You may not yet know Ria Wilson’s name, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten her food. Whether it was when she helped to open Sqirl, or when she ran the Wild at Canelé residency with her husband Matt. And even if you haven’t, you’re going to want to make your way to Go Get Em Tiger in Los Feliz to devour her all-day, Filipino-inspired brunch menu. While at first glance you might take the offerings to be your standard breakfast fare, the flavor-packed options include clever variations like an adobo grain bowl topped with an egg or the pan de sal breakfast sandwich with Filipino-cured bacon. It’s the perfect cross-section for those looking to venture into new territory with on-trend Filipino flavors, and we talked to Wilson about Filipino food's breaking through this year, as well as what she's got on tap for next year.
What has this past year been like for you?
Ria Wilson: Starting at Go Get Em Tiger has been great because for almost the first half of the year I was working in a private kitchen situation with NeueHouse, so it was nice to come back here and be able to cook for everybody. It's great because here I'm able to play again and have free range of the menu.
What inspired your menu?
Wilson: Because we're here in California, seasonality is a big thing. And otherwise, I've been playing off of Filipino flavors that I grew up eating. And it's been really nice with the guys at Unit 120, and other friends down in Orange County at Irenia doing similar things [with Filipino food]. It's a flavor profile that hasn't really been exposed so much. And there are some of us that do it more straightforward like Charles [Olalia] at Ricebar, but then there are some of us that do riffs on it. So I think it's cool that we have this broad approach and we're all pretty much friends and we all talk about what we're doing. It's nice, it's like a community within a community.
Filipino food is having a big moment now, why do you think that is?
Wilson: I know we all got together and started hanging out late last year, so I feel like without even really meaning to, we attacked it as a unified front, at least here in Los Angeles. I guess we didn't think it was going to be anything really, it was just that we've all been wanting to do this to bring something familiar that we all grew up eating and it's been pretty cool. And now there are all these great things happening in New York and DC with Filipino food, so I don't think it was necessarily coordinated, it just kind of happened and it's been cool.
How do the flavor elements of Filipino food lend themselves to breakfast food?
Wilson: We use a lot of vinegar for acidity, that's a big part of the flavor profile. But there's also a lot umami flavor bombs like dilis, the freeze dried baby anchovies, which people like but they kind of get squeamish when they find out what it is. But it's all good stuff, you know? In the beginning when people would ask me, 'Why Filipino food?' I would say, 'I can pretty much bank on the fact that you'll like it, you just don't know what it is yet.' Eggs are a big part of breakfast in the Philippines. So if you look at traditional Filipino restaurants, anything that has "ilog" at the end, typically means that there's an egg on top of it somewhere. And that just carried over in terms of the breakfast here. And for the bacon we cure in the style of tapa [Filipino cured beef], and adobo you can just eat any time of day. We don't really have sweet things for breakfast, for the most part it's savory throughout the day. The sweet things might be for dessert or a snack in the afternoon, but typically breakfast is savoy so that just worked out.
What do you have planned for next year?
Wilson: I want to keep in the vein of introducing new Filipino flavors. That's definitely the direction I still want to keep on going, but at the same time, broadening the range so that it's accessible to everybody. And then just playing around with some ideas that I have in my head, but was kind of backed up for that time that I was in a private kitchen. And the crew is stepping up, so I think we're ready to start doing some fun stuff. I'd like to do rotating, seasonal specials with Filipino influence, and just to be able to cook seasonally again is great. Everyone is into the flavors here, so it's easy to get them to try it. It's also a cool contrast between coffee and food. I think it would be cool if we got into tea pairings, that would be really awesome and something that I've been thinking about in the back of my mind. Stuff like that could be really exciting for us.