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Filipino Grill: Pancit plus

Vinegar and Filipino food seem to have a special relationship

Bangus, the classic grilled Filipino milk fish, with pancit, jackfruit.
Bangus, the classic grilled Filipino milk fish, with pancit, jackfruit.

“What time is it?”

“Six-thirty in the am.”

“Where are we?”

“Don’t even look, pappy. We’re in the Philippines. Can’t you smell the food?”

I can. Vinegar, fish, BBQ.

Place

Filipino Grill

1828 Coronado Avenue, San Diego

Ria, my beloved stepkid who’s no longer a kid, wanted to keep this a mystery. She had whipped me inside this small storefront before I could catch the name.

“OK, where are we really?”

“Really, pappy, we’re in Egger Highlands.” She says it like I ought to know. And I guess I should. This is an inland section of Imperial Beach, a shopping center off Saturn Boulevard. And here, between Tasty Pizza and Josie’s Hair Design, this little food place called Filipino Grill is doing gangbuster business. At six in the morning!

Beth. Up at 3 every morning.

Ria disappears and comes back with two coffees. “Yum Yum Donuts,” she says. “Also opens early.” We slurp, and we stare at a long rack of steaming foods in chafing dishes. What I can’t figure is how come these guys are up and running at this crazy hour. “Filipinos are early birds,” says Ria. And for sure, a steady bunch of customers files up the row and points to different dishes.

“OK,” says Ria. “This is Beth. Beth: show this man what Filipino people eat for breakfast!”

“We eat anything,” says Beth, who runs the place, “but most days we might have this garlic rice, with longaniza, tocino, grilled and boned bangus, and for sure the eggplant torta.”

Hmm. Ria promised me a “healthful surprise” before she marched me across the parking lot, and in here. I’m seeing chafing dishes filled with pinky-mauve jackfruit, gold and black BBQ pork, scarlet salchicha sausages, adobo, chicken, and whole grilled fishes, piled with their eyes wide open, staring at you from the Other Side.

Ria knows what she wants: to take some Lumpia Shanghai (which is the standard lumpia) back to her man Will. “Can you beat this?” she asks. “Twenty-five pieces of lumpia for $10.”

Beth needs to move things along. People keep shuffling through the front door. She stands, large spoon at the ready, behind the rack of chafing dishes. “What would you like? A combo? Pancit noodles? Garlic rice? Some of each?” I can’t believe I’m ordering a full meal at the crack of dawn like this. But the umami smells are waking up my senses. Specially my hollow sense of hunger. Beth says you can buy individual tubs of food at about five bucks each, or get a combo of garlic rice with one entrée for $8.75, or with two entrées for $12.50. Or with pancit rice noodles and veggies as the base, $9 and $13.50.

Salchichas and sweetened meats.

So what to eat? Choice of entrée includes chicken BBQ, chicken curry, pork BBQ, salchichas (sausages), siopao (steamed stuffed buns), and this interesting one: goat kilawin. It’s chopped-up goatskin ($1 extra, if you’re getting it with the combo). Goat itself starts at $7. Then there’s grilled or fried whole tilapia fish (add $2 for combo), grilled or fried whole milkfish (same). Actually, milkfish are known in the Philippines as bangus. Bangus is their unofficial national fish. It’s called milkfish because its flaky flesh is milk-white, even after it has been sautéed. You have to watch out though, because this is one bony fish. That’s why a lot of places deliberately label their offerings “Boneless bangus” to let you know that they’ve done the work for you.

Ria orders the garlic rice combined with the pancit to take home to Will, along with BBQ pork. “This lady is so generous,” she says. “We’ll be freezing most of this stuff. Will and I’ll probably get three meals out of it. Each.”

Super-delicious! Pork BBQ, about five bucks per skewer.

Meanwhile, Beth is still waiting for me to decide. So I move swiftly. “D’agh, Pancit noodles, plus grilled, whole, deboned bangus, and pork BBQ ($5.25 for a small order, and up to $17 a la carte), egg torta and eggplant ($4.50).

“That’s a very popular breakfast dish,” says Beth.

I decide to go for pancit because I know the pancit story is pretty cool. The word comes from Hokkien people in southeast China. Part of China’s sea-faring peoples. Heads up, Italian fans! Chinese cuisine got as far as Italy. It was the Chinese who introduced pasta — that is, noodles — to the Italians. Think Silk Route, Marco Polo, mighty ocean-going junks. And it was Chinese traders who introduced pian-i-cit to the Philippines. (The world’s oldest Chinatown is Manila’s Binondo: founded 1594, still going.) Pian-i-cit became pancit. Kind of means “fast food.” In a stir fry, you can whip this sucker up in minutes. Actually, for me, my pancit noodles need a little more flavor, so I get some, in the form of vinegar and a hot sauce that makes me think of Sriracha. And this does the trick. Specially the vinegar. Vinegar and Filipino food seem to have a special relationship. Same goes for the chicken curry. I got a bowl a la carte ($4.50). It’s okay, but just a little weak in the flavor department. Again, nothing a little vinegar and hot sauce can’t rescue.

This is way more than enough. Pancit plus BBQ pork, plus sweet red slabs of pork, plus the skin of the bangus fish, so-o delicious, they all really rock. I remember how the Filipinos like to mix sweet and sour all in the same dish. And right here, right now, you see why. Oh, and some incredible jackfruit. People sometimes call it “vegetable meat,” because it almost tastes like steak. Plus, it is the world’s largest fruit, maybe 3 feet long, 120 pounds heavy. This fruit could feed the world!

Whatever, this whole thing is morning magic. Now I just have to make sure that I can still fit through the front door. Rest of the day? I get the feeling it’s gonna be horizontal.

  • The Place: Filipino Grill, 1828 Coronado Avenue, Egger Heights, Imperial Beach, 619-429-5778
  • Hours: 6am - 7pm, daily (Sunday, till 5:30pm)
  • Prices: Lumpia, 25 pieces, $10; garlic rice combo, one entrée, $8.75; combo with two entrées, $12.50; pancit rice noodle and veggie combo, one entrée, $9; two entrées, $13.50; lechon kawali, $15; crispy bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines), $20
  • Buses: 901, 933, 934
  • Nearest bus stops: Coronado Avenue at Saturn Boulevard
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Bangus, the classic grilled Filipino milk fish, with pancit, jackfruit.
Bangus, the classic grilled Filipino milk fish, with pancit, jackfruit.

“What time is it?”

“Six-thirty in the am.”

“Where are we?”

“Don’t even look, pappy. We’re in the Philippines. Can’t you smell the food?”

I can. Vinegar, fish, BBQ.

Place

Filipino Grill

1828 Coronado Avenue, San Diego

Ria, my beloved stepkid who’s no longer a kid, wanted to keep this a mystery. She had whipped me inside this small storefront before I could catch the name.

“OK, where are we really?”

“Really, pappy, we’re in Egger Highlands.” She says it like I ought to know. And I guess I should. This is an inland section of Imperial Beach, a shopping center off Saturn Boulevard. And here, between Tasty Pizza and Josie’s Hair Design, this little food place called Filipino Grill is doing gangbuster business. At six in the morning!

Beth. Up at 3 every morning.

Ria disappears and comes back with two coffees. “Yum Yum Donuts,” she says. “Also opens early.” We slurp, and we stare at a long rack of steaming foods in chafing dishes. What I can’t figure is how come these guys are up and running at this crazy hour. “Filipinos are early birds,” says Ria. And for sure, a steady bunch of customers files up the row and points to different dishes.

“OK,” says Ria. “This is Beth. Beth: show this man what Filipino people eat for breakfast!”

“We eat anything,” says Beth, who runs the place, “but most days we might have this garlic rice, with longaniza, tocino, grilled and boned bangus, and for sure the eggplant torta.”

Hmm. Ria promised me a “healthful surprise” before she marched me across the parking lot, and in here. I’m seeing chafing dishes filled with pinky-mauve jackfruit, gold and black BBQ pork, scarlet salchicha sausages, adobo, chicken, and whole grilled fishes, piled with their eyes wide open, staring at you from the Other Side.

Ria knows what she wants: to take some Lumpia Shanghai (which is the standard lumpia) back to her man Will. “Can you beat this?” she asks. “Twenty-five pieces of lumpia for $10.”

Beth needs to move things along. People keep shuffling through the front door. She stands, large spoon at the ready, behind the rack of chafing dishes. “What would you like? A combo? Pancit noodles? Garlic rice? Some of each?” I can’t believe I’m ordering a full meal at the crack of dawn like this. But the umami smells are waking up my senses. Specially my hollow sense of hunger. Beth says you can buy individual tubs of food at about five bucks each, or get a combo of garlic rice with one entrée for $8.75, or with two entrées for $12.50. Or with pancit rice noodles and veggies as the base, $9 and $13.50.

Salchichas and sweetened meats.

So what to eat? Choice of entrée includes chicken BBQ, chicken curry, pork BBQ, salchichas (sausages), siopao (steamed stuffed buns), and this interesting one: goat kilawin. It’s chopped-up goatskin ($1 extra, if you’re getting it with the combo). Goat itself starts at $7. Then there’s grilled or fried whole tilapia fish (add $2 for combo), grilled or fried whole milkfish (same). Actually, milkfish are known in the Philippines as bangus. Bangus is their unofficial national fish. It’s called milkfish because its flaky flesh is milk-white, even after it has been sautéed. You have to watch out though, because this is one bony fish. That’s why a lot of places deliberately label their offerings “Boneless bangus” to let you know that they’ve done the work for you.

Ria orders the garlic rice combined with the pancit to take home to Will, along with BBQ pork. “This lady is so generous,” she says. “We’ll be freezing most of this stuff. Will and I’ll probably get three meals out of it. Each.”

Super-delicious! Pork BBQ, about five bucks per skewer.

Meanwhile, Beth is still waiting for me to decide. So I move swiftly. “D’agh, Pancit noodles, plus grilled, whole, deboned bangus, and pork BBQ ($5.25 for a small order, and up to $17 a la carte), egg torta and eggplant ($4.50).

“That’s a very popular breakfast dish,” says Beth.

I decide to go for pancit because I know the pancit story is pretty cool. The word comes from Hokkien people in southeast China. Part of China’s sea-faring peoples. Heads up, Italian fans! Chinese cuisine got as far as Italy. It was the Chinese who introduced pasta — that is, noodles — to the Italians. Think Silk Route, Marco Polo, mighty ocean-going junks. And it was Chinese traders who introduced pian-i-cit to the Philippines. (The world’s oldest Chinatown is Manila’s Binondo: founded 1594, still going.) Pian-i-cit became pancit. Kind of means “fast food.” In a stir fry, you can whip this sucker up in minutes. Actually, for me, my pancit noodles need a little more flavor, so I get some, in the form of vinegar and a hot sauce that makes me think of Sriracha. And this does the trick. Specially the vinegar. Vinegar and Filipino food seem to have a special relationship. Same goes for the chicken curry. I got a bowl a la carte ($4.50). It’s okay, but just a little weak in the flavor department. Again, nothing a little vinegar and hot sauce can’t rescue.

This is way more than enough. Pancit plus BBQ pork, plus sweet red slabs of pork, plus the skin of the bangus fish, so-o delicious, they all really rock. I remember how the Filipinos like to mix sweet and sour all in the same dish. And right here, right now, you see why. Oh, and some incredible jackfruit. People sometimes call it “vegetable meat,” because it almost tastes like steak. Plus, it is the world’s largest fruit, maybe 3 feet long, 120 pounds heavy. This fruit could feed the world!

Whatever, this whole thing is morning magic. Now I just have to make sure that I can still fit through the front door. Rest of the day? I get the feeling it’s gonna be horizontal.

  • The Place: Filipino Grill, 1828 Coronado Avenue, Egger Heights, Imperial Beach, 619-429-5778
  • Hours: 6am - 7pm, daily (Sunday, till 5:30pm)
  • Prices: Lumpia, 25 pieces, $10; garlic rice combo, one entrée, $8.75; combo with two entrées, $12.50; pancit rice noodle and veggie combo, one entrée, $9; two entrées, $13.50; lechon kawali, $15; crispy bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines), $20
  • Buses: 901, 933, 934
  • Nearest bus stops: Coronado Avenue at Saturn Boulevard
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