The Filipino Food Renaissance: An East Coast X West Coast Primer

The current dialogue (2010 and on) around Filipino Food the is a pong ball contest between the East Coast and West Coast. In 2012, Nicole Poneseca in New York piqued the interest of the foodie world with her critically acclaimed fine dining restaurant Maharlika followed shortly by fusion friendly Jeepney Grill.

A few years later Los Angeles builds steam with the inventive interpretations of Filipino food by the classically trained Valencia brothers that would go on to open Lasa. In DTLA,  Charles Olalia's tiny Rice Bar pumped out a different version of Adobo for 52 weeks in a row highlighting the versatility of our national dish.

And then out of nowhere came Bad Saint in straight out of DC--Washington D.C. In 2016, Bad Saint won Bon Appetit's #2 Best New Restaurant in America award and the spotlight of Filipino food swung back to the East Coast.

In all of this buzz, where is the Bay Area--the home of the largest concentration of Filipino Americans in the nation?

SF Represent

Poleng Lounge was a mecca for Filipino cuisine and nightlife during its time.

Poleng Lounge was a mecca for Filipino cuisine and nightlife during its time.

What's been forgotten by most pundits is SF launched the modern Filipino Food Movement in 2005.

Led by Poleng Lounge’s  Chef Tim Luym & UNDSCVRD co-founder Desi Danganan, Poleng ushered Filipino Food into the mainstream. When it opened it quickly garnered a 3 star rating (top 1%) by preeminent food writer Micheal Bauer. Chef Tim Luym went on to win the Chronicle Rising Star Chef Award. Soon other fine dining citadels opened like Placencia, Mercury Lounge, or Bistro Luneta in San Mateo each with their own uniquely modern take on Filipino food.

The boom was short lived. By 2010 all of them went dark, but it inspired a new wave of restauranteurs to follow. The modern Filipino Food movement was an industry first and a foreshadowing of the renaissance to come 10 years later.

The 3rd Wave

Ate Tess of JT Restaurant at the historic Mint Mall located in the heart of SOMA Pilipinas. Photo by Abby Asuncion Photography.

Ate Tess of JT Restaurant at the historic Mint Mall located in the heart of SOMA Pilipinas. Photo by Abby Asuncion Photography.

The 1st wave of Filipino food in America was your traditional turo-turo (point - point) restaurant. They served homestyle meals in a Hofbrau-like fashion. Big servings and economically priced, the 1st wave was about feeding communities at a price anyone could afford.

The 2nd wave of Filipino food in America started in New York’s fashionable SoHo Distirct in the mid 1990’s with Cendrilion. It was the first Filipino restaurant in America to present Filipino food with a contemporary fine dining approach. Other classical chefs followed suit in San Francisco from 2005-2010 like the aforementioned Poleng Lounge.  

The 3rd wave quickly followed, but this new school of restaurateurs didn’t confine their style of Filipino food within the world of fine dining and white table clothes. These chefs & entrepreneurs are taking Filipino food in radically new directions. They are selling food from food trucks, pop-ups, festival tents, and restaurants. They are rolling sisig into burritos, ube into frozen custard, reintroducing Kamayan style dining, sinigang served at masquerade speakeasys, halo-halo milk as bottled drinks... the combinations are endless.

UNDSCVRD Filipino Food in SF

The explosion of creativity led to a pack of 5 new Filipino food businesses in 2016 in SOMA Pilipinas. Each food business took a different approach to Filipino food. Mestiza a Filipino fusion taqueria, Alchemy a Japanese Filipino bar bite concept, FK Frozen Custard, Sarap Shop a fusion mash-up food truck, and Manila Bowl a comfort food rice bowl concept.

Many Filipino restaurants were featured in Eater SF, yet none from SOMA Pilipinas were represented.

Many Filipino restaurants were featured in Eater SF, yet none from SOMA Pilipinas were represented.

Then in 2017, UNDSCVRD Creative Night Markets came roaring into the scene and with it came 15 new Filipino street food vendors to SOMA Pilipinas. From sweet to savory, UNDSCVRD became a platform for the 3rd Wave and helped launch a Filipino cultural district.

I’m proud of the diversity of offerings UNDSCVRD curates, but it’s limiting. You just can’t fit all Filipino food into a food tent and call it a day. Festivals only work well with certain types of finger foods and dishes. There’s a brave new world of pop-up chefs out there doing amazing things with Filipino food and the experience of eating it and we haven’t been able to showcase them properly until now!”

— Desi Danganan UNDSCVRD co-founder and formerly of Poleng Lounge
 

Enter Kulinary Confidential

The cutting edge of Filipino food is still on the underground. Pop-up chefs are exploring new frontiers of cuisine. For example, Aileen Suraza of Sariwa will be presenting a curation of Filipino Indian dishes inspired by her very own wedding menu. Meanwhile, Ox and Tiger, a Japanese and Filipino chef duo, will present their take of a Filipino Japanese menu.  On the other end of the spectrum, our mainstay restaurants like Manila Bowl will be presenting hard to find delicacies such as Dinugunan with Puto (pork blood stew with rice cakes) on their secret menu. Legacy restaurant JT’s will be serving a classic homestyle Chicken Aftritada as their secret menu item. “

Kulinary Confidential is our most ambitious food project to date. Spanning 14 days, 7 restaurants serving secret menu items, and 6 unique pop-up dinners it will be a culinary tour de force that will make SOMA Pilipinas the nexus of the Filipino Food Renaissance.”

— Desi Danganan UNDSCVRD co-founder and formerly of Poleng Lounge
 
FoodCat Jimenezfood