Walter Mencken 9 a.m., May 23
Thrilla in Villa Manila
“We have 7,100 islands,” says Nancy Mendoza. “Not 10,000.”
Nancy knows. She’s talking about the Philippines. That’s where she’s from. Now she owns this restaurant Villa Manila (500 East 8th Street, National City, 619-477-8512), with some of the best Filipino food I’ve tasted.
I had just thrown out something about the Philippines having “10,000 islands,” like I knew what I was talking about.
Same goes for the food. I realize I don’t know jack about Filipino food, outside the safety zones of pancit and lumpia and adobo.
I chanced in here around 8.45 at night.
Inside has Filipino scenes and traditional crafts around the walls
First thing I saw inside was this Filipino family, mom, dad, daughter, all ladling themselves out a steaming noodle soup, from a beautiful two-layer bowl of white china with a candle heating the soup from below.
They looked as if they were in heaven.
“We come here for this,” said Harwell, the dad. Ruth, his wife, and Hannah, their 16-year-old daughter, nod in silent agreement.
“It’s the noodles. It’s like being home.”
They were slurping a sotanghon con caldo, a soup using a crystal-clear noodle made from mung beans. The bowl’s loaded with shrimp, chicken, pork, plus mushrooms, cabbage, and, for sure, garlic.
Natch, I have to order it. It costs $10.25, but I get a half portion for half. It’s delicious.
And here’s the thing, the longer you go, the more the candle underneath evaporates the juices and the juicier and more sabroso they get.
I tell Nancy I’ll buy the candle-soup bowls. They’re that nice. “Actually I brought them back from Manila,” says Nancy. “If you’ll pay the air fare for me to go pick up another, we could have a deal.”
Right…Oh man. So much more I’d love to get my teeth into. The adobo, of course, but then Nancy tells me about Pinakbet, a kind of Filipino chop suey, with everything from eggplant and squash to ampalaya, that beautiful bitter-bitter gourd that gives the dish its kick.
Sigh. Nancy knows. Guess I’ll have to eat other stuff. Make a proper Tin Fork of this place. It’s a tough life…
Ruth, daughter Hannah, Harwell, Sonny the waiter, and in front, Nancy the owner
Meantime let’s just say Villa Manila’s a Thrilla, a real, classy Filipino eatery here in the heart of Little Manila.
Watch for a Tin Fork, soon as I can.
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