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Filipino Food in Vallejo

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Melanie Wong Sep 2, 2001 04:15 AM

While Vallejo may not be the fine dining capital of the North Bay, the Filipino food in this former Navy town offers plenty of interest for chowhounds. Knowing next to nothing about this cuisine, I’ve been following up on friends’ recommendations to learn more. The staff at the places I’ve visited almost always address me first in Tagalog, mistaking me for Filipina Chinese, making me feel at home and welcome immediately.

For a glossary of Filipino cuisine, check out http://myweb.gettinghere.com/country/phil/food-glo.cfm

CMC Pampangueña Restaurant (3744 Sonoma Blvd., 707-642-1039, 7am to 6pm) has a second sign that reads CMC Pampangan so I’m not sure of the true name of this place. Something I had not been aware of is that the cooking of Pampanga province is considered the best of the Philippines regional cuisines. The article linked below states, “Pampangos live to eat…Food became a cult there…”

This unassuming corner of a strip mall is reputed to be one of the most talented Filipino kitchens in California. Its adjoining banquet hall is available for catered events and also hosts ballroom dancing lessons and competitions! The restaurant features a steam table with many choices, including goat on weekends, and some desserts are stacked next to the register. Vallejo and Manila time are displayed on the two wall clocks. The seating area is spare with formica-topped tables. I grabbed a take-out lunch (2 choices with rice, $4.75) and eyed the green-lipped mussels draped with cilantro and chilis for a long time. But I didn’t think they’d reheat well at lunchtime and settled on the pork dinuguan plus what I’d been told was a vegetarian dish. The dinuguan featured a chocolate-colored velvety sauce that had been thickened with fresh pork blood and livened with vinegar. The balance was impeccable with layers of rich flavors, complex spicing and tight focus at the same time. The tender pork chunks seemed like shoulder meat with its smooth texture and mix of lean and fat, and I used a tissue to dab off the layer of grease floating on the container. The vegetable dish turned out to have small pieces of pink-tinted white fish flakes and small shrimp in it, plus was flavored with fish sauce. The vegetables were an interesting mix of unctuous and sweet lavender-colored eggplants, bitter melon, sweet potato, onions, Chinese long beans, and chopped water spinach. I’d also picked up one fried chicken drumstick (75¢) that had a light crust of seasoned flour and was red to the bone the way I like it, juicy, and relatively greaseless. With only one visit here (and before I had read anything about Pampangan food), I’ve barely scratched the surface and want to return soon for more exploration.

Valerio’s Tropical Bakery is a couple doors down from CMC Pampangan in the same strip mall. There’s an amazing array of sweet and savory pastries and breads that look so exotic to the uninitiated like myself: flakey buns filled with purple ube, beef empanadas, coconut dusted pastels, and many others that I can’t pronounce. I couldn’t buy anything my one stop here because the clerk was involved in a lively negotiation for a bulk discount with an assertive Filipina customer.

Ling Nam Noodle House (972 Admiral Callaghan Lane, 707-553-8827) offers Filipino and Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve posted on one visit here and have been back recently. This is one of the few restaurants of any type in Vallejo that’s open after 9pm. It has the typical rice plates and noodle dishes of a Cantonese barbecue house, and features Filipino-style breakfast dishes. The Filipino influence shows in the extra garlicky flavors and richer soup stocks. I’ve had the mixed won ton noodles here (earlier post) and also the roast duck/barbecue pork noodle soup. The soup stock has been flavorful and intense with no apparent MSG, but did have more than a minor oil slick. The eggy noodles themselves were of very good quality. The roast duck was average, the barbecue pork was too dry, and I’d avoid the won tons. Still, I did find these noodle soups restorative and deliciously satisfying, even with these bumps. Maybe I’ll just get the soup noodles with scallions and napa cabbage next time and skip the extras.

Jollibee (4399 Sonoma Blvd., 707-557-3290) is a Manila-based fast food chain that has followed its ex-pats to the States to offer them the kind of hamburgers and American-style food they grew up with in the islands. The fried chicken is good here with the heavy stick-to-your-ribs quality that cooking in lard lends. Also a tasty snack was the fried mango/peach pie which had chunks of real fruit, not just sweetened goop, and a crackly greaseless crust. Local delivery service is offered for a small charge.

Goldilock’s (3885 Sonoma Blvd., 707-557-9977, 9am to 7pm) is a brightly lit bakery and coffee shop, also a Manila export. Quality is good here but prices are higher and the staff have been less able to answer questions about the food on the steam tables.

Captain Benny’s Seafood on Sonoma Blvd. has gone out of business recently. This is a shame as the whole fried fish was good and cheap.

One place that I haven’t visited yet is Banana Q which has had a couple recent mentions in the SF Chronicle and from GraceAnn Walden. It was last to try on my list due to friends who said that Goldilock’s and CMC were much better.

Link: http://www.toad.net/~cabinjohn/gilda.htm

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    Han Lukito Sep 2, 2001 11:57 AM

    love filipino cuisine. keep the posts coming.

    also try the kari-kari which is oxtail meat with a special sauce. it is usually accompanied with bagong which is like a salty crab/shrimp paste to enhance the sauce. it is also come with vegetables.

    at ling nam branch in daly city, i always ordered the filipino breakfast which consist of garlic rice, some meats that you can choose up to two of either sausages, pork or beef. it also comes with egg and some veg pickles that are really good.

    the only problem with filipino is the fat content which i think is very high. my arteries are probably shocked every time. but very very delicious. just can't eat them every single day. it will be too rich for me.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Han Lukito
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      Melanie Wong Sep 3, 2001 02:21 AM

      Thanks for the hints, Han. Shep also mentioned garlic rice for breakfast somewhere. I will have to try that.

      My experience with Filipino food doesn't extend much beyond what I posted. Only other things I've had are different styles of lumpia, lechon, adobo, goat, crispy pata, and pancit.

      The attraction to fat is very noticeable in the cuisine. The meats are not trimmed and the grease floating on some of the dishes on the steam tables is quite thick. Guess the thing is to remember to eat more of the vegetables too!

      1. re: Melanie Wong
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        Shep Sep 3, 2001 01:23 PM

        Thank you, Melanie, for a great survey of Vallejo's Filipino choices. I've never been to any of them; a new set of tastes to look forward to.

        The best garlic rice & eggs I've had were at Manila Garden in Hayward. It is at A St and Hesperian, incidentally in the same strip mall with the exceptiional World Faire Donuts, worth a trip in itself. Some huge, light crullers there...

        1. re: Shep
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          Melanie Wong Sep 4, 2001 02:07 AM

          How much garlic are we talking about here? I ask because I had a sandwich with garlic the other day and by 2pm, it was coming out of my pores!

          1. re: Melanie Wong
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            Shep aka 2 Cheap Hungry Guys Sep 6, 2001 11:00 PM

            The garlic in question is well-browned, so should not be overtly offensive to most. Pretty good amount, though, well mixed through the rice. I used to chow down big on this, then go call on a few customers;)

            1. re: Shep aka 2 Cheap Hungry Guys
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              Melanie Wong Sep 11, 2001 01:19 AM

              Yes, Pia R. explained this dish to me on Saturday night. She said the garlic is golden and the rice needs to be leftover and not freshly made. She has some pre-fried garlic in a jar for instant gratification.

              1. re: Melanie Wong
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                ryan gan Sep 13, 2001 10:18 PM

                yep, usually my mom or pop would make garlic fried rice on sunday morning, from the leftover rice on friday night. it's a lot of garlic, though nothing like a whole bulb. the garlic is fried in oil, just until it's almost to brown...then the cold rice is thrown in...smoosh good while it is being heated up. sometimes throw in an egg or two eggs, cooked beforehand in an omelet style...dried anchovies (tuyo), tapa (dried beef), beef and onions, longanisa...plus taster's choice coffee or pan de sal (filipino dinner roll). man oh man. i sure loved those sunday breakfasts.

                --ryan

        2. re: Melanie Wong
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          ryan gan Sep 4, 2001 02:42 PM

          woo hoo! more filipino food reviews...pampaguenos i've heard are "the" gourmets of the phillippines. if i am ever around vallejo (perhaps a pilgrimage is in order) i will stop by. ummm, also next to the ling nam in daly city, if you just go up a small hill there is sinugba, which also has a nice garlic rice/two egg special. i think i am going to take BART now to eat there.

          --ryan

          1. re: ryan gan
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            Melanie Wong Sep 4, 2001 09:29 PM

            Hey, ryan, I remember your last trek to DC for breakfast. Bet that "small hill" looks a lot bigger when you're standing at the bottom of it. (g)

            Any dishes particular to pampangan cooking that you're especially fond of?

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