Filipino food is not only trendy in Los Angeles — it's tradition. L.A. has the country's largest population of people with roots in the Philippines, and our city's Filipino history traces back to the early 1900s, when a portion of downtown was even called Little Manila. Today, the Historic Filipinotown area near Westlake commemorates L.A.'s connection to immigrants from the Philippines, whose cultural impact can be experienced in the many Filipino restaurants throughout the city. With Chinese- and Spanish-influenced cuisine and ingredients — like ube, the popular purple-colored taro root — on the rise, it's no wonder Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern predicted Filipino food as "the next big thing" back in 2012.
In 2017, Filipino food is more popular than ever. For those in search of authentic Filipino food in fusion-friendly Los Angeles County, the best restaurants stay true to classic cooking and traditional flavor. "People don't want it too Americanized," says Rhea Espino, who manages Neri's Curbside Cravings restaurant and food truck. "They want [Filipino food] the way it's traditionally done — like, when they go to the Philippines, that's what they're going to be served. You want to think of what your grandma made you growing up."
Chris Araquel-Concordia, from the Park's Finest in Echo Park, echoes the sentiment of what makes Filipino food great. "Usually when Filipinos look for an authentic Filipino meal, it's a sense of familiarity in the food that appeals to their memories growing up," she says. "For non-Filipinos looking for an authentic Filipino dish, what they can experience is the warmth our people bring when sharing this part of our culture."
For an insider guide to old-school Filipino restaurants around L.A. County, we've compiled a few places that promise authentic flavors from the Philippines.
The Park's Finest
An L.A. favorite since 2012, this restaurant in Echo Park is known for its special cornbread bibingka (coconut cake), Mama Leah's coconut beef and tender sirloin beef tri-tip. "While our menu reflects an experience of Filipino-Americans who grew up in Los Angeles, our restaurant has always embraced our Philippine roots and culture in the way we present our cuisine, and in the space we serve our food," co-owner Chris Araquel-Concordia says. "Our food reflects the Philippine diaspora. We serve the food that we would cook at our own family parties and backyard boogies."
1267 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. theparksfinest.com.
Neri's Curbside Cravings
Neri's Curbside Cravings is focused on crossing culinary boundaries in Filipino food, serving tocino (a Spanish type of bacon) and tapa burgers, while carrying on the family's commitment to traditional cuisine. The owners take pride in their crowd of regulars, and they serve Filipino breakfast all day. Along with its popular food truck serving Los Angeles, Neri's has opened up a new restaurant in Koreatown.
3377 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 100, Koreatown. (213) 738-1263.
Located in the heart of Historic Filipinotown, on Temple Street, Bahay Kubo is the spot for locals and newcomers alike. With its colorful, tropical decor, the restaurant brings Filipinos back to their provincial hometowns in the Philippines. The restaurant is known for its tasty barbecue, Filipino ham and kare kare, a traditional stew with a savory peanut sauce.
2330 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213)413-4804.
With locations open for more than 20 years in Historic Filipinotown, Panorama City, Glendale, Artesia and Eagle Rock, this restaurant is as traditional mom-and-pop as it gets. Served turo-turo style (which means "point-point" in Tagalog), customers have a selection of traditional foods they can choose from, including sizzling pork sisig, kare kare and hot sinigang (sour stew). "Our customers are people craving the authentic, not fancified, Filipino taste — it's basic, it's simple and it's good," owner Roxanne Bobadilla says.
2432 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 387-7114.
L.A. Rose Cafe
Since 1982, L.A. Rose Cafe has offered fine Filipino dining in East Hollywood. It's known for its gourmet restaurant ambiance and Spanish-style empanadas. "Why is Filipino cuisine the best in the world? We have been exposed to so many cultures in the last thousand years," restaurant owner Lem Balagot says. "You put all these different flavors and influences — Spanish, Malaysian, Chinese— and you get the Filipino cuisine."
4749 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 662-4024, larosecafehollywood.com.
A Filipino family favorite, Max's Restaurant in Glendale — just across from the Americana at Brand — was the first location to open in Southern California. The restaurant is known for its juicy, flavorful golden chicken and classic foods like crispy pata (deep-fried, savory pork hock) and fresh lumpiang shanghai (ground pork and vegetables wrapped and deep-fried). Since 1945, Max's calls itself "the cuisine of the Philippines."
313 W. Broadway Ave., Glendale. (818) 637-7751, maxsrestaurantusa.com.
The Original Barrio Fiesta
With multiple locations across the Philippines and the United States, this restaurant pays homage to lively Filipino gatherings and celebrations, in which classic dishes — such as adobo and dinuguan — are always involved. Pop in for that welcoming Filipino hospitality — you may even see a special guest or two, such as rising Filipina-American stars Hailee Steinfeld, Liane V and Jessica Sanchez, who have all been here.
818 N. Pacific Ave., Unit K, Glendale. (818) 552-2855, barriofiestaglendale.com.
Frequented by South Bay locals, this restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall gem in Carson, where it has been open for 35 years. Manila Sunrise is famous for its pancit malabon, puto bumbong (sweet rice cake) and special kare kare oxtail recipe.
21828 Main St., Carson. (310) 835-1999.
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Filipino fast food with a home-cooked flavor, Pinoy Pinay is known for its lechon kawali (roast pork belly), pinakbet (mixed vegetables, sautéed in shrimp paste) and other classic dishes. Located in Filipino neighborhoods Cerritos, West Covina and Panorama City, Pinoy Pinay is the place for families sharing a meal or celebrating an occasion.
11900 South St., Ste. 107-108, Cerritos. (562) 402-6682, pinoypinayrestaurant.com.