There might be no hotter place to open a restaurant right now than Far East Plaza, the revitalized two-story shopping plaza in Chinatown that’s currently home to Chego, Pok Pok Phat Thai and Ramen Champ, among other places, and will soon be home to Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken and Taiwanese rice-bowl concept Lao Tao. In short, it’s a pretty happening place to be.
And as of yesterday, there's a new addition: Amboy. It comes courtesy of Alvin Cailan, chef and founder of Eggslut and the man behind Unit 120, a new pop-up incubator that shares space with Amboy and is currently hosting the Filipino-inspired dinner series LASA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (in case you hadn’t noticed, new-wave Filipino food is having a major moment in L.A.).
Yes, that’s a lot of names to take in, but here’s what you need to know: Amboy, Tagalog slang for “American boy,” usually refers to a second-generation Filipino. Inside the restaurant you’ll find traditional Filipino barbecued meats, or inihaw, served from a tiny take-out window — including vinegar-and-lime-marinated chicken inasal, seared bistek (skirt steak), pork belly, pork shoulder and grilled fish. Each order comes with steamed rice, garlicky tomato-cucumber salad and pungent house-made hot sauce, all piled atop a banana leaf. You can supplement your plate with tender, adobo-sauteed vegetables such as bok choy, eggplant or squash, or add a side of kare-kare lentils cooked in peanut sauce, mung beans swimming in mushroom-ginger broth or chickpeas stewed in tomato-pepper sauce à la Filipino kaldereta.
Rice platters cost between $7 and $10, and sides of veggies or beans are $2 each. There’s also sweet coconut milk to drink, as well as a play on the Arnold Palmer called the Tito Arnie, made 50/50 with tart calamansi juice and iced tea.
Lunch at Amboy arrives as a dense package wrapped in brown paper, a nod to traditional Indonesian and Filipino street food. As Cailan admits, it's a more eco-friendly approach to packaging. “It’s biodegradable paper and a banana leaf, basically.” Seating can be found at picnic tables in Far East Plaza or inside Unit 120, where the dining room sits empty during the day.
For Cailan and his sous chef, Justin Dauz, Amboy originally was intended to be a once-a-week pop-up serving their version of “soul food” as two Filipino-American chefs, but that plan slowly expanded into opening Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to whenever food runs outs (Cailan says that’s usually around 3 p.m.).
As a note on the menu explains, many of the restaurant's recipes come from Cailan's father and were tweaked using modern techniques. “I've always been proud of being Filipino,” Cailan says. “But growing up in Pico Rivera, a predominantly Latino neighborhood, I really wasn't exposed to Filipino recipes or traditional homemade Filipino food. For Amboy, we took classic Filipino dishes and broke them down into individual components that worked on their own.”
For example, traditional kare-kare — a dense stew made with oxtails, vegetables and peanut sauce — is broken down into different sides of grilled meat, sauteed veggies and a thick, vegan peanut sauce enriched with lentils and cannellini beans. “Filipino food can be really heavy with pork fat,” Cailan says. “This was a way to make it lighter and a little more accessible.”
Amboy, 727 N. Broadway, Chinatown; unit120.com.