Philippine Cuisine in the DMV

10 Dec

I’m jealous of the West Coast. They have so many Filipino restaurants! Ok, they’re not busting at the seams with Jollibee’s everywhere, but there are certainly more avenues for getting one’s Filipino grub on in cities like San Francisco and Seattle. SF and LA even have Filipino food trucks!  I mean, New York City has its fair share of Filipino eateries as far as I’ve heard, but I feel we’re still lacking. Come on, East Coast, let’s catch up here.

I’d especially love to see more Filipino restaurants in the DC area. But demand doesn’t seem high enough for anyone to venture opening one in the District. There has actually been quite a bit of spoken and written discourse behind the reasons why Filipino food hasn’t yet reached mainstream status. It’s not that it’s unpopular, but it’s not popular enough. I find that the flavors of Filipino food lie in extremes; many dishes are very salty or very sour. And the food itself is not naturally pleasing to look at, with lots of muted colors, and heavy use of meats and oils. Western palates aren’t accustomed to such tastes. Heck, I even confessed to not liking Filipino cuisine until just a few years ago. If it takes a hapa like me this long to like it, it might take non-Filipinos longer.

You could compare Filipino food to American soul food; you really don’t see many upscale soul food joints anywhere. And dishes are almost always served family-style, or cafeteria-style if you are at that kind of Filipino restaurant. I don’t mind that Filipino cuisine has only come so far, but I do wish it as more accessible in my area. And I would love to see a chef, Filipino or not, take this cuisine and elevate it to another status, turn it into something any palate can enjoy, and present it in a way that preserves tradition but evolves the culture.

TenPenh's offerings

Filipino food was available much closer to me in the District, over the summer. For a few months every Sunday, one of my favorite restaurants, Ten Penh, offered a Filipino pig roast, or lechon, with a few sides (pancit, green beans, white rice, fruit salad and biko for dessert). It was around $30 – pricey for Filipino food – but it was a lot of food, so it was worth the price. Ten Penh also has lumpia on its regular menu as an appetizer and on Wednesdays offers a bento box lunch special featuring dishes from the Philippines. I haven’t yet tried the bento box, but I’m glad the option is there.  And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll feature more Filipino dishes in the future.

Some of my faves from Pampaguena Cafe

But when I want to go to a restaurant dedicated to Filipino cuisine, I will happily venture on the hour-long ride it takes to get to Pampaguena Café, which is the only Filipino restaurant I’ve been to in the area, and an excellent one at that. It’s not a big space, but I’ve never seen it crowded. It serves its dishes cafeteria-style, where you just point and pick. They offer quite a few dishes that I’ve never had before, which is part of the fun in going there – I try something new all the time. One thing I never pass up, however, every time I go to Pampaguena, is their halo-halo (a shaved-ice dessert): they offer it with ube ice cream and leche flan, both of which make the dessert as a whole so much more decadent.

So DC/Maryland/Virgina (DMV) folks: any Filipino cafes or restaurants I don’t yet know about? Fill me in!

And everyone else: Do you think Filipino food will ever reach the status of other Asian cuisines in the U.S.?

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9 Responses to “Philippine Cuisine in the DMV”

  1. Lauren December 10, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Yum, I’ve never tried Filipino food but now I really want to! Looks delicious!

  2. Sheridan December 10, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Still have to make my way up to Pampaguena Café. Maybe I’d have more gusto to go if they made more veg-friendly Filipino fare.

    • TheNoviceNosher December 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

      Yeah, Pampaguena’s cuisine is pretty meat-heavy, although I’d be interested to find out what they do offer that’s vegetarian. If anything, go for the halo-halo, and they do have a selection of Filipino groceries, i.e. bags and bags of pandesal…:)

  3. Di December 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Actually there aren’t many Filipino restaurants in Seattle like in San Diego or San Francisco. There are a few that are reputable and have struggled to stay In business. There is little demand. A Seafood City recently opened so along with that came Jollibee, Chow King, etc. I think Pinoys prefer to go to their moms or aunties for a good home cooked meal. But people like me with no mom or aunties in the area, I wish there were more options for Filipino restos. Not to mention I can’t cook squat.

    • TheNoviceNosher December 10, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

      Thanks for clarifying, Di! I had read an article recently (that I unfortunately can’t find now) about Filipino restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, so I thought there were quite a few.

      I’m in the same situation, sans Mom close-by or titas in the area who cook, so I share your frustrations with the lack of Filipino food options. But I guess there’s just not enough of us to motivate more Filipino chefs or restaurateurs to start more businesses.

  4. lemonsandanchovies December 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    I’m not sure that filipino food will ever quite hit mainstream, though we’ve made some strides just in the last few years (the food trucks that you mentioned and filipino bloggers might help raise familiarity). In addition to the reasons you mentioned, I think there’s also a lot of bad filipino food to be had out there. One bad experience sours the taste for it overall. But I will admit that when the craving hits, I feel lucky to be just 30-miles away from filipino food mecca in the SF Bay Area. I have my fave spots and I feast! Can’t go w/out a filipino food fix for too long! Glad you found a place you like. 🙂

    • TheNoviceNosher December 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

      I’m jealous that you have so many more Filipino restos available in the Bay Area! But it’s fun for me whenever I go there to try a new place or food truck. I actually haven’t come across a bad restaurant, yet – but I can def see how esp. for a non-Filipino, it would be hard to get over a bad experience since it can already be difficult to understand Filipino flavors.

  5. Romelo May 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Have you tried Little Quiapo’s?

    • TheNoviceNosher May 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

      I have not, but I’ll definitely keep that one in mind if I’m out in that area of VA!

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