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Inaugural NorBay Chowdown: La Parilla, Cotati

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Six of us made it to Cotati for the inaugural North Bay Chowdown at La Parilla, a restaurant none of us had ever tried before. La Parilla serves both Mexican and Filipino food. Melanie W. called beforehand to pre-order an all-Filipino food menu.

The owners are from the Philippines and opened a Mexican restaurant thinking that no-one would want Filipino cooking. Although we didn’t try any of their Mexican fare, the eight dishes we tried all had a homey goodness to them. All were served family style with white rice.

First out on the table was pinakbet, a mélange of cut-up okra, bitter melon, long beans (the skinniest, tenderest examples we’d ever seen) eggplant and sweet potato in a tomato-based sauce, assuredly laced with fish sauce. The overall effect was sweet-bitter-salty and warmed up our tastebuds for plate #2, ginataang langka, which many of us found to be a top contender for best dish of the evening.

The ginataang langka was braised jackfruit in coconut milk. The jackfruit tasted like artichoke hearts crossed with hearts of palm (thanks, Alex and Stephanie for the accurate description). The soft vegetal taste of the jackfruit and the sweetness of the coconut milk were nicely offset by slices of green jalapeno and bits of pork that were a lovely, bright shade of rosy pink. At first I thought they were bits of Chinese barbecued pork (cha siu) but no. The pork got its color from having been sautéed in shrimp paste. It tasted very much to me like a comfort dish, i.e. one I could eat a lot of.

Next came callos, a dish whose Spanish heritage was very evident. La Parilla’s callos combines tripe, bacon, chorizo, garbanzo beans, red bell pepper, and pork knuckle with tendon. This dish was gone almost immediately, with Alex exclaiming that this was the best tripe he had ever eaten and Kat citing it as her favorite for its flavors being clear and “unmushy.” Bryan loved how the tripe was “enlivened” by the bacon. I’m not particularly found of tripe, or perhaps I should say I have had one too many badly prepared tripe dishes, but I must say this one was really good and I would have eaten more had the opposite end of the table not been hogging it!

Another table favorite was the kare-kare, an oxtail and peanut stew/soup. The broth was a rich tasting but light mouth-feel peanut soup. The pieces of oxtail, tripe, eggplant, kabocha squash, and bok choy each paired differently with the peanut soup. To me, the squash seemed sweeter and the oxtail beefier when eaten with the broth.

Those were the table favorites. We also had another meat broth soup that was brightened with the sourness of citrus (lime or lemon but we didn’t think tamarind) and contained chunks of meaty pork ribs, tomatoes, eggplant, taro, and some water spinach (ong choy). The lumpia were proclaimed “cute” by someone at the table. They were indeed petite with a smooth ground meat filling (the owner grinds her own). The pork adobo was a bit unmemorable, only slightly vinegar-y. Nonetheless it was tender and tasty, and we ate it all. Perhaps the least successful dish was the rice noodle dish, pancit. It was tossed with bits of shredded pork, carrots, cabbage, and diced celery. There wasn’t much flavor to it other than “salty.” For dessert we had flan, a very dense, almost cake-like sort (rather than the slippery, silky kind) that reminded Melanie more of scrambled eggs than flan.

We all enjoyed our meal and, after having been away from the community of ‘hounds for a while, I really enjoyed sharing it with fellow North Bay Chowhounds. We’d like to go back to try the deep fried pork belly and the sissig. And we hear they do a roast suckling pig on special order!

La Parilla Restaurant and Catering
8492 Gravenstein Hwy
hours 10:00-8:30

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  1. Wow, that sounds delicious.

    1. Sounds great! I'm so happy, too, that we finally have an active North Bay chowdown group. I know there's got to be more up there than the familiar wine country standards (although those are mostly very good).

      1. Quick Response:
        Alex here!
        I just want to say that I had an AWESOME evening sharing some of the best homestyle food that I have had in a long time. I cannot thank Melanie enough for her excellent choice in a restaurant and getting us together!

        Check back soon for my report - but I must say Lise sentiments are almost mine to the t.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kare_raisu

          I thought this was a nice veggie dish but not very memorable when placed next to the Jackfruit dish.

          >>ginataang langka
          Probably my second favorite dish of the evening. I enjoyed the sweetness of the coconut milk and the light heat of the sliced chiles. And the unripe jackfruit texture and taste -as decribed - was a great new culinary experience for me. The interpersed pieces of pork add a nice richness as did the shrimp paste undertone - which gave the entire dish a beutiful rosyness.

          This dish made the meal for me - my absolute favorite - and the best preparatation I have ever had of tripe. I will come back for this dish, this is without question. Bacon, tendon, chickpeas, light tomato broth, and the most delicate pieces of tripe I have ever tastes - what's not to like? We actually fought over the last bits! I felt like I could have been eating in a Spanish restaurant.

          >>Kare kare -
          Third favorite dish - loved this over rice in the little bowl. I never had anything like this before. Squash, honeycomb tripe, green beans, and oxtails. This would make a perfect sustaining winter meal. The peanut butter and the tripe I found to work excellent together.

          >> Adobo
          I really liked this dish - though when placed next to those dishes I have mentioned already it could not compete. However - the straightforward flavors pepper, vinegar and garlic were lovely. I appreciated that it was a drier rendetion as well and plus it looked sexy and robust. It had a justified place on the table. (4th favorite)

          I would also like to mention the kindess and welcoming warmheartness of the propeitress. The love and care really shined through by way of her wonderful food.

          I had a smile on my face the rest of the evening - great time.

          1. re: kare_raisu

            I still have some of the dishes in my mind. I would love the recipe for the callos - although I think it was something that the owner just came up with.

            Concerning the adobo, you may be interested in some backround to the version we were served:

            "One noteworthy preparation style is the pinatuyo or, literally, dried method. In this method, the traditional pork or chicken in the adobo is dried off its sauce by slow-frying, resulting in a delicious caramelization of the meat and the creation of the much desired crispy bits that go so well with a plate of freshly cooked, steaming hot rice. This style of adobo has parallels with the Mexican pork dish called carnitas, which employs a similar cooking method."

            "Oxtail, with the skin on and cut into 2-inch lengths, and ox tripe are boiled until tender. Sometimes pieces of ox feet or shins are added. In some varieties, other types of meat are used, such as pork or (rarely) chicken. (There is an instance of one version omitting the meat altogether and using vegetables) When the meat is tender, the soup becomes glutinous and to this is added ground roasted peanuts (or peanut butter), ground roasted glutinous rice to make the soup thicker. Atsuete (annatto) is added to give color. The basic vegetables for kare-kare include young banana flower bud or "heart" (puso ng saging), eggplant, string beans, and Chinese cabbage (pechay). Kare-kare is served hot with special bagoong alamang (sauteed salted shrimp paste) sprinkled with the juice of calamansi limes."


            I wonder if she added annatto?

            I am also deeply intrigued by a dish we were not served but is mentioned in Wikipedia:
            "Arroz Caldo" - which would fit the bill as a textbook fusion of spanish-filipino-chinese. Think Paella -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugaw#Fi...
            Maybe next time we can ask her to make it for us?
            I wonder what area she is from?


        2. To be bad I missed it... sounds great!

          1. Was the kare kare served with a side of shrimp paste (bagoong)?

            2 Replies
            1. re: DezzerSF

              hmmm....no - is this the traditional way?

            2. Great post, Lise, and what a pleasure to chow with you again! Your first after too long of an absence.

              Like Ruth, I'm so glad to have companions at the table in the North Bay, especially intrepid ones who didn't hesitate to check out a completely untested spot with a cuisine they've had little experience with. Lucky for us, this place delivered the goods. The food was made to order and well-executed. As Rina, the owner/cook, explained, her kids are with them at the restaurant and she cooks for us the way she would for them.

              I wasn't quite as taken with the jackfruit, interesting for sure, but something a little tinny about the taste. I had asked for Laing, which would be taro leaves prepared in the same way with coconut cream and chile and she suggested this instead. But I'm glad I had a chance to try it. Those pieces of jackfruit really did look like artichoke hearts with a grayish color.

              The callos scored big with me as well. She said it has Filipino chorizo in it, and we're going to have to figure out which brand, as I think the seasoning of it was key to the taste. And, since she grinds her own meat, she'll probably tell us that she makes her own.

              I liked the pinakbet better than the others, maybe because each vegetable in the blend was cooked to optimum texture for me. That doesn't happen often, usually something is too hard and another is too mushy. The fresh okra was great, and as Lise mentions, I was mightily impressed with the long beans. I also liked that the cook wasn't shy with the shrimp paste on this one. It made a very fragrant start!

              The oxtails needed a little more time on the fire, not soft enough for me. But I liked the soupier style of the peanut sauce, rather than being gravy-like. No shrimp paste on the side, but some in the seasonings, and I'm sure if we asked for it, it would be provided.

              The sinigang could have been exceptional with a little more acidity. Good stuff in it, and I liked the chunks of taro and the ong choy. I'm sorry I didn't ask for something to lift the tartness a little more. In her introduction, she said that it would be a little sour, but not too sour, maybe her own palate doesn't like that much tartness. I'll remember to ask for me, especially in the adobo.

              Prices for rice plates are $5 each. Our family style orders were bigger servings, ala carte, for about $8 per, plus steamed rice for 6 (about $3.50). We ordered two extra entrees, and left most of the pancit behind, so one could certainly spend less than we did ($15 each) and still eat very well. I called a day and a half ahead to ask for these dishes to give enough time for shopping.

              La Parilla
              8492 Gravenstein Hwy, Cotati, CA 94931

              1. Photos of yummy food at:

                My report sometime after dinner and some dessert. (:

                1. It was a great treat to meet other foodies on Thursday. Thank you Melanie for organizing people and food! Thank you to everyone for showing up and having fun!

                  I think this is the first and only Filipino restaurant in Sonoma County. It is about 40 miles north of San Francisco in a strip mall just west of Cotati off 101. It would be an easy spot to stop en route.

                  The food forced me out of my comfort zone. It resembled other Pacific Island food - rice, sauces of coconut, tamarind or peanut butter, vegetables with meat. Yet there was much more pork and less fish, chicken or vegetables. I especially liked kare-kare for the kabocha squash with peanut sauce/soup and the pinakbit for the okra & long beans.

                  We sampled a variety of dishes, yet each was distinct, prepared & served in different styles & combinations. Eggplant, long bean, pork, tomatoes appeared and reappeared in different sauces and guises. The rice helped to mellow the dishes and transition from one to another.

                  I did think of my friends who don't like stews or "foods that touch on the plate". Filipino food would challenge them and those unsure of shrimp paste, tamarind, unknown vegetables and meat in most dishes.

                  I do wonder if restaurant is the right word to describe it as La Parilla doubles as a taqueria. Ordering is done at the counter, the menu is posted on a big board, basic tables & chairs on linoleum. The TV volume was low, the bathroom functional. So the humbleness of the place belies the tasty, homestyle cooking. We're convinced we've found a hidden, local treasure.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Stephanie Sugars

                    I haven't run across any other Filipino "restaurants" in the County either. There is one Filipino grocery store over by Hot Tamales, or at least it was there three months ago. It's called Pacific Plate Specialty Market, and has baked goods from Goldilocks and others. Here's the facade, http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1316/1...

                    Pacific Plate
                    3020 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95407

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I noticed this place a few months ago. I am going to check it out again

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I swung by here to talk with the owner. Really cool guy - loves to cook and is in the process of negotiating with the next door neighbor to rent for a kitchen.

                    2. I hit La Parilla for lunch today... and have some updates:

                      > Their daytime lunch crowd is widely composed of blue collar Mexican workers. The main cook during the day... Eva is from Autlan, Jalisco... and she had some amusing insights... on her struggles to represent the Mexican side of the menu more authentically. Apparently the owners have shot down her Caldos because they have too many vegetables & the margins are too low. Similarly, her specialty is Camarones a la Diabla... but they wont allow her to serve them because the ingredients are too expensive. She also disaproves of their Carne Asada marinade which includes Soy Sauce & other Filipino ingredients.

                      > The Filipino menu is struggling so the food offering is limited.

                      > I had the Pork & Vegetable Soup with a sour, tamarind (at least the is how he explained it) broth. This was cooked by the owner.... who pulled out some pre-cooked pork chunks (with bone) & broth... from the refrigerator then adjusted the broth & quickly cooked the vegetables. This was accompanied by a heaping pile of steamed rice. The dish was decent.... the pork was quite bland... but the broth was interesting with the sourness that almost reminded me of a Thai soup & something else which I will discuss in a second. The green beans, bok choy & eggplant were all good if a bit stingy.

                      Overall... given the stiff competition from two other southeast Asian eateries in the same strip mall (Vietnamese & Thai)... I am concerned the Filipino items will dissappear.

                      I suggested some Fusion Tacos.... Filipino Adobo, Pork sauteed with Shrimp Paste etc.,... he dug the idea.... so if anybody is interested in a Filipino Taco chowdown.... we can probably get them to create something for our group (I did mention I knew all of you... and he definitely remembered the group)... it might just be the thing that would encourage him to go forward with some fusion items... who knows it might even help the place survive.

                      RST.... if you read this... since you are interested in writing an essay on the crossover between Mexican & Filipino cuisine (vis a vis the Acapulco-Manila trading route) the dish I had (someone please help me with the name) reminded me of the Caldo Blancos (non-Roux based)... that you find in Western Mexico... and which are sometimes flavored with Xoconostles... which ends up oddly paralleling the fruity sourness of this dish.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Its great to hear you made it EN!

                        -- I love the idea of a fillipino taco chowdown.
                        -- I havent been back since the chowdown for fear of dissapointed - since the meal we had was prepared special for us.
                        --The woman owner also mentioned roast suckling pig as a catering dish does sometimes.
                        -- I kind of like that they put a spin on the typical carne asada with fillipino ingredients.

                        Regarding Fillipino - Mexican relationship - I think the key topic in research would be the introduction of the tamarind - if indeed it was brought over from Manila. How did they learn to make it into a drink?

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          I wish RST would chime in here because he has some interesting insights on Mexican dishes whose names seemed to be derived from Tagalo.

                          With respects to Tamarindo Agua Fresca.... Agua Fresca was so ingrained in Pre-Hispanic life (Mexico ecosystem provides much more Fruit than Vegetables)... that they systematically experimented with everything they could get their hands on.... including Fermentation (the % of Liquers & Brews that make their way North is a fraction of what goes in Mexico... because so much of it is a cottage industry... in fact when you research a particular town or municipality on the government sites [sort of the Mexican equivalent of the CIA Country Pages].... you will see that things like Candied Fruits, Agua Frescas, Liquers & Brews etc., are Official Categories that get reported along with Languages, Ethnicities, Population, Industries etc., - and such I am not surprised at all that they would figure out how to turn Tamarind into a drink.