Alejandro's -- crispy pata daze
After reading a couple of rave reviews by Abby/pleasurepalate, I decided to check out this Filipino restaurant in Glassell Park/Eagle Rock with a group. Turns out it's just down the block from Polka, a cozy little Polish place that also has great homey food for cheap.
I've read about crispy pata, deep-fried pork knuckle, in other reviews of Filipino restaurants, but this was my first time trying it. A huge, golden lump of crisp-fried pork landed before us. Pork knuckle? The exposed bits of bone looked more like dinosaur claws. But the meat... omg. The pork itself is a lot like carnitas, someone else pointed out, but the fried fat/skin puts it over the top. Fortunately, it's served with vinegar and soy sauce so you can cut the fattiness a bit by dipping. I'm not ordinarily a big fried-foods person (everything in moderation... usually), but I could not stay away from this stuff. An hour or so later, I was in a bit of a pig-fat daze.
My husband insisted on getting the meat platter, which to my eye was a fairly banal assortment of pan-Asian bbq: kalbi, chicken teriyaki, baby back ribs and grilled pork. So it turned out to be, but it was pretty good. I had just a piece of kalbi, saving myself for the other dishes. I was impressed by the grilled eggplant that came with it: a single long one, split down the middle. I guess it was grilled also, but whereas *my* grilled/roasted eggplants end up shriveled within their wrinkly skin, this one was plump and yet perfectly cooked and creamy inside. Amazing.
Lumpiang Shanghai - these are like mini egg rolls, with the thinner wontonlike skin. Filled with pork and fried, they were just irresistible - miles better than the tasteless nubbins by the same name at Asian Noodles.
Bicol Express was recommended by Abby/pleasurepalate - seafood sauteed in coconut milk. Really tasty, although I didn't think the seafood was amazing. It wasn't rubbery, nor off - nothing scary - but it didn't impress me in and of itself. The sauce did, though. Mmmmm.
Mixed adobo (chicken and pork), though, was kind of disappointing. I've actually never had adobo other than the one time I made it myself from a recipe - delicious, but I have no idea how it stacked up against the real thing! This adobo tasted okay, but the meats definitely needed to be more tender, more fall-off-the-bone-ish. Our friend whose mom is Filipina agreed that his mom's is way better (though otherwise he gave the food a 9 out of 10).
Also had Pinakbet, sauteed assorted vegetables in anchovy paste. I actually don't remember what the veggies were except okra, which a couple people commented they liked better than the usual okra. I found this dish a bit too fishy. Well, anchovy paste. Duh.
To go with everything we had garlic fried rice. What genius mad scientist in the kitchen came up with this? I loved, loved, loved it - could've been a meal on its own.
I thought we ordered a lot, but we actually ate most of it while still having some leftovers.
I'm really excited about this place, which is just a short hop up the 2 from my place. The menu is long and there's plenty more I want to try, especially pancit bihon, rice noodles sauteed with pork and shrimp; ginger-based mussel soup; green papaya and chicken ginger stew; grilled milkfish; pork in a "zesty dark sauce" (dinuguan) and more.
And contrary to my impression of Filipino food as meat-centric, there are about 10 vegetable dishes.
Almost everything is under $10, although the meat plate extravaganza is $25. The rest of the entrees average $7-$8, soups and appetizers start at $5. They take credit cards.
4126 N. Verdugo Rd. (exit Verdugo from the 2, go in the opposite direction from Occidental College)
I really did not enjoy Alejandro's. To me the portions were small and the prices were high for a Filipino joint. For some reason, this place does not have the grease quotient I expect from Filipino dishes. I agree with Cicely that some things are hit or miss. The flavors on some things are decent, but this place just does not knock my socks off. In general, I would not go back. Still waiting for Magic Wok to re-open...
I rather agree on the portions -- the meat platter was certainly hefty, but it should be, for $25. I thought the Bicol express seafood dish was rather small. Or maybe it's just small relative to the ridiculously gargantuan portions that we're used to in this country. I was kind of on the fence about that, so I didn't mention it in my review. I think the relative lack of greasiness, though, is definitely a plus.
When I first tried crispy pata several years ago at Fiesta Barrio, I thought it was a reptilian claw as well and recoiled. It was tasty, if you enjoy pork, but the presentation was off-putting--a little like raw fish, until you acquire the taste. I tried Alejandro's cripsy pata for take-out just a couple weeks ago and found I liked it much more than before. I'll have to return and try some other dishes.
I'm so glad you tried Alejandro's. It really is my favorite Filipino restaurant. The next time you're there, check out their drinks. They have some that are quite unique like their green mango and pandan milkshake or their mais con yelo (a sweet corn milkshake) and their suman is to die for. I've brought people back who go gaga over that dessert which is sweetened rice with a caramel sauce, toasted coconut and leche plan (e.g. flan).
Also, I heard that they may be offering a special holiday menu featuring Filipino dishes that you do tend to see only around Christmas like chicken relleno which is basically the chicken deboned with only the skin left and is stuffed with ground pork, olives, raisins and other ingredients and than baked. There's also embutido, which is like sweet meatloaf because it is a mixture of ground chicken, ground pork, raisins, catsup among other things.
I'm not sure if the two items will be specifically on that special Holiday menu, but it may be a good idea to just check with the restaurant to see what they're planning.