Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants for Filipino Food, the Cuisine Taking Over LA

Southern California claims one of the largest Filipino communities outside of the Philippines, and great Filipino food in LA has always been around -- just take a look at Bernie’s Teriyaki in Echo Park, Max’s in Glendale, or L.A. Rose Café in Hollywood.

The Philippines has absorbed a hodgepodge of foreign influence after centuries of trade and colonization, so the cuisine’s tough to categorize. “Most Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines have defining traits, but our cuisine is a mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Spanish, American, and indigenous flavors, techniques, and recipes,” explains General Manager Chase Valencia, who opened acclaimed Filipino restaurant LASA along with his brother, chef Chad. “Down south you’ve got curries and Islamic culture, while up north, it’s more seafood and pork-driven.” Then there are the “fear factor” dishes, like balut (fertilized duck egg) or dinuguan (pork blood stew), which play a role in skewing people’s perspectives.

If LASA’s early success is any proof, though, Los Angeles is ready to embrace Filipino food, and these seven restaurants are the perfect introduction, from the progressive and modern to the totally traditional.

Best BBQ joint: The Park’s Finest

Echo Park
Starting as a small, homegrown catering company before opening a full-fledged restaurant backed by tons of neighborhood support, The Park’s Finest has its formula down pat: seasoned, slow-smoked cuts of American BBQ fused with Filipino flavors and served with house-made sauces. Even the cornbread is made with rice flour and baked on a banana leaf -- in other words, well-suited to Pinoy palates.
 
What to order:
Ann’s cornbread bibingka and the tender Timuay tri-tip are musts. For a little of everything, get the $12 Worker Wednesday Combo Plate (available on Wednesdays, duh), which includes 16-hour slow-cooked pulled pork, coconut beef, hot links, veggies, rice, and yes, cornbread.

Best food truck: Dollar Hits

Echo Park
An homage to the Philippines’ night market vendors, this truck slings a variety of skewers, most of which cost $1. After ordering, heat up your food-on-a-stick over shared grills while taking in the street scene: lively conversations in Tagalog, Filipino dance music, and friendly smiles from the titas who run the place.

What to order: The usual suspects -- like BBQ pork and chicken -- are flavorful, but definitely try the pork and chicken isaw (intestines best eaten piping hot off the grill and plunged in vinegar sauce), kwek-kwek (batter-fried quail eggs with jelly-soft interiors), and betamax (chewy congealed pork blood). There’s also balut, if you’re still feeling brave!

Best fast-food chain: Jollibee

Various locations
Jollibee’s all-over-the-place menu -- burgers, noodles, chicken strips, steak -- might confuse a novice, but this beloved chain (oftentimes called the Filipino McDonald’s) offers a sense of childhood nostalgia for Filipinos abroad... along with tasty Filipino-enhanced fast food like beef patties made with soy sauce and garlic, or French fries served with banana ketchup.

What to order: The Chickenjoy and Spaghetti combo is wildly popular; just know that Filipino-style spaghetti is sweeter than the Italian-American version you might be used to. Other must-tries include the pancit palabok (savory noodles dressed in pork cracklings and garlic sauce), Aloha burger served with a pineapple ring, and halo-halo: a glorious shaved ice treat with ube ice cream, condensed milk, flan, and fruit.

Best modern take: LASA

Chinatown
Foodies can’t shut up about LASA (the temporary pop-up that’s now a permanent fixture in Chinatown) because of the Valencia brothers’ vision of Filipino cuisine: all the stuff they grew up eating made with seasonal California produce and local ingredients. Here, you’ll find nuanced flavors specific to Filipino cooking -- “It’s acidic, bright, salty, at times fatty and rich, with bits of pork and seafood,” Valencia explains. The result is a sophisticated, second-generation take on Pinoy classics, as well as dishes that might not be as familiar to non-Filipinos.

What to order: For lunch, get the XO Pancit tossed in a salted shrimp paste and pork-based sauce (pro tip: Always get the soft egg add-on). For dinner, it’s all about the octopus, which is braised before being grilled on the plancha; twice-cooked sinigang (made with rhubarb instead of the usual tamarind, guava, or unripe fruit); and brown rice arroz caldo, a soul-warming broth that somehow has depth, acidity, and crunch all at once.

Best sit-down establishment: The Original Barrio Fiesta of Manila

North Hills
Name-dropping this restaurant to any Filipino-American will automatically earn you brownie points. The Original Barrio Fiesta of Manila (and Max’s, for that matter) is where you go for true authenticity -- so expect heaping, family-style portions, and food cooked the way your Filipino friend’s mom might make it. (Heads-up: There’s another location with the same name in Glendale under different ownership.)

What to order: Kare-kare, a rich meat stew made with oxtail and an addictive peanut sauce, and crispy pata, an enormous deep-fried pork knuckle that comes with plenty of crunch. Wash it all down with a refreshing glass of kalamansi citrus juice.

Best breakfast diner: Ninong’s Pastries & Café

Granada Hills
This family-run diner specializes in hearty breakfast classics and take-home pastries, all with a Filipino twist thanks to key ingredients like ube, pandan, and mango. When it comes to bakeries, though, we’d also be remiss not to call out Valerio’s for its pan de sal and hopia (soft bread rolls and ube or mung bean-filled pastries, respectively) and Red Ribbon as the go-to Filipino cakery for birthday parties.

What to order: The melt-in-your-mouth, bright purple ube pancakes and savory silog plates -- a popular Filipino breakfast that means “fried rice and eggs” -- with house-made tocino or longanisa sausage. And don’t leave without a jar of house-made ube cookie butter.

Best hole in the wall: RiceBar

Downtown
Formerly the executive chef at fancy-pants Patina, chef/owner Charles Olalia (who’s originally from Manila) now helms a modest Downtown space that turns out fragrant rice bowls topped with bold-tasting proteins, all marinated, simmered, steeped, and slow-cooked to maximize flavor. Choose between a handful of rice varietals, like Kalinga Unoy (a reddish grain with slight nutty flavor), garlic, black, and more. Everything is complex yet unfussy -- and 100% Filipino.

What to order: Pork longganisa (made in-house using an heirloom recipe) paired with garlic fried rice and a side of house-fermented pickled papaya with spicy vinegar.

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When she’s not angling for an invite to a home-cooked Filipino meal, Tiffany Tse freelances for Thrillist. Follow her Insta-adventures at @twinksy.