Fusion may be tucked away in a strip mall, but you’ll remember the location for the next time you’re here. Of the several Filipino-inspired bowls they offer, the tapsilog and adobo bowls are by far the biggest crowd-pleasers. Both come generously packed with marinated strips of beef or crispy pork belly on a bed of rice; the soft-boiled egg that comes with the adobo is cooked to perfection. And at less than $10 a bowl, they’re great for people who want more for less.
A Worker’s Wednesday combo plate | Courtesy of The Park’s Finest BBQ
Fans of The Park’s Finest boast about the restaurant’s ‘American cuts of BBQ with a Filipino flavor’, and they’re right to do so. This BBQ joint in historic Filipinotown started as a small catering company, but now has its own brick-and-mortar location and has even been featured on Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Their variation on American soul food includes items like cornbread bibingka, sweet and salty coconut beef, and 16-hour slow roasted pulled pork. You can even order online, but with The Park’s Finest selection of craft brews on tap, dining in is recommended.