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White Rice Bodega raises silog to Normal Heights

Purple bread and butter, and meals that fill hungry bellies, two at a time

Lechon Kawali silog bowl: crispy pork belly and fried egg over garlic fried rice
Lechon Kawali silog bowl: crispy pork belly and fried egg over garlic fried rice

There’s a term particular to The Philippines, bayanihan, which describes the spirit of a community working together for the common good. It springs from a centuries old practice of an entire village showing up to physically move a family home. This would be a bahay kubo, a traditional house raised up on stilts, often made of bamboo, with rooftops of thatched mangrove palms. Something light enough that a large group of men could lift and relocate the entire structure, perhaps away from landscape damaged by one of the 8 or 9 tropical cyclones that typically hit the Philippines archipelago each year.

Place

White Rice Bodega

3586 Adams Ave Suite 100, San Diego

The term was taught to me by Chef Phillip Esteban, who launched his restaurant White Rice amid a different sort of natural disaster: the covid pandemic. He’d been operating a lunch catering service, delivering employee meals to corporate clients, generally California cuisine. That demand dried once the moment those employees were sent home to shelter in place. Esteban quickly pivoted to home meal deliveries, spreading the word — and taking orders through — social media, with much success.

Having learned the bayanihan concept from his grandfather, Esteban applied this spirit to White Rice, which established a one for one model: for every meal sold, a meal would be donated to someone in need. When I spoke to him at the time, he was delivering meals to nursing homes in his home community of National City.

Sponsored
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Filipino food now served on Adams Avenue

In the years since, Esteban has expanded the concept to include physical locations, most recently with the opening of White Rice Bodega in Normal Heights. It’s a small building with an outdoor service counter and dining area, and adorned with affirmations such as “All the good tings [sic]” and “Salamat yo!” (salamat meaning thank you). Admirably, the one for one concept remains intact.

Meanwhile, riding along with this sense of altruism is another positive attribute: the arrival of Filipino food in the uptown area. Pillaring the White Rice menu are variations of the Filipino breakfast dish, silog, which is built on the foundation of garlic fried rice (sinangag) and egg (itlog).

A Tocino Manok (grilled chicken) bowl, delivered by White Rice in spring 2020

Truly, the silog bowls made by White Rice are good for any time of day, featuring rice and fried egg topped by the likes of grilled chicken, the mildly sweet longanisa sausage, and an eggless, vegan sisig featuring mushroom and tofu. At $13.50, any of these will prove filling and satisfying, whether or not you’re already acquainted with Filipino cuisine. If you’re remotely hesitant, start with the $14.50 bowl of lechon kawali, more readily understood as crispy pork belly.

Hopefully, we’re all past any hesitation. I’m not alone among local food writers who’ve tried to point out the merits of the Spain meets Pacific Island cuisine for years, citing the entrenched Filipino population that has endowed our city with an abundance of kitchens and bakeries. But these options have rarely ventured into uptown neighborhoods, so just in case, let’s just say this crunchy and succulent pork belly will knock your socks off, in the way a only a casual recipe created by a cook who cut his teeth in fine dining can.

Ube pandesal dinner rolls served with ube butter

At this stage in his career, Esteban is a locally famous chef with an emerging national profile, and without doubt the dude has many irons in the proverbial fire. So it’s clear that, by planting White Rice locations on Adams Avenue, and in Liberty Station, he’s bringing his familial cuisine into the San Diego mainstream, offering comfort dishes both accessible and intriguing to the curious diner.

Whichever rice bowls you try, and whichever lumpia you order (veggie for $7.50, or pork and shrimp for $8.50), I’d recommend tacking on an order of ube pandesal ($8.50). Here, both dinner rolls and butter are rendered deep purple by ube, the purple sweet potato indigenous to the Philippines. It doubles as a salty-sweet treat and visual reminder of a faraway culture that maintains a deep and enduring presence in our community; and which may be able to teach us a “ting” or two about what it means to be a part of one.

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Lechon Kawali silog bowl: crispy pork belly and fried egg over garlic fried rice
Lechon Kawali silog bowl: crispy pork belly and fried egg over garlic fried rice

There’s a term particular to The Philippines, bayanihan, which describes the spirit of a community working together for the common good. It springs from a centuries old practice of an entire village showing up to physically move a family home. This would be a bahay kubo, a traditional house raised up on stilts, often made of bamboo, with rooftops of thatched mangrove palms. Something light enough that a large group of men could lift and relocate the entire structure, perhaps away from landscape damaged by one of the 8 or 9 tropical cyclones that typically hit the Philippines archipelago each year.

Place

White Rice Bodega

3586 Adams Ave Suite 100, San Diego

The term was taught to me by Chef Phillip Esteban, who launched his restaurant White Rice amid a different sort of natural disaster: the covid pandemic. He’d been operating a lunch catering service, delivering employee meals to corporate clients, generally California cuisine. That demand dried once the moment those employees were sent home to shelter in place. Esteban quickly pivoted to home meal deliveries, spreading the word — and taking orders through — social media, with much success.

Having learned the bayanihan concept from his grandfather, Esteban applied this spirit to White Rice, which established a one for one model: for every meal sold, a meal would be donated to someone in need. When I spoke to him at the time, he was delivering meals to nursing homes in his home community of National City.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Filipino food now served on Adams Avenue

In the years since, Esteban has expanded the concept to include physical locations, most recently with the opening of White Rice Bodega in Normal Heights. It’s a small building with an outdoor service counter and dining area, and adorned with affirmations such as “All the good tings [sic]” and “Salamat yo!” (salamat meaning thank you). Admirably, the one for one concept remains intact.

Meanwhile, riding along with this sense of altruism is another positive attribute: the arrival of Filipino food in the uptown area. Pillaring the White Rice menu are variations of the Filipino breakfast dish, silog, which is built on the foundation of garlic fried rice (sinangag) and egg (itlog).

A Tocino Manok (grilled chicken) bowl, delivered by White Rice in spring 2020

Truly, the silog bowls made by White Rice are good for any time of day, featuring rice and fried egg topped by the likes of grilled chicken, the mildly sweet longanisa sausage, and an eggless, vegan sisig featuring mushroom and tofu. At $13.50, any of these will prove filling and satisfying, whether or not you’re already acquainted with Filipino cuisine. If you’re remotely hesitant, start with the $14.50 bowl of lechon kawali, more readily understood as crispy pork belly.

Hopefully, we’re all past any hesitation. I’m not alone among local food writers who’ve tried to point out the merits of the Spain meets Pacific Island cuisine for years, citing the entrenched Filipino population that has endowed our city with an abundance of kitchens and bakeries. But these options have rarely ventured into uptown neighborhoods, so just in case, let’s just say this crunchy and succulent pork belly will knock your socks off, in the way a only a casual recipe created by a cook who cut his teeth in fine dining can.

Ube pandesal dinner rolls served with ube butter

At this stage in his career, Esteban is a locally famous chef with an emerging national profile, and without doubt the dude has many irons in the proverbial fire. So it’s clear that, by planting White Rice locations on Adams Avenue, and in Liberty Station, he’s bringing his familial cuisine into the San Diego mainstream, offering comfort dishes both accessible and intriguing to the curious diner.

Whichever rice bowls you try, and whichever lumpia you order (veggie for $7.50, or pork and shrimp for $8.50), I’d recommend tacking on an order of ube pandesal ($8.50). Here, both dinner rolls and butter are rendered deep purple by ube, the purple sweet potato indigenous to the Philippines. It doubles as a salty-sweet treat and visual reminder of a faraway culture that maintains a deep and enduring presence in our community; and which may be able to teach us a “ting” or two about what it means to be a part of one.

Sponsored
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