Filipino-Americans are the second largest Asian-American group in the United States behind the Chinese (damn those Chinese!). More specifically though, we're THE largest group in the United States hailing from Southeast Asia.
Whoohoo! We're #1! In your face Thailand, Vietnam, and whoever else Wikipedia says is in SE Asia! In your face!
Ahem. Uh, sorry for the seeming hostilities. I mean no disrespect. That is a foam finger of peace! I love all my Asian-American brethren. I really do. I'm just, just, jealous. That's right, I can admit jealousy. You see, in spite of having a very large presence here in the U.S., Filipinos still lag behind our Asian homies when it comes to the dining scene. Good Filipino restaurants are few and far between here.
That isn't to say there aren't any, but relatively speaking, there aren't many Filipino restaurants. All around the cities and from coast to coast, there are countless Chinese and Japanese restaurants. And the delicious cuisines of India, Vietnam, and Thailand (among others) are growing in popularity as well. You see how that can make a brother envious?
I'm sure there are a number of reasons why Filipino food hasn't caught on in much the same way as the Curries, Phos, and Pad Thais of our Asian compatriots. For the public at large, there's probably an apprehension to try new and different things. With that said though, there was also a time in this country when sushi was seen as strange and foreign.
For me however, I don't frequent Filipino restaurants very often because I'm constantly comparing everything to my mother's cooking and therefore, find myself being overly critical of perfectly fine food. I do realize the hypocrisy in all of this--I want to promote Filipino food, but I've yet to review a Filipino restaurant on this blog.
So, to keep from talking out of both sides of my mouth (and out of my ass for that matter), I'm glad to say that I've serendipitously discovered a very good Filipino restaurant.
JoJo's Lechon is down the street from where I work. In spite of its awesome name, I never gave much thought to it as I would drive right past it on my way to Yoshinoya, Tommy's, or even McDonald's, for lunch (I weigh 300 pounds). But then I noticed that there always seemed to be a few old Filipino men smoking outside of this restaurant. To me, grizzled old Filipinos smoking is a comforting sight. It reminds me of family gatherings; all that was missing was drunken gambling and threats of violence. Good times.
Anyways, seeing that JoJo's was frequented by Pinoys was reason enough for me to give it a try. JoJo's is what is known as a "Turo-Turo" joint where the food is usually behind glass and kept warm in steamer trays (very much like what you would find at Panda Express, except the food is better, tastier, and authentic-er). For turo-turo joints, you don't need to know the names of all the dishes (although it helps), all you need is a working digit to point out what you want ("turo-turo" literally translates to "point-point") and homedude behind the counter will plop your food onto a plate for you. Not all Filipino restaurants are Turo-Turo restaurants, but JoJo's is a great example of this type of setting.
For my first foray into the small space that is JoJo's, I was quite impressed with the amount of food they had--probably 10-15 dishes. There were many entrees that I was able to easily identify, and others that looked familiar but I just didn't know the names of. So I just pointed out the Kalabasa at Sitaw (Squash and long beans), and the fried Bangus (milkfish). Two-item combo, Holmes!
I chose these entrees because they are favorites of mine that my mother usually makes. Considering my penchant for unfairly comparing things to my mother's cooking, this probably wasn't a good thing for JoJo's. However, both of these items were amazing! I was shocked! I was expecting the Bangus to be greasy and soggy, and the veggies to be bland. Instead, the Bangus was perfectly fried and crispy, and not overly salty either. The squash and long beans were cooked perfectly, sauteed in a slick of oil and broth (no coconut milk in this one) that made the dish spot on.
I was so pleased with my lunch at JoJo's that I went back for lunch the following week. On my second visit, I noticed they had completely different entrees, so I assume that their menu changes daily--which is a good thing. On this visit, I ordered the Adobong Pusit (Squid Adobo), shrimp and sayote (green filipino vegetable), and Fried Tuyo (small dried and salted fish). Three-item combo, Holmes!
I'm not sure why I chose the Squid Adobo. I don't like Squid Adobo. I've only had my mother's once or twice, and I thought I would never have it again. It's kind of funky. But there it was at JoJo's and I pointed at it. Maybe I was subconciously looking for something I would hate, but I took one taste of this squid and had an epiphany--Squid Adobo is good!
Squid Adobo is the same as Chicken Adobo, with the squid being cooked in soy and vinegar. But there was also a sweetness to the Squid Adobo at JoJo's that I just couldn't put my finger on. I couldn't tell if there was sugar in it, or if the sweetness was coming from the onions that were swimming in the adobo sauce, but whatever it was, it was good. JoJo's Squid Adobo was a bit greasy, but it was good enough for me to want to attempt recreating at home sometime soon (that's another post for another time).
The shrimp and sayote was just OK. I only had one dinky shrimp and the sayote was quite limp and overcooked--but it was all full of shrimpy flavor.
Finally was the Tuyo. I think I had about 5-6 of these little fishies on my plate, which was plenty. I just picked up the salty Tuyo with my fingers and bit off piece by piece, including the head and bones, and then shoveled some rice into my mouth. So. Good. But I was wishing I had some tomatoes to go with the Tuyo.
Strangely enough, I did not sample any of the lechon at JoJo's Lechon. But I am happy to say that I loved this small Filipino restaurant enough to work it into my lunchtime rotation at work, so I'm sure I'll have many more chances to try more entrees there.
Although we don't have as many restaurants as do our other Asian counterparts, there are indeed some Filipino restaurants out there worth checking out, and JoJo's Lechon is one of them. It ain't fancy, but JoJo's is good, honest, Filipino food. And homecooked Filipino food beats the pants off of a cheeseburger any day.
1112 E. Huntington Drive
Duarte, CA 91010