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Pinoy Pleasures

Eleven Filipino restaurants

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Cid's Ma Mon Luk

9182 Golf, Niles | 847-803-3652



How likely is it that a Filipino family will invite you over for some of their traditional chow? No time soon, I'm guessing, so until then, Cid's Ma Mon Luk is where to go for down-home cooking from the Philippines, set forth without ceremony (or much service—hey, this is mom's kitchen, what do you expect?). Siopao is a rubbery meat-filled steamed bun, which I liked but that may be an acquired taste. More recognizable to most of us is beef caldereta, pot roast sprinkled with sausage slices in a mildly piquant tomato sauce, comfort food epitomized. Most delicious is lechon kawali, roast pork chunks with a crunchy, glistening coppery crust served with sweet, vinegary, livery dipping sauce, stupendously simple and satisfying. To drink try the calamansi juice, a type of limeade. —David Hammond


4114 N. Kedzie | 773-866-1910


Italian, Asian, Filipino, Japanese, Bar/Lounge  | Dinner: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday | Sunday brunch

Inheriting the slick interior of the Romanian nightclub it replaced, this weird mishmash of cuisines is certainly a much more welcoming neighborhood spot, with artwork and flat-screen TVs softening the clubby edges. The menu, however—inexpensive though it be—is an imbalanced mix of Filipino, Italian, and Japanese dishes, with a hamburger thrown in for good measure. I found the Asian offerings most appealing: tightly rolled crispy pork and vegetable lumpia, homey eggy yakisoba noodles, and chewy sheets of tocino, sweetly glazed pork, to name a few. But that's not quite the kind of stuff that plays nice with eggplant Parmesan, vodka-sauced penne, or the undistinguished penne and salsiccia, dressed in what sure seemed like barely cooked underseasoned canned tomatoes. I'd like to see a tighter focus on the Filipino third of the menu, as Dolce would represent a departure from the usual quick-serve buffet-style establishments you normally find the cuisine in. —Mike Sula

La Filipiniana

9060 Golf, Niles | 847-298-9332



Across a sprawling mall from fellow Filipino restaurant Cid's Ma Mon Luk is the much more comfortably appointed La Filipiniana, which also delivers friendlier service and a bigger menu of more exotic options. Pig parts come from head to tail, or rather snout to hoof: many tables enjoyed the pata, trotters fried golden and splashed with vinegar. If you prefer vegetable with your pork, some pancit noodle platters feature a decent mix of greenery. Things got weird with the binagoongang baboy, a dish of pork in what our waiter said was blood-based gravy (it definitely contained some fish sauce). Bicol express was a coconut broth filled with tentacled creatures of the deep unseen before on any plate of mine; whatever they were, they were surprisingly tender and tasty. To drink there are many smoothies (try the avocado) and fruit drinks, some with tapioca pearls; for dessert, sample halo-halo, a Filipino favorite of shaved ice, ice cream, red beans, corn, and tapioca. —David Hammond


4416 N. Clark | 773-271-1119



As the name suggests, Fishpond features more seafood than your average Chicagoland Filipino joint. There's also lots of meat, but we were knocked out by some of the simpler Filipino dishes. The sinigang, for instance, is a superb example of this native soup, fresh bok choy and daikon in a sour tamarind broth. We were also pleased with the kare-kare, oxtail stew with, as the owner told us, "just a little tripe because people expect it." The chicken adobo is also quite tasty, with a nice vinegary tang. Come early and you can try a traditional breakfast of tapsilog, a mound of rice with fried egg and served with cured beef, bacon, or fish. On Wednesday, there's come-all-ye ballroom dancing instruction in the back room; a buffet is laid out on Wednesday and Friday. There's also a buffet at the weekend brunch, which runs from 11:30 AM to 3 PM. —David Hammond

Isla Pilipina

2501 W. Lawrence | 773-271-2988



A friend of mine says he "just doesn't get" Filipino food. Maybe Isla Pilipina can help. Then again, maybe not: our meal was a string of big hits and misses. Unlikely as it may seem, the deep-fried pig's foot was scrumptious, and I've never enjoyed trotters much. A bowl of taro leaf cooked in coconut milk along with Asian spices and a few shrimp proved a delicate balance of bitter and sweet, rough and creamy. But to my palate sinigang, a traditional soup with tamarind, was sour to the point of inedibility, and though my charming server heartily endorsed the chop suey guisado, it amounted to no more than thinly seasoned celery and other predictable veggies. The menu description of pancit palabok promised pan-fried noodles with shrimp or meat, but we got pretty much only scrambled egg—not bad, but not as advertised. Mixed adobo is a good illustration of our dining experience at Isla: chunks of pork and chicken were flavored with the classic Filipino spice of soy, vinegar and garlic, well-seasoned and tasty if not quite to my taste—maybe I just don't get it. —David Hammond

Little Quiapo

6259 N. McCormick | 773-279-8861


Asian, Filipino | Lunch, Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Reynaldo and Nell Garcia named their restaurant after a historic district in their hometown of Manila. Unlike the flavors popular in neighboring Asian countries, Filipino food isn't heavy on the hot and spicy. Foundations lie instead on sour and salt; peanut and coconut sauces are popular too. The Garcias' buffet brims with steaming noodles and colorful stir-fries, but you can also order a la carte: entrees include pancit (noodle-based dishes), rice dishes, and some seafood. Desserts are few and cheap; though it's a Filipino favorite, I found halo-halo, a mix of preserved tropical fruits, crushed ice, milk, and ice cream, cloying. Off-the-menu takeout can be found in a display case next to the front door: containers of various adobos share space with baggies of fried chicken skin, piles of fried bananas, and stacked trays of balut, a popular island snack that consists of a boiled duck egg with a surprise inside—a half-incubated bird. The restaurant will also roast a whole pig with three days' notice. —Jenny B. Davis

Merla's Kitchen

5207 N. Kimball | 773-539-2090


ASIAN | Breakfast: Saturday-Sunday; Lunch: seven days; dinner: monday-friday | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED | BYO

This is a postage stamp of a storefront, run by a mother and her daughters. But inside it has an expansive and welcoming coffee-shop vibe to go with a small selection of Filipino greatest hits, such as lumpia Shanghai, menudo, pancit bihon, chicken adobo, puffy steamed bao-like pork or chicken-stuffed siopao, and a selection of sweets like leche flan and turon, egg-rolled jackfruit and plaintains. The empanadas are particularly noteworthy, fried to order and greasy good; chunky ham and cheese or a sweet picadillo of ground beef, raisin, peas, and egg are tasty, but I'm thoroughly seduced by the veggie, filled with cabbage, tofu, soy protein, and cheese in a gooey peanut-vinegar sauce. Also of particular note is the popular street snack okoy, a crispy deep-fried web of a fritter with bits of shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, squash, and green onions. —Mike Sula

Mom's Bake Shop

2415 W. Peterson | 773-784-1318


ASIAN, FILIPINO | 10 am-6 pm monday-wednesday, 10 am-7 pm thursday-saturday, 10 am-5 pm sunday | SUNDAY brunch | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

It's easy to drive right by this Filipino banquet hall and bakery, nestled behind a gas station on Peterson and Western. Menu items meld Asian and Spanish cuisine, and most are available on party trays for the frequent events held here (and at the $10.95 Sunday brunch buffet from 11:30 AM to 3 PM). The baked goods include carioca, Filipino beignets; puto, a rice-flour cake; kutsinta, a brown rice cake; bibingka, a luscious cake cooked in a large banana leaf; and the house specialty, a cake made from ube, the purple yam native to the Philippines. There are also steamed buns to carry out, along with flaky empanadas filled with chicken, beef, or pork. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Uncle Mike's Place

1700 W. Grand | 312-226-5318


Asian, Filipino | Breakfast, lunch: seven days

On the southern edge of Ukrainian Village, just west of Grand Avenue gentrification, a subtle neon sign on a well-maintained brick building offers the only clue to the presence of this wish-it-were-in-my-hood diner. Open for breakfast and lunch beginning at 5 AM Monday through Saturday (6 AM on Sunday), Uncle Mike's offers generously portioned palate-perfect renditions of the classics: fluffy omelets, pork chops, ham, bacon, sausage, juicy medium-rare marinated skirt steak, runny eggs over-easy, crisp hash browns, grits. Pancakes are not to be missed—in particular the blueberry-pumpkin, which my wife has pronounced the best she's ever had. Good as the American breakfasts are the Filipino specials such as pork tocino, marinated, anise scented, and subtly sweet, or juicy longganisa, the same basic flavor profile in sausage form. These come plated with garlic rice, fried eggs, and a tomato-onion salad sprinkled with cane vinegar. Breakfast also includes a gratis soup of the day, which might be spicy bean, chicken-rice, or on the weekends, lugaw, a thick rice congee studded with bits of chicken and accented with Filipino fish sauce. Of the lunch standards, salads, sandwiches, a BLT club, and a patty melt are particularly tasty. Service is fast, friendly, and informed, and there are endless refills of Intelligentsia coffee. —Gary Wiviott


5845 N. Clark | 773-271-8676


Asian, Filipino, Bakery | 8:30 AM-7:30 daily

For a crash course in Pinoy cuisine, try a buffet like the one at Uni-Mart, which offers all things Filipino— including candy, soap, produce, and Southeast Asian hot dogs—plus a generous hot table. Inside is another store, Original Baker's Delight, specializing in baked goods that are frequently consumed at merienda, or "fourth meal," a between-meal snack relished throughout the Philippines. —David Hammond

Village Creamery

4558 Oakton, Skokie | 847-982-1720



Outside there's nothing to indicate this storefront carries anything more thrilling than Baskin-Robbins, but the menu's filled with uncommon homemade Filipino ice creams. Among the many startling flavors are two coconut-based varieties, corn, avocado, purple yam, jackfruit, ginger, lychee, and, most flamboyantly, halo-halo, a hash of red and white beans, sugar palm, Jell-O bits, coconut, and Rice Krispies based on the popular Filipino dessert. Many flavors, like a pale green soother made from pandan leaves and large hunks of coconut, are lightly sweetened, letting the tropical elements do the talking. Hot snacks like empanadas, lumpia, and pancit are also available. There's a second location at 8000 Waukegan, Niles (847-965-9805). —Mike Sula

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