The East Bay is the Bay Area’s great unsung destination for Filipino food

 

It’s lunchtime at Toto’s Grill in Hayward, and a few parents chat in Tagalog as they char skewers of marinated pork at the communal grill for their kids at home. They know to ask the staff to pull out the good stuff — isaw, squiggly chicken intestines.

Union City has large numbers of people waiting in line at Toppings Too for huge amounts of delicious golden-fried Lechon and steaks with gravy. San Leandro’s families are eager to enjoy sizzling sisig from Parekoy Lutong Pinoy. The crispy pork is mixed with the yolk of the raw egg right away.

 

These Filipino restaurants are just a taste of what’s available in the East Bay — and the options keep growing. It rivals the scene in Daly City that has been long considered the most popular place to get Filipino food throughout the Bay Area. So although people usually say Daly City is where people should get Filipino food in the region, that’s not the only answer. It might not be possible to find Filipino food anywhere in the Bay Area, but the East Bay may be.

Pork sisig photographed at Parekoy Lutong Pinoy in San Leandro, California Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

 

Parekoy Luteong Pioy (California), friday, February 25, 2022.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Kare-Kare photographed at Parekoy Lutong Pinoy in San Leandro, California Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

 

Kare-Kare was photographed in San Leandro, California (Friday, February 25, 2022).

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle


At San Leandro’s Parekoy Lutong Pinoy (left), pork sisig is served with a raw egg yolk. Along with fresh vegetables, the restaurant also offers a creamy peanut stew called Kare-kare. Stephen Lam/The Chronicle Photos

“Nobody gets enough credit,” said Gemma Ballesteros, who grew up in the East Bay and opened her Filipino-inspired bakery Marley’s Treats in Hayward in 2020. “There’s a lot out here. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

Alameda County, Philippines is home to around 100,000 Filipinos according to Census data. These people live mostly in the region’s southern half, between San Leandro and Fremont. Union City is often referred to as the East Bay’s Little Manila, with Filipinos making up 20% of the population. By contrast, Daly City’s population is about 30% Filipino.

If there’s still doubt about whether this slice of the East Bay is an important center of Filipino culture, just look to the big Filipino chains. Jollibee, a beloved fast food giant, and Red Ribbon (the mango cake bakery), were both established in Union City. Red Ribbon opened a Hayward location in 2019. And Gerry’s Grill, one of the biggest restaurant chains in the Philippines, has just one Bay Area location: Union City.

Alex Retondo, owner of the Lumpia Co. in Oakland, said he doesn’t understand why the East Bay isn’t hyped as a must-visit Filipino food hub like Daly City. Perhaps it’s because people just don’t think to drive from Oakland or San Francisco to Union City to eat — after all, Union City is 20 miles from downtown Oakland, whereas Daly City is just 10 miles from downtown San Francisco.

Union City’s variety of Filipino options is worth the drive. Customers can get slow-cooked stews at steam tables from home in turo-turo, or they can bake their own purple cookies using ube (the Filipino purpleyam).

“If I have a day off and I want to take someone and educate them with a food tour, I’m going to Union City. I’m going to Hayward,” Retondo said.

Upside down halo halo with ube crack cheesecake at Cafe 86 on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Union City , Calif.

 

The upside-down halo halo is served with the ube crack cheesecake, Cafe 86 Union City (Calif.).

Samantha Laurey / The Chronicle

Chris makes an order at Cafe 86 on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Union City , Calif. **Chris preferred to not use his last name or initial.

 

Chris makes an order at Cafe 86 on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Union City , Calif. **Chris preferred to not use his last name or initial.

Samantha Laurey / The Chronicle


Cafe 86’s Union City location is famous for its Ube cheesecakes (left) and upside-down halo halo halo (right). It is based out of Southern California. The company offers several beverages, some with Filipino flavors such as calamansi. Photo by Samantha Laurey / The Chronicle

Retondo grew up with Hayward and has seen how Filipino food culture has grown since the ’80s. Retondo can only recall a handful of Filipino restaurants back in those days. He recalls family sharing trays filled with lumpia, and barbecu sticks during church celebrations.

“They rolled it all by hand at mom’s house for a whole week to sell thousands of lumpia in a three-day weekend,”He stated. “That happened in almost every church because food was our language for building friendships with other people.”

Informally, the food economy developed into catering and later restaurants. The small market selling dried mangoes, shrimp paste and other products eventually became large Filipino grocery shops like Seafood City located in Union City.

The East Bay’s best Filipino restaurants specialize in classics done right, such as the creamy peanut stew known as kare-kare and breakfast plates brimming with tocino, a sweet cured pork. But that may explain another reason why they don’t have strong name recognition: It can be hard to know where to go. Many of these spots have been around for decades, and their owners tend to be older Filipino immigrants who don’t bother with websites or social media, said bakery owner Ballesteros.

Crispy binagoongan, pork cooked with shrimp paste, is served in a smoky eggplant boat at Parekoy Lutong Pinoy in San Leandro. Raw tomatoes and mango add acid and sweetness.

Parekoy Lutong Pinoy San Leandro offers crispy, seasoned binagoongan. This is pork that has been cooked with shrimp paste. Mango and raw tomatoes provide sweetness and acidity.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

That might be why Helen Minor, co-owner of Parekoy Lutong Pinoy, said she hasn’t noticed much change in terms of Filipino food in San Leandro since she moved there 21 years ago. When their owners die, old-school places close. It is then bought by a new family and reopened with a brand new name.

However, there are some exceptions to what is perceived as a lackluster change. 2016 was the opening of her restaurant. Parekoy immediately earned a rave review from then-critic Luke Tsai in the East Bay Express for the restaurant’s phenomenal pork sisig, which gets its sour notes from the Filipino citrus calamansi. Minor stated that her business took off and she has diners from all around the Bay Area as a result of word-of mouth.

Parekoy is an excellent destination. However, there are other Filipino restaurants well worth visiting. Tapsilog Express is a quick Filipino breakfast place located just outside Parekoy. You can get quick Filipino breakfast plates, including meat and rice. Fresh Pizza is a Filipino-slash pizzeria that offers sisig-stuffed cheesy pizzas just a few kilometers away. (It works.) Pistahan is a nearby restaurant that serves an all-you-can-eat buffet. They also expertly fry items such as crispy pata and crackling.

Classic spots tend to serve traditional halo-halo for dessert, but the East Bay also has options for modern Filipino sweets like warm ube pan de sal, a Filipino roll stuffed with creamy leche flan at Marley’s Treats. Earlier this year, Southern California’s Cafe 86 also entered the Union City scene with ube-flavored cheesecakes and drinks. Owner Ginger Lim-Dimapasok said the lines haven’t stopped since she opened the doors.

An interior view of Parekoy Lutong Pinoy, one of the best Filipino restaurants in the East Bay.

Parekoy Luteong Pinoy interior view. This is one of the most loved Filipino restaurants in East Bay.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

When Lim-Dimapasok began scouting spaces for Cafe 86’s first Bay Area location, she went to Daly City. It’s where everyone told her to look — except her sister, who lives in Union City. Lim-Dimapasok described driving through Daly City, South San Francisco and finally crossing over to East Bay. It was then that she realized she hadn’t really thought about the area.

“Once we did go there, it felt right,”She spoke. “It felt homey, like the Philippines.”

Cafe 86

The small chain of cafes in Southern California offers a wide range of teas, coffees, and sweets made with Filipino ingredients. Ube truffles and upside-down Halo-Halo are an ube-forward version of the highly-textured shaved-ice dessert. 34391 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City. cafe-86.com

Isla Restaurant

Isla offers great Kapampangan-style Filipino cuisine. It is a subset of Filipino food that is Spanish-influenced. Highly recommended. You can choose from a crispy and skinless sweet sausage called longanisa or large combo platters made with banana leaves. Newark: 5720 Mowry School Road www.myislarestaurant.com

Gerry’s Grill

Gerry’s Grill, one of the most popular chains from the Philippines serves a wide selection of traditional dishes. One of the most requested dishes is crispy pata or beef-karekare. It is one of the few East Bay Filipino restaurants with outdoor seating. Union City, 31005 Courthouse Drive gerrysgrill.com/usa/

Maharlika

You don’t need to ponder over a menu – you’re ordering chicken fried chicken. Maharlika is known for being the best Filipino fried chicken in East Bay, and it’s a popular choice for catering parties. Fremont, 3671 Thorton Ave. (510-794-5128

Marley’s Treats

Marley’s is a homegrown bakery that uses leche flan, pandan and ube. The flan-topped ube-cheecake tarts are the best-sellers, but don’t overlook the ube-stuffed with flan ube pande salt. This is richer, though less sweet. Hayward 838 B St. marleystreats.com

Parekoy Lutong Pinoy

Parekoy’s favorite dish is the pork sisig. The crispy pork is part of this savory, spicy and sour platter. Anything crispy or porcine is a sure bet. 14807 E. 14th St., San Leandro. parekoylutongpinoy.com

Pistahan

The all-you can eat buffet is a hit. It includes everything you need, from chicken adobo and heavy-spice guan. The menu also offers freshly prepared fried options, including a crispy pata and lumpia. There’s plenty to do in the cozy dining area. 13876 Doolittle Dr., San Leandro. 510-346-0000

Bakery Original Luisa and Son

Luisa and Son are a Filipino bakery which sells whole eggs, pan de salt, sponge cakes, and pan de salsa with cheese toppings. You should try the Ube Macapuno Ensaimada. This is a round-shaped pastry filled with pieces of young coconut and purpleyam. Union City, 412 Dyer St. luisaandson.com

There are also toppers

The large variety of Filipino traditional meats makes this small spot very popular. You can order takeout, or simply walk to the park from one of the few tables. Union City, 3910 Smith St. Phone: 510-429-1058

Toto’s Grill

The Filipino street food shop allows customers to order skewers, pay and cook the food on a shared grill. Other popular items include fish cakes and intestines. The best pork is marinated in soy sauce and garlic with brown sugar. Hayward, 21933 Foothill Blvd. totos-grill.com

Read More

Cafe 86 forms part of an active Filipino bakery scene located in the East Bay. Vallejo-born Starbread’s steaming hot señorita bread is available in Newark. Valerio’s Tropical Bakeshop serves turon, crispy fried banana spring rolls, and bibingka, the baked mochi-like rice cake, in Union City and Hayward. Manila’s Original Luisa and Son Bakeshop is a treasure trove of sweet breads flavored with ube, coconut and pandan in Union City.

Retodo thinks that Oakland will become the centre of next-generation Filipino food in the near future. Retodo sees greater growth in San Leandro, Hayward and other cities than the overcrowded Daly City.

“When you have more potential market, more businesses will keep moving in,”He stated. “I think the East Bay is going to have the most (Filipino) shops in America. But to me, as far as the essential everyday needs, they’re already all there.”

Janelle Bitker (San Francisco Chronicle Staff Reporter) is email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker

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The East Bay is the Bay Area’s great unsung destination for Filipino food

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