Cultural enclaves in America sustain ways of life that might otherwise have been sacrificed in chasing the American dream, as the preservation of language and customs often loses out to overtime hours and cultural assimilation. These neighborhoods evoke distant countries and harbor recipes and rituals — the last vestiges of a former life. in doing so, they take on greater significance in honoring culture and history.
As age and awareness does its thing, I reflect on how grateful I am for my hometown of San Diego, where little clusters of Filipino shops in National City and Rancho Peñaquitos served as a gateway to my parents’ past. Palengkes (wet markets) were fully stocked with staples like sukang ilokano (spiced vinegar), and served whole fried fish and balut. As a child, I roamed the aisles of these markets like an explorer, picking up jars with tiny shrimp swimming in a pink paste, mouthing words on labels that had no meaning to me. The store clerks called me anak, I called them Tito or Tita, and for those fleeting moments felt connected to a country I had never visited. This led me to wonder: Where are the other Little Manilas in the United States? Where are the approximately 4 million Filipinos coming together in community over food and drink?
Everywhere, as it turns out. You can find us cooking in all 50 states, offering jewels like bright-orange pancit palabok, glimmering bronze stews like adobo, and royal purple ube ice cream. In every corner of the nation, Filipinos are cooking and feasting, sometimes operating a lone food cart hundreds of miles from the nearest Filipino community, other times opening multiple businesses side-by-side, with a community of owners and kusineros supporting one another and their offspring through commerce and cuisine.
I did my part in New York City, the place I consider the hospitality capital of the world. It’s where I chose to plant two restaurants, Maharlika in 2010 and Jeepney in 2012, growing the roots for a new wave of Filipino style and substance. With Maharlika, I wanted a laid-back confidence in a bistro setting with a focus on hospitality. Jeepney was meant to be a deep dive in history and culture, and my team and I debuted Kamayan feasts and educated our guests on the Filipino origins of Tiki. The award-winning “Chori Burger” made its mark at Jeepney with big energy and swag. This was the era when food critics, journalists, and influencers began noticing Filipino food’s influence, naming it the “next big thing.” Though my restaurants closed over the last two years, I still have hospitality blood in my veins and am happy that Filipino food has only expanded its reach.
As I looked at restaurants across the country, each state revealed some things I had not known about Filipino history in America. I didn’t know, for example, that Filipinos were the first Asian settlers here (we’ve been coming to the United States since the 1500s), nor did I fully understand the racism and prejudice behind the legislation that prevented my forefathers from obtaining jobs or marrying outside of our culture. One of the most troubling moments of Filipino history in America took place at the 1904 World’s Fair in Missouri, where no less than 1,000 Filipinos, many of them Igorots from rural mountainous regions were displayed in human zoos and forced to eat up to 20 dogs a day, bathe and “live” for the entertainment of the many Americans that flocked to this disgusting and inhumane exhibition. It’s my belief that a narrative of shame was born here, as well as a lasting desire for safety and survival, which led to Filipino cuisine and culture receding into the shadows. For decades, we learned to seek assimilation and to hide in plain sight.
These traumatic stories give me even more reason to be inspired by the courage and perseverance of the chefs, home cooks, kusineros, and food entrepreneurs who are cooking Filipino food with pride and joy in America today. They are taking off the cloak of survival and putting on the armor of confidence. They are stepping out of the shadows. Filipinos have come a long way in America and we have so much farther to go, but this moment is something to savor.
Read on for the Best Places to Eat Filipino Food in America.
Mary Chappell, the owner of Flippin’ Filipino food truck in Huntsville, Alabama, worked as a medical assistant until the pandemic cut her hours short. As the country locked down around her, the mother of two young daughters started making up for the sudden decrease in pay by cooking and selling steaming trays of Filipino fare out of her kitchen. Chappell found success with her side gig and brought her eatery on the road, serving hungry Alabamians everything from snackable lumpia shanghai packed with a well-seasoned mix of ground pork, minced onions, garlic, carrots and celery, to freshly baked, rich purple ube crinkle cookies dusted with powdered sugar.
Caption: Spam and tofu musubi at Black Moon Koven in Juneau
While the biting cold of Alaska is a far cry from the swelter of the Philippine islands, the northernmost state is actually home to 30,000 Filipinos. The large population is the legacy of Filipino sakadas, the thousands of men who, devastated after the Philippine-American War, were recruited to work in American farms and salmon canneries in the early 1900s.
The self-proclaimed “Alaskeros” were forced to adapt to a dramatically different food landscape, inspiring fusions like salmon lumpia and beaver adobo. The flavors of home were a welcome respite as they endured second-class conditions in the canneries, living quarters and “mess hall” cafeterias. Yet, the discrimination sparked the Alaskeros’ resiliency, driving them to start the first Filipino-led labor union, and laid a strong foundation for thriving communities across the state where today younger generations of Filipinos are carrying their culture forward.
In Juneau, Alaska’s capital, chef Aims Villanueva-Alf spent her childhood comparing the cooking techniques at Filipino parties, detecting distinct differences between each family’s homemade fried rice, adobo and pinakbet. This curiosity, paired with her father’s time as a chief and chef for the U.S. Coast Guard, fed her passion for cuisine and integrative nutrition. At first glance, Villanueva-Alf’s restaurant Black Moon Koven can easily be mistaken for a psychic shop. Make your way past the witchy aesthetics and you’ll find comfort brunch food with a twist. The chef prioritizes locally foraged proteins, taking learnings from the A’akw Kwáan and T’aaḵu Kwáan, the Indigenous people of the land in Juneau, on how to treat the harvest and respect the food. Ready to dig in? Try the “moon fried rice” tossed with Spam, smoked bacon, fluffy eggs, onions, and of course, lots of garlic – it’s the Filipino way.
There’s also Filipino flavors as far up as the North Pole. Nanay’s Kitchen food truck can be found in and around the Eielson Air Force base, just outside of North Pole, Alaska, as the owner Jade Graybeal and her husband are active duty military personnel. Graybeal inherited the truck from her own Nanay and has since traveled cross-country (as far as Mississippi), hopping Air Force bases and serving up generous helpings of lumpia and adobo along the way.
In the city of Phoenix, Filipino immigration can be traced back to seasonal agricultural labor hailing from the Northern Philippines by way of Hawaii. An unofficial Little Manila here was home to meztizo Filipino-Mexican-American families starting in the 1920s. The community enjoyed a busy social life for early enterprising settlers called “Old Timers,” who opened small businesses, billiards and dance halls from the 1940 through the1960s. Today in Phoenix food entrepreneurs are bookending the familiar with updated points-of-view on Filipino cuisine.
At Casa Filipina Restaurant & Bakeshop, you’ll find baked classics like pandesal. A meryenda staple, the soft bread roll is a slightly sweet, warm, yeasty, soft, aromatic carb cloud sprinkled with breadcrumbs and enjoyed simply with a (generous) pat of salted butter or slice of spam. Over at PHX Lechon Roasters, the catering and pop-up team of Brian Webb and his Filipina wife, Margita, specialize in coal-roasted Cebuano-style lechon, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and auspiciously stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, bay leaves, sage and tons of green onion. Filipinos have long served lechon at celebratory feasts where something special is needed. Arizona residents are in luck: Chef Brian and Margita also provide a lechon catering option, where they lovingly serve it kamayan-style and even offer lechon carving services as part of the package.
“Kumain ka na ba?” or “Have you eaten?” are the first words to greet you at Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant in downtown Searcy, Arkansas. The phrase is familiar to anyone who’s visited a Filipino home, and feels like a warm embrace for the few Filipinos in the state. As a young girl in the Philippines, chef Whilma Frogoso honed her straight-from-the-heart home cooking skills to keep her family well-fed. Since opening the restaurant in 2009, Frogoso has been devoted to providing customers an experience reminiscent of the love and care found in any Filipino family kitchen. Her tender, marinated pork adobo gives Southerners the soulful bite they’re looking for.
California is the Filipino capital of the United States. Filipinos have been immigrating to the Golden State for 435 years, drawn over time by opportunities in agriculture, the military, and medical fields, as well as by California’s location on the Pacific rim as a logical first step for many entering the US. Today the community’s influence is in direct proportion to its population. The 1.6 million Filipinos living in California are by far the largest concentration of Filipinos in America, and arguably the world, outside of the Philippines, itself. (For context, the second largest population of Filipinos in the U.S. is in Hawaii, where we number approximately 360,000.)
Californian Filipinos found their voices as early activists, as they combatted injustices produced by labor laws, housing, education, hate crimes, interracial marriages and economic inequality. Their impact is national: From the 1930s to mid 1960s, for example, one of the leading activists of his time was Stockton-based Larry Itliong, the Filipino-American labor organizer who Cezar Chavez later joined up with to lead the Delano grape strike that led to better working conditions for farm laborers. (Today, the Central Valley maintains a vibrant Filipino presence; if you’re in Stockton, visit Foo Lung Deli on main street for Filipino comfort food that never disappoints, and Papa Urb’s Grill on Weber Avenue for fast food if you’ve got the munchies.)
Many Asian and Filipino food distributors were established or have a strong foothold in California, serving the enormous opportunity in demand. Through enterprising efforts of visionary Filipinos, Philippine ingredient distributors like Ramar foods, Island Pacific Supermarkets and 99 Ranch have had the opportunity to establish themselves as leaders of the Filipino food supply chain. (Ramar, for example, is the creator of beloved Filipino brands like Magnolia ice cream and Manila Gold, which sells elusive calamansi juice packaged for convenience.)
The Filipino diaspora spread its wings far and wide in California. Today, it is concentrated in three main regions: The Greater Los Angeles Area, The Bay Area, and San Diego. These three areas produced official and unofficial Little Manilas.
In the LA region, there is Historic Filipinotown (graced with a recently unveiled monumental gateway welcoming visitors) and West Covina. Both neighborhoods invite visitors to wander and discover, but be sure to visit The Parks Finest BBQ for Filipino-inspired BBQ owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team committed to community from day one, and Hi FI Kitchen for traditional & Vegan rice bowls that preserve the heritage of Historic Filipinotown. Don’t miss Dollar Hits (2432 W Temple St, Los Angeles, which serves OG Filipino street food from the streets of Manila to the street of LA, or Lasita, which is in high demand as a stop for rotisserie chicken brined, stuffed and marinated with lemongrass, garlic, spring onion and ginger. For good eats a bit further out from the city center, drive to Chino to hit Cafe 86 for all the ube you can eat.
In the Bay Area, there is Daly City and a re-emerging Manilatown in SoMa. In Daly city, stop by one of the locations of Starbread, a bakery established in 1986, for the ube donuts and their famous señorita bread, a soft and aromatic pastry. For old-school flavor, there’s Fil-Am Cuisine, which does the best pork barbecue on the West Coast, traditionally cooked over charcoal. For something fancier, visit Abaca for contemporary Filipino-American-Californian Cuisine from Chef Francis Ang. Get over to Oakland for FOB Kitchen, a QWOC owned restaurant in Temescal with a full-bar, plant-based items like pancit and inspired conversations.
Last but not least, SoCal boasts San Diego’s National City and Mira Mesa (nickname “Manila Mesa”) as the center of all things Pinoy. A much anticipated addition to the San Diego dining scene, White Rice brings hipster fuel to FIlipino food, and Animae headed by executive chef QWOC Tara Munsod, who has deftly introduced progressive dishes like her Clam Sinigang into the former Japanese steak house. If you’re curious what Filipino fried chicken is all about, try Max’s Restaurant, an old-school national chain that also manages to be a local favorite for lightly coated, delicately crispy chicken fried to a light golden brown and best enjoyed with banana ketchup and white rice.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a class in school called “Eatamology”? The course syllabus would break down the roots of various dishes’ names, tracing branches of their family trees, and exploring techniques and historical context. The course might start with the humble handheld pie known as The Empanada. We’d learn that the loose translation is the verb “blanketed in bread” (as in envelope) and that the dish and its name is rooted in Spain and spread to Mexico and Philippines through interloping conquistadors. There are various doughs, and empanadas may be fried or baked, but the shape and the filings tend to stay the course with slight variations depending on the country. In an unassuming strip mall in Colorado Springs, visitors get the chance to explore history through bites at You-ka Cafe. At this husband-and-wife, Blackapino-owned eatery, the entire menu serves your gastronomical and educational pleasures. (Ask about the origins of parmesan lumpia.) Chef and co-owner Emilou Savage avail the empanada fillings of standard carinderia-style food, but for a standout meal, try one of his curious adaptations that demonstrate food is an ever-evolving artform. Some of Savage’s third-wave flavors include chicken curry, spinach and cheese and humba, a slow-cooked pork stew tenderized and seasoned with pineapple juice and baking spices like star anise and cinnamon.
Zul Cafe and Grill‘s intention is simple: to deliver authentic Filipino flavors of home. Rob Luz, a former Filipino grocery store owner, and his wife Gladys, a nurse at Greenwich and Stamford hospitals, recognized this need firsthand and seized the opportunity to open the only Filipino restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut. The pick-up-and-go spot has filled the void for a community that was accustomed to traveling all the way to Woodside, Queens for a good plate of barbecued pork sticks and steaming hot rice. Keep an eye out for their Thursday specials, which feature off-menu delicacies like binagoongan with eggplant, a smoky eggplant in funky shrimp paste sauce.
Chef Carlos Miranda opened Tagpuan Restaurant in Newark, Delaware, with a mission to share his passion for his country and the food he grew up eating with the world. Proudly displaying a bright yellow Philippine sun on the building’s exterior, Tagpuan, or “the place to meet,” has been a home base for family and friends to gather and share a cultural experience through cuisine since its opening in 2018. Get a bite of “adidas,” or fried chicken feet, a popular street food staple. For dessert, the halo halo has a nice balance of shaved ice and mix-ins. Customers say it isn’t too sweet, a review any Tita would approve of.
Since 2015, Washington, D.C., has been home to Bad Saint, a thought leader of Filipino food leveling up the intersection of inherited cravings and technical modernity. The recipient of numerous accolades and awards, Bad Saint introduced some deep cuts in Filipino flavors like palapa, a sweet and spicy Mindanoan condiment that was one of many culinary choices that set this 24-seat intimate eatery apart. With two-hour waits and fanatical reviews, Filipino food seemed like an overnight success, but D.C.’s Philippine foodways have a long history in the area. Follow the smell of bawang and bagoong, you’ll be led down a path dating back almost a century ago, to the Manila House.
Located at 2422 K St. NW, The Manila House looks like an ordinary row house with almost zero remnants of its Pinoy heritage save for a commemorative bronze plaque. In its heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s, Filipino visitors gathered at The Manila House, using their hands to eat the finest Filipino dishes with vegetables grown on premises, and discussing political issues ranging from American segregation to Japanese occupation as well as Filipinos’ collective joys and sorrows.
Though The Manila House was let go in 1976, 45 years later its founders’ legacy lives on at the hands of a new generation of Filipino chefs. Their restaurants run the gamut from fast casual (see Pogiboy, where Bad Saint alum Tom Cunanan serves sweet-spicy Tocino Burgers on bright purple ube buns) to relaxed, bistro-like settings (Purple Patch, where Patrice Cleary makes a mean Filipino Spaghetti) to a fine-dining experience with a progressive tasting menu. The last is at Hiraya, where Paolo Dungca paints with flavors familiar to the Filipino palate – the latter showcasing Chef Paolo’s years studying side-by-side with revered chefs in top kitchens and the flavors he grew up eating.
“Filipino chefs have always been in the background of kitchens. We never really showed off our skills with our food, until now,” says Jacksonville, Florida-based chef Jojo Hernandez, owner of a popular food truck (and soon to be brick-and-mortar restaurant), Abstrakt Filipino Essence, known for its vibrant green color. With 22 years in the kitchen, Hernandez leads a growing ensemble of chefs in North Florida called Jax Filipino Chefs, all intent on influencing menus and businesses with the flavors of the archipelago and making customers aware that there’s more to Filipino food than just lumpia. Jacksonville is the most populated city in the state and Hernandez has his sights set on making his elevated take on his favorite Filipino dishes part of the tapestry of the city.
Born in the Philippines with a father who was enlisted in the US Navy, Hernandez shares this background with many other Filipinos in town.
The US Military and Filipinos are inextricably connected in Jacksonville. The connection can be traced back to the American occupation of the Philippines beginning in 1898, after the Treaty of Paris, where Spain sold the Philippines to America for $20 million dollars. Soon after, America had military bases throughout the 7,100 islands and opened low-level jobs and enlistment to local Filipino men, who signed up for work and the opportunity to serve and travel to the States and beyond. In the early 1940s a Naval Air Station was created in Jacksonville, and by the 1950s, 90% of the North Florida’s Filipino population had some tie to the American military.
Today, Jacksonville is home to the largest Filipino community in the entire state of Florida but does not have a central Filipino district. Despite the lack of a Little Manila, Hernandez uses only products are sourced from the Philippines, like the country’s signature dark and intense soy sauce, which he uses in dishes like his mother’s salty and sweet Ilokano adobo recipe. “I want people to know all the flavors of adobo,” he says.
Thanks to daring and enterprising entrepreneurs who have a dream and see it through, Filipino food is commanding attention in Atlanta, Georgia. At the charmingly glamorous boite Estrelita, which opened in 2020, buddies Hope Webb and chef Walter Cortado serve Salmon Head Sinigang. Estrelita’s sinigang is respectfully intact to its home cooking origins, and given an elegant presentation: The fish head is cut lengthwise, served preserved in form in a sour tamarind broth, so guests get the best parts — including the decadent skin and buttery sweet fish cheeks, alongside verdant bok choy, okra, green beans and tomatoes. This spring, Estrelita also organized Atlanta’s first annual Filipino Fest, where other new concepts got to test and build their restaurant dreams.
Acidity in the form of Sinigang, Adobo, Kinilaw and Paksiw is a thread that finds itself on almost all tables throughout the 3 regions of the Philippines, but in one corner of the southern province called Bicol, heat and spiciness is ubiquitous and the base of many dishes. Bicolano flavors are represented in Atlanta, near the OTP (outside the perimeter) and Buford Highway, where KamayanATL has opened in a neighborhood with Asian cuisine that draws customers from as far as Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Chef Mia Oriño of KamayanATL uses silis, chiles beloved in the Philippines, in a coconut milk stew to create flavors that are unique to the Visayan region. Try her Sinilihan, a stew simmered so gently and so slowly so that the kombucha in it triples its job to season, thicken and color the dish, and belacan, a Malaysian shrimp paste, that adds depth and funky flavor. KamayanATL calls forth its commitment to the community not just by feeding the youth and sharing the kind of flavors and history that has escaped curriculums and grocery carts, but through a revolving curation of local artists featured on the walls.
We would be remiss not to mention Guam, as the American territory’s tie to the Philippine archipelago dates as far back as the 1600s. Spain colonized both lands for centuries until 1898, when the U.S. prevailed at the end of the Spanish-American War and took over. Over the length of their occupations, colonizers often sent Filipinos to Guam as exiled rebels, missionaries and soldiers. Many of them would go on to marry the Chamorru, the Indigenous people of the island, intertwining their cultures (and the food) ever since.
There are 50,000 Filipinos on the island today, with the majority concentrated in Dededo, the island’s second largest village. Here, award-winning Ben N Yan’s is the undeniable favorite. Founded in 2002 by Belnita and Salvador Espino, the restaurant is named after their sons Neil, Benson and Bryan. Their sizzling plate specials come hot and crackling, just off the fire, with a side of rice. Get the “pork chip” version — it’s their house favorite pork chop, served with a special gravy.
Filipino food and its presence in Hawaii can be traced back to plantation days and the plate lunch.
From 1900-1940s, 125,000 Filipinos, mostly Ilocanos from the Ilocos Sur region, were recruited to Hawaii as laborers for sugar and pineapple plantations. These Ilocano immigrants were referred to as sakadas and respected and revered for their toil and contribution to the economy in Hawaii and agriculture. The sakadas performed the most back-breaking work, made 70% of the plantation workforce, and yet were paid the least amount of any ethno-group at that time, according to the 1939 Bureau of statistics. During lunch breaks in those years, workers would bring their kau kau tins filled with rice and their home cooking, gather together and share what little shade there was and eat lunches together. One by one, each worker might share their food creating a shareable feast on newspapers. Those lunches represented the cuisines from the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Filipino workers creating a brotherhood distinct in each personality yet blended together on one plate.
The sakadas were known for planting their own vegetables, working multiple jobs and sending money back home to their families in the Philippines, collectively sending $276,000 each month during the Great Depression. They were also known for their courage and resilience leading a crusade for equal pay, changing the face of equality in the states.
There isn’t any such FIlipino town as such in Hawaii because Filipinos are so inextricably tied to Hawaiian population and ingrained in the Aloha spirit. There are two major cities—Waipahu and Kalihi–that have a concentration of Filipinos and eateries seeded by the plantation days of yesterday, which include the wonderful Elena’s, which serves a hybrid of Filipino classics with Hawaiian influence and family recipes. Go for the lechon special.
There are so many Filipino chefs operating in this tourism Mecca and you’d be hard-pressed to find an establishment that doesn’t have a Filipino on the line or leading the crew. But we’re especially excited about the emerging set of Filipino chefs that are eager to share their food – of whom Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof is a prime example. His cooking, which on any given day might be Chinese noodles, Korean Kalbi, Japanese Katsu, Hawaiian Lau Lau and Chicken adobo, is a true reflection of Hawaiian Filipino style.
In the aftermath of the Philippine-American War, droves of young Filipino men came to America to answer a call for agricultural labor. They started in California and traveled wherever farm work was needed, with a few trickling northeast into rural Idaho. More than a century later, a small Filipino community has cultivated in the Gem state, and they get their food fix from Lot’s Filipino Food Restaurant & Bakery in Mountain Home, Idaho. Owners Jerry and Geraldine “Lot” Shetler started out with a stall at the Farmer’s Market, and have since grown to a permanent location. Nothing tops the beef tapsilog, a traditional breakfast of marinated beef and silog, or garlic fried rice and eggs.
In Chicago, Kasama‘s light burns bright as the first Filipino restaurant to be acknowledged by a Michelin star. Chefs and co-owners, Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores created an establishment that joins a growing movement acknowledging the cuisine and its proprietors amongst the best in the world.
At night, Kasama is a fine-dining restaurant where you’ll breathe in the Philippines via a constantly-changing tasting menu featuring refined takes on classic dishes. Cross your finger that nilaga is on the menu when you dine. Typically a hearty-country soup that boils down tougher cuts to an unfiltered broth confettied with bone marrow and whole black peppercorns, fans of Kasama’s versions, one of which uses A5 Wagyu, cabbage and short grain rice, talk excitedly about its silky flavor and texture. It’s a reinvention achieved through repeated visceral experience of the original and heightened through vision, trial and error and expertise. The dinner menu is available only by reservation. As one might imagine, the seatings disappear as they are available, which is midnight every 45 days.
During the day, the restaurant takes on a cheery casual vibe for walk-ins (and gives hope to those wanting to experience a Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant). Plan ahead, because lines start at 8am, and Chef Genie’s pastries (like her ube basque cake) sell out. A curated selection of Filipino breakfasts like mushroom adobo or house made garlicky longanisa satisfy that sour and sweet craving. It’s a Filipino thang.
Wanting a bite of an oldie but goodie? Uncle Mike’s Place has been a hometown favorite for over 31 years. Owner Lucie Grawjeski immigrated from Tondo, where her mother owned a carinderia serving jeepney drivers a value-based meal. Sticking to her roots, Lucie and her husband Mike try to keep the prices accessible. The price of their Filipino breakfast with egg, rice, salad, and a champorado as dessert is still a steal at $14.95.
Before he was in his early 20s, cooking wasn’t on chef Carlos Salazar’s radar. His parents left the Philippines for Indiana when he was eight years old to join relatives who already settled in the state, where he grew up watching his Dad passionately feed friends and family. While attending college for accounting, it dawned on him that cooking came naturally to him in a way that sitting in an office and crunching numbers never did. So, he took the leap to go to culinary school and has since risen to be one of Indianapolis’ top chefs. His first restaurant, Rook (now closed), was born out of a desire to introduce his fellow Hoosiers to Asian-inspired flavors, as well as to challenge himself to thoroughly learn his cuisine and culture. After Rook closed in 2020, he started up Lil’ Dumplings Noodle Bar, a test concept that has since become an award-winning stall at The Garage Food Hall. While Salazar’s menu isn’t centered on Filipino food, Filipinos drive an hour into the city for specials like steamed buns with roasted pork belly and crispy lechon skins, dressed with sweet-yet-vinegary Mang Tomas sauce. On occasion, he also serves his own version of lugaw, a savory rice porridge similar to a warm congee.
Carmelita Shah, the matriarch of the Shah family and a physician for nearly 40 years, inspired her children Hannah Elliott and Taufeek Shah to open Lola’s Fine Kitchen in Ankeny, Iowa. The restaurant is reflective of their Filipino and Pakistani upbringing and immense love for their mother’s delicious fusion cooking. It’s a fast casual, build-your-own-bowl concept, so first you pick a base, like pancit noodles or biryani rice. Then select your protein — tandoori chicken or Filipino longanisa pork rolled into meatballs — and top it all off with over 20 options, from atchara, or Filipino pickles, to their line of Lola’s Fine Hot Sauces.
Records show that the first Filipinos in Kansas perhaps attended the University of Kansas as a part of the Pensionado Act in the early 1900s, the scholarship program funded by the U.S. government to provide American education to a select group of wealthy, young Filipinos. Most of these students returned home after graduation to become government leaders, so the local community didn’t actually cultivate in Kansas until after World War II, when Filipino U.S. veterans began to settle outside the army bases of Fort Riley or Fort Leavenworth.
For these Pinoys, there’s Filipino Cuisine in Junction City. The no-frills spot opened in 2020 and serves everything from full fried tilapia pompano fish, which is pan-fried for a balance of crispy skin and juicy meat, to trays of rich dinuguan blood stew. Owners Shirley Mahait Mckendall and Scott Mckendall introduce newcomers to Filipino cooking daily, offering customers a sample of each dish before they order. More often than not, first-tasters fall in love with the flavor. It’s Lola’s home cooking through a pick-up window.
Rudy Bamba, a longtime restaurant worker, dreamt of one day opening a food truck. The dream was always in the back of his mind, but never materialized until he found himself out of work at the height of COVID-19. Bamba Eggroll Company began after he and his wife Emma started selling crispy, golden homemade lumpia egg rolls — just like the kind his parents hand-rolled and fried throughout his childhood. (His late father was in the military and brought their family to Fort Knox, where, at the time, they weren’t able to find any Filipino flavors outside of their own kitchen). At first, Rudy and Emma just sold lumpia to their inner circles, but their rapid success led them to secure a commercial kitchen, and eventually to building out Louisville’s first and only Filipino food truck. While the meat and vegan lumpia are the stars of the menu, don’t miss out on the pancit — they mix the noodles with lots of fresh vegetables and it sells out fast.
Chef Christina Quackenbush is an early pioneer and go-to ambassador of Filipino food in New Orleans. Fleeing a tumultuous life in Indiana in 1999, she came to Louisiana to start over and observed a lack of Filipino food and representation. Her reinvention came as a Filipino food entrepreneur cooking lumpia and escabeche from her pop-up, Milkfish, in 2012.
Her new life was unintentionally following in the footsteps of her FIlipino ancestors. Known as the Manilamen, a group of enslaved people from the Philippines escaped Spanish Galleon ships in Louisiana nearly 300 years ago, finding freedom and setting down roots in St. Malo (a part of present-day New Orleans) where they helped to establish Louisiana’s shrimping industry. They are the earliest Filipino settlers in America and created the first Asian American settlement, Manila Village, which lasted from the 1800s until 1965 (when the storied town was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy). Influence of the Manilamen’s heritage in these parts is evident today including innovative shrimping techniques (specifically, the traditions of drying shrimp and methods for shell removal that influenced modern technology), bahay kubo-architecture, and evocative meals similar to shrimp boils.
Like the Manilamen before her, Quackenbush has a sense of freedom and is known for re-introducing the region to the art of kamayan, the hands-only feast served on banana leaves likely a precursor to shrimp boils enjoyed on newspaper. She is an in-demand consultant as restaurants ask her advice on adding Philippine flavors to their menus. Today you’ll find her and her food at pop-ups singing loudly to karaoke, while her daughter considers how to take the concept to a brick-and-mortar.
As Maine’s largest city and culinary epicenter, Portland is your best bet to find Filipino food. The cuisine is just starting to make ground with the help of chef Dave Mallari, who came to the state almost 30 years ago for a physical therapy job. He comes from a family of medical professionals with a taste for delicious food; his father was a physician and passionate home chef, hailing from Pampanga, a region of the Philippines known for its cooks. Compelled by his innate love for cooking, Mallari decided to take a crack at becoming a chef. He worked for years in Kennebunk’s food scene before opening The Sinful Kitchen, a gluten-free friendly brunch spot with Filipino specials. This cozy nook has pop-up taco nights serving Filipino chicken adobo birria and Boodle Fights, a traditional feast that’s eaten off banana leaves with your hands. When not running the restaurant, Mallari roasts whole lechons through his catering business The Pig Kahuna. They typically book up a year in advance.
During the mid-20th century, some Filipino restaurants operating in Annapolis relied solely on word-of-mouth; the owners refused to put up signage for their businesses. These eateries were mistakenly or purposefully labeled as Hawaiian despite serving Filipino dishes. Perhaps that anonymity provided safety from discrimination or harm. Decades later, a handful of chefs and restaurants are re-staking a claim on their Filipino heritage.
Chef Javier Fernandez is building his company around his identity and his favorite cut of pork. At Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, he serves the famous Cebuano-stuffed lechon and sells T-shirts proclaiming “LIVE LOVE LECHON.” The fast-casual concept stuffs, rolls, ties and roasts bellies until uniformly golden with crispy skin concealing juicy pork. Once pierced, wafts of lemongrass and garlic flirt with your appetite.
He’s so good at pork belly that he doubles down with his sisig. Finely chopped, its crispy, fatty sweetness is balanced by chiles and onions. Pork belly appears again in kawali; slabs are boiled, fried then chopped in dunkable, decadent cubes accompanied with a vinegar-based dipping sawsawan and a sweet and tingly pickled green papaya. In case you’ve had your fill of pork, there are other options, too. Fili-wings are confited and fried then tossed in a spicy adobo glaze, for a bit of heat and salty acid.
Boston-based Filipinos are accustomed to traveling to Pinoy Republic & Sons in Worcester for their go-to snacks and cooking staples. However, when the intimate 10-seat dining room of Tanám opened in 2019, Filipinos were given a modern option right in their backyard — or rather, Somerville. Chef Ellie Tiglao is a trained neuroscientist for whom cooking is close to breathing; it’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Out of a simple desire to eat the food of her childhood, she hosted a pop-up dinner that brought in big turnouts from an eager Filipino community. At Tanám, which means “cultivation” in the dialect she speaks at home, she aims to tell the story of Filipino food in a place that’s been pretty unacquainted with it. While the restaurant’s Kamayan feasts put it on the map, its focus is on “narrative cuisine” that creates space for meaningful storytelling about food, culture and identity, especially by people of color. Bring a friend and reserve a fiesta dinner for two. Pinch a scoop of rice with your fingers, and enjoy it with a bite of their sweet house-cured pork tocino.
Adobos in many American restaurants tend to simmer proteins or vegetables in five basic ingredients: soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. A red hued adobo laced with achuete (achiote) and slightly sweet and nutty is scarce in America. But Red Adobo, alternatively called Adobong Pula or Ilonggo-style adobo, is proudly served at Isla in the Sterling Heights neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan.
Isla’s chef/owners — J.P. Garcia and Jacqueline Joy Diño — are from the Iloilo province, where adobong pula is regularly served in homes and restaurants. Their village is part of a greater region called the Western Visayas, which also includes the provinces Aklan, Antique, Negros Occidental, Capiz and Guimaras.
Though J.P. and Jacqueline haven’t marketed the restaurant as Illonggoan, flavor profiles and dishes provide clues to their origin. Isla serves chicken inasal and java rice, recipes built on a regional mirepoix consisting of onions, garlic and ginger, alongside achuete and turmeric. Fans hope they will explore even more of their roots and regional flavors.
In 2018, a trio of experienced industry friends — Carl Rademacher, Sherwin Resurreccion and Shawn Nafstad — opened an easy-going neighborhood spot that could easily be overlooked as a hipster hangout typical of any major city. That it happens to be a local watering hole pioneering an emerging cuisine on the American landscape is a low-key flex. Late night eats, affordable prices, pub-style food, karaoke and comedy nights come together at Apoy, a thoughtful Filipino joint in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Apoy has been serving locals for four years, and defies expectations of a casual modern Midwestern pub. Of course, guests sit in a relaxed yet well-appointed setting and drink (San Miguel) beer, but the menu is pulutan, Tagalog for drinking food. The kitchen offers adobo wings, inihaw (barbecue skewers), longaniza burgers, inasal grilled chicken, and ukoy (sweet potato fritters). Amidst all the pub grub, Apoy casually drops Filipino comfort food like sinigang in the mix. Its unassuming nature disguises its greater contribution to the dining scene. Their efforts have a profound effect: Apoy redefines what to expect from a Filipino-American pub.
Finding Filipino cuisine in Mississippi is a challenge, except for those lucky enough to stumble upon Filipino Food Mart. Owners Steve and Imelda DuBose operate the humble storefront in Biloxi, where customers are greeted with a friendly handwritten message on the door, “Welcome Home, Pinoy.” Filipinos as far as Louisiana and Alabama travel here to stock up on goods like pan de sal (soft Filipino bread rolls). The name translates to “bread of salt,” but the flavor profile leans sweet. Every month, the couple helps locals ship out about 50 balikbayan boxes, special care packages that Filipinos abroad send home to their families in the Philippines.
Pancit simply means “noodles,” and there are many versions, sautéed with vegetables, sauces and proteins, as well as soups. At Ting’s Filipino Bistro stall at the City Market, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Pancit Sotanghon is a chicken broth-based soup with scallions, heaps of fried garlic, and shredded chicken, along with a side of patis added by request. Sotangon (sho-tahng-hone) are translucent, thin and slippery glass noodles best enjoyed in satisfying hefty mouthfuls slurping and chewing in alternation.
In Montana there are fewer than 1,600 Filipinos at last count, which might make it the smallest community in the country. Yet, Manila-born Susana Moore, chef/co-owner of Suzette’s Organics in Hamilton, Montana, has the confidence to run a restaurant here. She says you’re more likely to see the cast from the popular TV show Yellowstone than a Filipino dining at her 100% organic eatery, which sources from nearby farms and is managed by her husband, three kids, and a recently added son-in-law.
Encouraged by her childhood sweetheart (and now-husband), Susana created her business to feed a craving for the food she’d grown up with. Unlike her contemporaries, her story is distinct because of her dedication to an all-organic menu (“If I can’t find it organic, I make it from scratch!”).
Suzette’s Organic is buoyed both by Susana’s infectious enthusiasm and her family’s commitment to procuring hard-to-find ingredients like blonde rice for their progressive Filipino recipes. They payoff is everywhere on the menu, from a rich and savory organic beef sisig to the housemade organic sweet pork tocino — both dishes so popular in Hamilton, Montana that Suzette’s Organic plans to open a second location in the nearby town of Missoula.
Inspired by her Hawaiian and Filipino heritage, chef Maria Villegas and her husband Leo opened Ono Pinay Kitchen in 2019. Locals flock to the outskirts of Omaha to have both their Spam and adobo fixes satisfied, as well as to indulge in one of their featured desserts, like the ube puto, a royal purple steamed rice cake topped with a creamy slice of leche flan. It’s a bite of the Philippines with a side of aloha.
The contrast between the theatrics of Las Vegas and the modest Filipino dining scene in Nevada is striking. Here, you’ll find turo-turos “aka point-point restaurants”— very casual, steam table operations that became popular in the early 80s. They are void of glitter and neon, but full of affordable comfort food without posturing or parading.
Some favorite turo turos in the state include: Silong (no website; 2302 Oddie Blvd, Sparks, NV 89431); PhilHouse (no website; 8650 W Tropicana Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89147); Kuya’s Manila BBQ (no website; 4500 E Sunset Rd Unit 14, Henderson, NV 89014); Kusina Ni Lorraine Filipino Fast Food & Asian Market (no website; 4343 N Rancho Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89130); D’Pinoy Joint (no website; 7680 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89123); Cafe de Manila; Lutong bahay(no website; 4115 Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89102); and Oming’s Kitchen
Amongst New Hampshire’s small mountain towns, there’s one shop holding the fort for Filipinos. GFM Pinoy Food Mart (224 N Broadway d8, Salem, NH 03079) is found in Salem, New Hampshire, stocked with ingredients rarely found in New England. Expect baked goods like ensaymada, a sweet pastry topped with sugar and butter; condiments like bagoong, a fermented shrimp paste; and popular snacks like SkyFlakes, a plain saltine-like cracker that any Filipino will recognize for its iconic red, white and blue packaging. The mart also helps locals ship out balikbayan care packages to the Philippines.
New Jersey is home to nearly 140,000 Filipinos — one of the biggest Filipino populations in the U.S. In many ways, they have defined the culture and geography of the state, from the urban, riverside areas of Jersey City to suburbs like Bergenfield, which is now informally known as the Little Manila of Bergen County.
It began when an influx of Filipinos arrived after World War II. America had a critical need for nurses and U.S. Navy sailors, and began recruiting from the Philippines. As Filipino healthcare workers and seafarers crossed paths on the East Coast, they started families and ignited a flourishing community fueled on the cuisines and customs of home. Parols, or Filipino holiday lanterns, lined Jersey City balconies each winter. Cooks opened turo-turo restaurants on street corners. Their presence was felt so deeply between the 1970s and 1990s that Jersey City named an official “Manila Avenue” and built a Philippine Plaza honoring Filipino American veterans.
While the community has transformed along with the city over the years, local Filipinos continue to honor their roots. Jersey City born-and-raised Lloyd Ortuoste and Trisha Villanueva opened the banana pudding spot Baonanas in 2014 with options nodding to their Filipino heritage, like Ubenanas, a fluffy, bright purple mousse with bites of ube halaya, or purple yam jam, layered with swirls of soft graham crackers and fresh banana slices. Scoop it up at one of their three locations across New Jersey and New York City.
Looking for more traditional fare? Try the pork sisig at Jayhan’s Grill, or head to Bergenfield for family-owned Bamboo Grill, one of the neighborhood’s authentic Filipino food stalwarts for years. Owners Lito and Lynette de Guzman founded the restaurant in 1996 after leaving their traditional factory jobs to make a living on their passion for Filipino culture and food. With Filipinos making up 18% of Bergenfield’s population, they’re never short on kababayan – fellow countrymen – to feed.
Nana’s & Papa’s Authentic Filipino Favorites (no website; 36 Highway 522, north of the blinking light, El Prado, NM) boasts a big red and white sign. A red plaid plastic tablecloth is set on top of a square folding table perched in front of a food cart that looks like it’s no more than 10 feet long by 4 feet wide. Everything is hand written in chalk or paint, slightly askew, unpretentious and nonchalant. There’s a little window to order chicken adobo and banana-filled spring rolls. This is New American country cooking by way of the Philippines.
The food cart is the project of Chef R-Beth, an immigrant from the Philippines who had been cleaning homes since she arrived in 2013. She’s still cleaning homes part-time, but the other days are spent cooking and running the cart.
Philippine Independence Day, which marks the Philippines’ declaration of independence from Spain in 1898, held even greater levity for Filipinos in New York City this year. On June 12, locals watched the intersection of 70th and Roosevelt Avenue intently as a new, freshly printed “Little Manila Avenue” street sign was unveiled. It was like a flag was planted — the sign’s classic kelly green and crisp white text beamed at onlookers with the hopeful mark of history. A year in the making, after a dedicated community’s online petition and an unanimous vote by New York City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, this was the official naming of the city’s “Little Manila” in Woodside, Queens. Filipinos filled the well-known intersection with spontaneous line dancing and singing to properly celebrate a loud, proud “Little Manila.”
Decades of momentum built up to this moment. Woodside has been New York’s home to Filipinos over the past century, with more than half of the city’s Filipino population residing in the borough. The bricks of this community were laid by the oncoming of Filipino nurses recruited at Elmhurst hospital in the 1960s, whose presence and families soon gave rise to the Queens hub of a frenzy of Filipino bakeries, markets, barbecue joints, and shipping vendors for balikbayan boxes in the area.
While the nursing shortage and medical education brought young Filipinos here, the real allure of New York was the abundant opportunity. Hungry for a taste of success, Filipino chefs entered the lion’s den that is New York’s restaurant scene. The competitive and flashy landscape gave way to modern Filipino food, such as the early work of Cendrillon, which, before it closed, received accolades from high-brow chefs. The New York restaurant scene is notoriously tough, but Filipinos make it happen time and time again. Here are the best New York City has to offer (with more and more entering the competition at warp speed).
In Queens, from its modest surroundings off the Queens bridge, Tito Rad’s Grill serves inihaw na panga (grilled tuna jaw), a dish that is hard to find in the U.S. Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill dishes out homestyle Filipino specialties served up in a two-story space with a weekend buffet; expect pancit, dinuguan, adobo and halo halo. With exquisite doughnuts (available for online order only), Kora is exploring the richness of Filipino culture with an artist’s eye and a chef’s palate.
In Brooklyn, you’ll find a special meal at Purple Yam, a creative and pioneering spot best known for chef Romy Doratan’s take on chicken adobo with coconut milk. In this borough, you’ll also find F.O.B., by a former Daniel chef serving Filipino barbecue, seafood, shakes and sweets in a homey setting.
In Manhattan, there’s tons of Filipino flavor to be found. Mama Fina’s House of Sisig in the East Village serves all kinds of sisig, from fatty pork to crispy bangus (milkfish) and umami-rich pusit (squid). Three nurses turn a craving into a business at Bilao, serving traditional Filipino breakfasts on the Upper East Side. Kabisera, a grass-roots Filipino eatery on the Lower East Side, is a hub for pop-ups with enterprising Filipino chefs and entrepreneurs
Downtown gets another dose of Filipino flavors with Flip Sigi. This Filipino taqueria is known for chef Jordan Andino’s “Plan B-rito” burritos and sandwiches. On the Lower East Side, Leah Cohen’s Pig and Khao’s is a standby for Filipino and Thai food like sisig and pad se ew. Finally, don’t miss Tradisyon’s, New York’s cool and unassuming Filipino diner serving genuine food and vibes.
Joel’s Asian Grill & Sushi Bar in Mooresville, North Carolina, offers a melting pot of Asian cuisines, but what keeps Filipino families coming back is a full menu dedicated to Pinoy fare. Its wide assortment has satisfied anyone seeking dishes like sinigang or palabok, glass noodles bathed in a rich, velvety shrimp-forward sauce. Owner Joel Jose opened the doors to his beach-themed bar in 2001, placing himself at the helm of one of the only restaurants serving Filipino food in the region.
You can find The Wok Filipino Cuisine food truck parked outside breweries and offices across Grand Forks, North Dakota. Owner Rosemarie Stokke runs the only Filipino food business in the state, often being the first to introduce her customers to authentic favorites like pancit, and lumpia with sweet chili sauce. Expect everything to be freshly made and piping hot from the wok.
Ohio’s first group of Filipinos arrived in 1920 — the start of several waves of people from the Philippines coming to the Buckeye state attracted by the promises of jobs, education, and medical training. The influx continued well into the 21st century, setting the stage for Chef Krizzia Yanga, a born-and-bred Ohioan and driving force behind the state’s Filipino food movement. At her flagship restaurant Bonifacio in Columbus, she shares the experience of an unapologetically authentic Filipino meal with offerings like the chicken pyanggang, a grilled chicken dish with burnt coconut that’s native to Yanga’s mother’s home island of Jolo, Sulu, just south of Mindanao. The island is primarily Muslim, so the meal presents a different flavor palate than what most know of Filipino cuisine, tasting more similar to dishes of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
At age 62, Rhoda Hughes opened her self-titled food truck, Rhoda’s Filipino Cuisine, in 2020 in the city of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Without any professional experience or training, Hughes is proud to introduce people to Filipino food. At Chef Rhoda’s, that introduction is likely to be lumpia, a crispy spring roll filled with meat, tightly rolled and fried.
It was her mother’s dream to open a restaurant, so Hughes says she runs the food truck in honor of the woman who taught her how to cook. Everything is made from scratch, from the ube and mango ice cream to the siopaos, big doughy steamed dumplings. She fills the siopaos with pork asado, a thickened sweet and peppery stew. Sometimes, she receives calls from Filipinos passing through Oklahoma looking for flavors from home. Once they find her, they get in line for her chicken adobo, which she garnishes with fresh pineapple pieces because as she says, “presentation is important.”
Chef Carlo Lamagna’s restaurant, Magna Kusina in Portland is a study of contrasts in aesthetics and flavors influenced by his experiences in Manila, Detroit, Chicago, and Portland. Looking around the restaurant and experiencing his food, you’ll find glimpses of his life in every corner and bite. There are vibrant red-yellow-blue signs reminiscent of those found in the Philippines against a subdued earthy background that is quintessentially Portland.
There’s a rebelliousness to Lamagna that wants to experiment with the new and rebuke traditional menu expectations. His take on kare kare, a dense peanut butter oxtail stew, is a metaphor to challenging the status quo of a traditional dish. Lamagna exchanges oxtail for braised lamb neck and updates the flavor and presentation by switching out bok choy and eggplant for a brunoise of pickled vegetables. Lamagna describes the dish and his approach best: “Steeped in tradition, with a modern twist. Deliciously inauthentic.”
Unlike states like Hawaii, California and Alaska, where immigration was predisposed to agriculture and the military, Pennsylvania hosted Filipinos immigration to America via medical education for doctors and nurses immediately after the Philippine-American War ended in 1902. While some people stayed in Philadelphia, others returned to the Philippines. During the influenza outbreak of 1918, a number of Filipino medical professionals went back to Philadelphia to provide medical assistance.
With the Hill-Burton Act of 1946, funding jump-started a surge in hospital construction, especially in states that lacked hospitals altogether. The 1948 Exchange Visitor Program offered training to Filipino nurses who fulfilled the subsequent nursing deficit. Filipino eateries surrounded these hospitals; a few local favorites are the grocery store Pinoy Groseri and Tabachoy, a food cart serving working hour cravings. Newer to the scene is Perla, a charming BYO bistro part of the Filipino new wave.
In Pittsburg, another city re-shaped by its hospitals, Rafael Vencio was one of the hundreds of professionals who questioned whether they would continue working in the hospitality industry in the glaring reality of Covid-19. He has re-invented himself as a social impact entrepreneur with Amboy Urban Collective and his pop-up, Kanto Kitchen. The former is an urban farm intended to address food diversity and insecurity highlighting produce from the Philippines like kang kong and bittermelon. The latter features kamayan meals, dinners, and picnic baskets featuring Filipino food enhanced with the ingredients Amboy grows. Vencio says he believes the proper produce is essential to the integrity of the dishes.
There are several reasons to visit Pinoy Lane Food Mart in Warwick, Rhode Island, especially the generous portions of classics like lechon sisig and turon (sweet bananas in crisp, caramelized egg roll wrappers). The restaurant and grocery is unassuming, wedged next to a cigar shop in a shopping center, but locals have made it their go-to spot for Filipino delicacies. You’ll often see the owners setting up a table at Filipino charity events, where they serve up halo-halo in support of the local community.
The U.S. Navy recruited thousands of Filipino sailors in the mid-1900s, leading to small enclaves of Filipino communities forming near naval base sites in Charleston. While the local food scene hasn’t seen many Filipino food chefs, Mansueta’s Filipino Food by chef Nikko Cagalanan has a magnetic allure. Anyone able to secure a seat at one of his bimonthly pop-ups will be treated to artistically reimagined Filipino dishes, from crowd-favorites lumpia and pancit to creamy, coconut-y bicol express scallops. The aesthetic beauty of the plating aside, customers keep coming back for the incredible flavor that Cagalanan is a natural at delivering. He is a self-taught chef inspired by the way his late grandmother Mansueta, the pop-up’s namesake, lovingly cooked for his family in the Philippines. Lucky for us, Cagalanan carries on that same love and legacy.
Philippine Oriental Food Store in Sioux Falls is a treasure trove of Filipino delights, from ready-to-fry banana turon, to Choc Nut, a popular peanut milk chocolate wrapped in glossy red and gold packaging. The only store of its kind in South Dakota, this grocer is also a hub for locals looking to ship balikbayan care packages to the Philippines.
There’s a reason why Filipinos in Nashville drive 40 minutes out to MaeMax Market in La Vergne. Owners Chriss and Malo Goyenechea opened MaeMax’s doors in 2017 and created a haven for Filipinos in middle Tennessee. Named after their two children Maeful and Maximus, the international grocer and turo-turo, or “point-point,” restaurant is a family affair that welcomes its customers with warm hospitality. Come for the sisig, a sizzling hot plate of chopped and fried pork, garnished with a sunny-side up egg, and leave with an armful of hard-to-find Filipino vinegars, condiments and more.
Little known fact: Nuevas Filpinas translates into New Philippines and was the name given to Texas during the New Spain Era (1760-1821). The name could describe the new wave of entrepreneurial Filipinas using food to claim their identities and assert their ambition, talent and business prowess.
In Dallas, chef Anna Swan of Ulam Dallas does a monthly pop-up featuring her favorite dish, Tipsy Pancit. Pancits are meant to be quick and easy, but Tipsy Pancit starts at least three days prior, when she starts curing yolks in patis controlling the amorphous blob into something else entirely in flavor and texture. She grates this over dehydrated chicken adobo floss, wilted kale, carrot ribbons, fresh pea shoots, atchara pickles, scallions and two kinds of noodles. Her pancit is a symbolic tour de force.
Proselytizing Filipino food In Salt Lake City is easy for chef Benjamin Pierce because many of his new and returning guests to World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck are already enthusiastic converts to the cuisine having spent time as missionaries in the Philippines.
Pierce, along with his wife Erin Cotter and sons, run two World Famous Yum Yum Food Trucks serving sisig, lechon kawali, and chicken adobo. Despite the inviting, wholesome cheer exuded by Benjamin and his crew, he is not impervious to tough times spurred by hate crime or circumstance. In the last year, his truck was severely damaged and vandalized with slurs, and the team weathered an explosion in the truck that left them with first- and second-degree burns. They were able to bounce back with the kindness of the Utah Jazz player Jordan Clarkson, and the greater community, which funded repairs to help them stay in the game.
In 2017, on a mission to bring people together over the relaxing comfort meals of his childhood, chef George Sales opened Pica-Pica Filipino Cuisine in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, one of the only Filipino restaurants in the Green Mountain State. Sales takes advantage of Vermont’s diverse agriculture by prioritizing local, fresh meats and vegetables in all of his dishes. One of the most popular dishes is his pinakbet, a funky Northern Ilocano favorite that’s built on vegetables like long beans, bitter melon, eggplant, and yellow squash, and cooked with bagoong for a complex blend of sea-forward, salty, and bitter flavors.
Filipino-American influence in Virginia is a tale of two cities so densely populated by Filipinos that they each have a sister city in the Philippines itself: Norfolk with Cagayan de Oro and Virginia Beach with Olongapo, respectively. The Philippines-Virginia counterparts became hubs for U.S. Navy enlistment and military bases, bringing 35,000 Filipino nationals who joined the Navy to American soil.
There are many excellent restaurants and bakeries that will immerse you into this vibrant enclave of Filipino American culture, but we’d start at Only at Renee’s in Virginia Beach. Owner Emma Dizon (whose parents head the iconic Renee’s Kitchenette in New York’s Little Manila, in Woodside, Queens) runs this popular restaurant with classics like inihaw na pampano (whole grilled fish wrapped in banana leaves) and oxtail kare-kare (tender oxtail in a rich peanut stew with vegetables). Or if a snack is calling your name, Ken Garcia Olaes, owner of Angie’s Bakery, and his mother Lelis bake up a lovely ube hopia (purple yam flaky pastry) and a well-loved pepperoni-and-cheese stuffed Filipino bread from scratch.
More than 108,000 strong, Filipinos in Virginia today are thriving, enjoying hot oceanside summers reminiscent of home, Fil-Fest events with lumpia-eating competitions and an increasing number of politically active voices representing the community.
With the passing of the Pensionado Act of 1903, Filipinos were provided funding to study in America, and by 1912, The University of Washington had the highest enrollment of Filipinos than any other institution in America. The Filipino American National Historical Society, created by Dorothy and the late Fred Cordova, was born here as is their legacy: nationally recognizing October as Filipino American History Month.
The culinary scene in Seattle, too, is imbued with a scholarly approach. At Archipelago, the restaurant is like a history class, each meal a textbook, and each dish a chapter connecting it to the past. The ten-chapter meal might consist of Orosa sauce, a riff on the condiment banana ketchup commonly served with fried chicken and rice or used in Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. Chef Aaron Verzosa uses caramelized squash and Oregon chilies to pay homage to the original and named it after its inventor Maria Orosa, a food technologist who studied at the University of Washington.
At Musang, Chef Melissa Miranda also uses her restaurant as a platform to feed and inform. She limits her staff to no more than 4 shifts per week and provides healthcare, both of which she learned was not commonplace in the hospitality industry. At Musang, Miranda interprets Filipino cuisine. Her approach is seen in her pinakbet, familiar among the diaspora. Pinakbet (pee-nahk-bet) has strong roots in the northern region and loosely translates to “shrivel”, observed in the textures of the vegetables cooked long in bagoong to wrinkled effect. Combining her Italian culinary education and Philippine research, the ingredients no longer take on the look of old. Instead, she purees acorn squash, batters eggplant and sweet potato, pickles bittermelon and finally dehydrates bagoong dusting the dish with Filipino funk.
A hidden gem in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Philippines Best Food is a window to the Philippines itself. Co-owners Daniel and Ellenita Lubuguin moved to the state over 20 years ago, opening their first restaurant in Parkersburg. Daniel heads the kitchen, which serves a rotating selection of traditional dishes like pancit noodles and Filipino bistek — juicy, tender sliced beef stewed with onions in a soy-based sauce — as well as modern additions that appeal to local palates, like a chicken adobo burrito. Simple phrases translated from English to Tagalog are written in chalk on the wall. The restaurant recently added the Philippines Best Food Truck to their offerings; see their Facebook page for the food truck schedule.
The best pairing for cold Wisconsin-brewed beer? Sizzling, sweet-and-savory BBQ on a stick. Enter Meat on the Street, the go-to food truck, restaurant, and catering business for Filipino skewers and other traditional fare in Milwaukee. Sibling co-owners Matt and Alexis Alfaro take extra care with each ingredient, from milling their own pepper to hand-mincing each clove of garlic. Customers go for the beef kabobs and stay for the house-churned ube ice cream. More of a lumpia lover? Lumpia City, owned by Alexa Reyes and Samantha Klimaszewski and also in Milwaukee, has pioneered modern fusion lumpia flavors like Korean Beef and Chicken Enchilada. They deliver across the Midwest, so order online if you’re feeling hungry.
If you find yourself feening for fresh lumpia while wandering about Cheyenne, Wyoming, Nipa Hut will offer refuge. The restaurant is Filipino food’s first entry into the vast state, nestled on the high plains of its capital city. While Nipa Hut may be the first pancit purveyor on this frontier, they may be onto something as their success as a food truck has since led to a brick-and-mortar opening in 2019.