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Culinary Clash #2: Filipino Food Trucks

January 4, 2011 2 comments

The Los Angeles gourmet food truck craze has spawned over 2,000 mobile eateries.  They are truly unique eating experiences, sometimes over-hyped, but often times they’ll break new culinary ground.  Think about it.  With no seating and unpredictable ambience, these trucks have got to come up with creative offerings to bring in business.  From Korean BBQ tacos to burgers smothered with sausage gravy to red velvet pancakes, the menus are inspired and inspiring!  In this “culinary clash”, I’d like to highlight two of the street food scene’s newest competitors: The Manila Machine and The White Rabbit Truck.  As a Pacquiao fan Filipino, their island offerings are near and dear to my heart.  And stomach.

The Manila Machine, the brain child of two food bloggers, was the very first Filipino food truck on the scene (see my original review here).  They offer dishes that feature familiar ingredients that are presented in creative ways.  Their style is a fusion of old school and nouveau.  Excellent food from really friendly folks.

The White Rabbit Truck takes a more aggressive approach, creating a Mexican-Filipino fusion.  Traditional Filipino meats like Adobo and Tocino are paired with tortillas to create distinctive tacos and burritos.  I must admit, the thought was quite off-putting at first.  Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Mexican food (as in King Taco not Taco Bell)!  It just seemed so very wrong to have the comfort foods of my youth served with anything other than white rice. 

This deep-seeded prejudice overwhelmed me as I approached The White Rabbit Truck while it was parked at Disney headquarters in Glendale.  I ended up ordering an old fashioned Sisig rice bowl.  No fusing cultures on my watch!  We were keeping everything separate … but equal, of course.  But as I waited for my racialy pure dish to be prepared, I had an Affirmative Action moment.  Why not give a Filipino taco a chance?  About 90 seconds after ordering my Sisig, I ordered one Tocino taco.

And it was good!

Tocino taco ... judged by the content of its character!

Really good!  Tocino is cured pork that many think of as “Filipino ham”.  It is not smoked and quite a bit sweeter.  White Rabbit serves it on two corn tortillas and tops it with a tangy and slightly spicy slaw.  The flavors work together like the colors of a rainbow.  I couldn’t believe my taste buds.  Tocino tacos … who woulda thunk it?

Sisig. Kickin' it old school.

The Sisig was also quite good.  A melody of crispy (yet succulent) bits of fried pork, sauteed with onions, garlic, and jalapenos.  It is brightened up with a splash of citrus.  I can definitely see this working fabulously as a taco, kind of a kicked up version of carnitas.  Two complaints about my first White Rabbit Truck experience: the steamed rice was a bit dry, and the tortillas were not warmed up on the griddle (they were brittle and one actually cracked).  C’mon, White Rabbit, measure out the water carefully and slap those tortillas on the griddle for a couple seconds!

Now for “The Clash”….  The Manila Machine makes their Sisig with pork cheeks, and you don’t get much more tender than those nuggets of goodness.  They add a textural counterpoint with crushed chicharrones on top.  The flavor profiles of the two trucks are very similar with this dish, but the unique mouth-feel of The Manila Machine’s rendition is truly a wonder to behold.  Score one for the bloggers!

The signature items … now, that’s a different story.  If I weren’t so full, I definitely would’ve returned to the truck to order a few more tacos.  The Manila Machine’s pandesal sliders were tremendous, especially the Beef Tapa with Achara slaw.  I’d have to call it a draw.  Obviously, more research must be done.

Both trucks are really good, and different enough to carve out their own distinct niches.  I suppose the Sisig and attention to detail (properly cooked rice and gently toasted pandesal) give The Manila Machine the slight edge.  But if they were parked on the same block, I’d definitely visit both!

Mabuhay!

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The Manila Machine

August 28, 2010 1 comment

I gave The Manila Machine some love last month for simply being L.A.’s first Filipino food truck.  It also happens to be the brain-child of two food bloggers who share a love for island cuisine and a desire to bring it to the masses.  It could very well be the first food truck started by bloggers.  It’s a great story and another source of pride for us Filipinos, the main one being a certain boxer-turned-politician.

The Fun Family finally had the chance to catch up with this popular mobile kitchen.  Turns out that it really lives up to all the hype.  Excellent food and friendly service.  They offer a nice mix of traditional dishes and unique twists.  The Chicken Adobo was pretty much what you’d expect out of “lola’s” (grandma) kitchen.  Very tasty, though just a tad overcooked.  Sisig is for hard-core Filipino foodies.  Tradition dictates that this spicy and tangy concoction be made with chopped pig’s face (including the snout and ears, the meat to cartilage ratio being real close to 50/50).  The Manila Machine softens it up a bit by using pork cheeks, which are wonderfully tender and succulent.  It’s pretty amazing as is, but crumbled chicharrones on top kick it up a couple notches.  Tried “The Original Manila Dip”, which is shredded Chicken Adobo and caramelized onions on pandesal (a traditional Filipino dinner roll, one of the greatest breads on the planet), served with adobo sauce for dipping.  Quite good, but not enough of a standout to warrant ordering again.  The Beef Tapa Slider on the other hand will be visiting my digestive system many times over, should the good Lord tarry His coming.  It’s calamansi (think lime) marinated beef (with a touch of sweetness), with achara slaw (have no idea what that is; all I know is that it was crisp and tangy, the perfect counter-point to the tender meat) and sriracha mayo.  Absolutely amazing!

The Manila Machine is a bit spendy for smallish portions, but this is a gourmet food truck, not a turo-turo in a “Little Manila” district.  You won’t find their unique offerings at Jollibee or Red Ribbon … or anywhere, really.  Well, until the copy-cats jump onto the scene.  I dare them to be half as good.

Chicken Adobo and Sisig.

The islander spin on sliders: chicken adobo and caramelized onions on the left, beef tapa and achara slaw on the right.

The Manila Machine on Urbanspoon

Filipino Food Truck!

July 23, 2010 3 comments

Yeh, boyeeeee!  Thanks to two Fil-Am food bloggers, L.A.’s first Filipino food truck is now rollin’ (as in driving and making lumpia — insert groans).  The Manila Machine is jumping into L.A.’s chic street food scene with both traditional island fare and unique creations.

It’s not just about taco trucks parking by construction sites anymore.  These wheeled kitchens serve up all manner of gourmet creativity.  Devoted fans will wait up to 45 minutes for Korean BBQ tacos from Kogi, Ube pancakes from The Buttermilk Truck or French Fry filled Tamales from Fresh Fries.  But let’s get back to this post’s primary shout out….

I’m calling on Manny Pacquiao all Filipinos to show some love to The Manila Machine.  If you’ve not had Filipino food, think of it as Chinese food minus the communism.  Nothing too exotic, just savory and succulent food served with white rice and a smile.  Get over to their website to find out where they’ll be.  Guaranteed, in the near future I’ll be stuffing my Filipino face with an Ube cupcake (topped with coconut buttercream), sisig, and one of their pan de sal sliders.  Quite possibly in that order.

Mabuhay!

D.J. Bibingkahan

May 25, 2010 5 comments

Choices galore at D.J. Bibingkahan!

The intersection of Amar and Azusa is a bit of a “Little Manila” on the south side of West Covina.  Two Asian supermarkets anchor the shopping centers that are filled with Japanese vehicles and older Filipino men enjoying their SSI over a cigarette and/or a game of majong.  This is the place to come for fresh seafood, traditional Filipino attire, and sell phones.  That’s no typo, folks:

Okay, let’s get to the food.  There are five or six “turo-turo” restaurants in the immediate area.  Pinoy Pinay is actually my favorite of the bunch.  I believe they offer the best balance of taste and value.  D.J. Bibingkahan has the biggest selection, but I think some of their food is a bit funky and they tend to skimp on portions.  But a sign for their $3.50 breakfast special (with free coffee) pulled me in.  The Fun Wife wasn’t in the mood for a hearty Filipino breakfast, so I dropped her off to do some shopping and had a breakfast date with The Fun Son #1.

The breakfast special includes your choice of garlic fried or steamed rice, two fried eggs and an entree.  We both ordered garlic fried rice, one plate of with Longanisa, the other with Pork Tocino.  Longanisa is a sweet and super garlicky pork sausage that is not for the faint of heart.  First, it has a high fat content, so it could stop your heart.  Second, you’ll be burping up garlic all stinkin’ day!  Make sure you’ll be around people who love you for you.  D.J.’s Longanisa is really good, but I would prefer better charring/searing on the outside for extra depth of flavor.  Tocino is cured pork shoulder meat, that is even sweeter than Longanisa, but with a very different flavor profile because of the curing process.  Think of it as an exotic combination of bacon and ham, minus the smoke.  Once again, very good, but I think most people would be put off by the amount of fat and gristle in the pork slices.  Their garlic fried rice is right on!  Many Filipino restaurants aren’t bold enough with garlic.  D.J.’s is just about the best I’ve had not made at home.  Nice amounts of caramelized garlic with bits of scrambled egg.  The fried eggs are terribly over-cooked, the yolks pretty much taking on the texture of hard boiled eggs.  But they’re fine when considering the great deal you’re getting.

Longanisa Plate.

Pork Tocino Plate.

D J Bibingkahan on Urbanspoon

Point-Point Joint

February 2, 2010 1 comment

I’m filipino, but I like to think of myself as a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside.  I grew up eating rice every day, pretty much every meal.  I watched my lola (filipino grandmother) suck the brains out of fish heads and wondered why “chocolate meat” tasted nothing like chocolate (I later found out that what I was eating was pork blood stew–you sick, sick adults who would trick a trusting child!).  And, no, I’ve never eaten dog.

My Italian/Irish/Cherokee wife has learned to cook up some bomb filipino food over our 14 years of wedded bliss (it’s highly unlikely she’s part Cherokee, it just seems that most white people claim to have some sort of Native American in them).  But when I’m really getting a serious hankerin’ for some island comfort, I head to a “turo-turo”, which means “point-point”.  The concept is simple: walk over to the steamed-up glass display case and point to what looks good.  Don’t ask what it is, you might not want to know.

To celebrate my 35th birthday last month, I decided to pay homage to the cuisine of my childhood.  Google pointed me to Arko Foods in Glendale.  This medium sized grocery store is really easy to miss on Colorado Blvd.  Yes, it’s a grocery store, but look to your immediate left upon entering and you’ll find “turo-turo” heaven!  These resourceful filipinos pack 25-30 traditional dishes into a steam table meant for maybe 15 items (what’s a health code violation or two amongst friends?).  It’s all there: whole fried fish, baby octopus, chopped pig face, and chocolate meat (a.k.a.-dinuguan).  Add a couple young children selling jewelry and a taxi driver in cut-off shorts, a wife-beater tank top and flip flops and you’d think you were in central Manila.

My white-washedness kept me from the more exotic offerings.  We went with two combos and chose four standard “party foods”.  And they had garlic fried rice!  Score!  I’ll definitely be back.  Maybe in a wife-beater.

Lovely longanisa, that sweet and garlicky sausage that you burp up the rest of the day! The beef steak (usually braised in soy sauce and vinegar) was pleasantly tender and nicely tangy. The onions were still a bit crisp, which I really like. Great stuff!

The pork barbecue tasted of charcoal goodness with just the right amount of sweetness. The pancit may have had a bit too much fish sauce and definitely not enough garlic. Not bad, but not all that great.

Arko Foods
1428 E Colorado St
Glendale, CA 91205