Simply put, Filipino food takes the best of Chinese, Spanish, and Pacific Islander ingredients and preparations and blends them into utterly unique, decidedly delicious meats, sauces, finger foods, and more. Below are our five favorite Filipino restaurants in New York City. Some are traditional, some are modern, all are worth paying a visit to. By Jessica Allen.
Grill 21 serves its take on Filipino food from a cheerful, no frills dining room where Gramercy bleeds into the East Village. Among its specialties are tocino (pictured), Pinoy bacon that is marinated in a wine, sugar, salt, and pepper, and then fried; laing, a stew with shrimp, taro leaves, onions, jalapeno slices, and chili flakes; and, of course, chicken or pork adobo, in which the meat is marinated and braised in a sweet-savory bath of garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce.
For more than 10 years, Kuma Inn has served small plates of Filipino food from a hard-to-find spot on the Lower East Side. Indeed, this tiny restaurant feels like a speakeasy, complete with a secret door. The emphasis here is on technique, as evidenced by such dishes as pan-roasted ocean scallops (pictured), dripping with a calamansi and sake sauce, or rice crepes with pork bolognese. It’s BYOB (with a fee), and sometimes suffers from indifferent service. That’s OK, as the food is worth waiting for.
Owned and operated by former Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen, Pig & Khao (get it?) serves food Cohen gobbled while growing up with a Filipina mother and tried while traveling in Southeast Asia. These include sizzling sisig, a pig’s head doused in chili and egg, and cod cooked in a banana leaf. Can’t decide? Monday through Thursday, there’s a five-course tasting menu for $45. To drink, try a Stinky Peat (chamomile-infused rye with elderflower and a scotch rinse) or a similarly creative cocktail.
When asked about a recent meal at Purple Yam, a longstanding Filipino favorite in Ditmas Park, we oohed and ahhed about lechon kawali (pictured), deep fried pork belly with pickled papaya. Other must-orders include goat curry with rice pancakes and mango chutney, lumpia (a rice crepe stuffed with leeks, Napa cabbage, and mushrooms), and oxtail kare kare with bagoong (the meat comes braised in a peanut sauce and gets served with veggies and fermented shrimp paste).
From the name alone you can tell that Sariling Atin means business. You won’t find any fusion or high-falutin’ combinations here. Instead, this Elmhurst restaurant / grocery store serves straight up homestyle Filipino food. It’s a family-run establishment with a sister joint in New Jersey. Try the fried pork knuckles, broiled milkfish, pancit canton (similar to lo mein), or pancit malabon (distinctive yellow-orange noodles heavy on the seafood). And make sure to end your meal with the shaved ice treat known as halo-halo.