Story and Images by Maya Williamson
Los Angeles is nationally recognized for its diverse cuisine that separates it from every other city in the world. The city is constantly adapting to the latest trends, occasionally beginning the obsession with specific cuisines in mainstream American diets. Korean barbecue, for example, hit its stride in recent years and since its popularization in LA, the city has birthed some of the greatest Korean restaurants in the world. One cuisine that has shown signs of becoming the next big food trend in LA is that of the Philippine islands.
Sari Sari Store in Grand Central market is a perfect example of a small Filipino restaurant making a big impression. The revered food critique of the LA Times, Jonathan Gold, likened Sari Sari Store to a fidget spinner—his new obsession. The large stand fits perfectly into Grand Central’s colorful, bustling, and diverse aesthetic. Themed after Filipino convenience stores (“sari sari” in Tagalog translates to “whatever” because at such stores, that’s exactly what you can find), the stand is covered with mismatched posters, stickers, and classic Filipino snacks like champoy and pucit.
The two most popular dishes on its main menu are the Adobo Fried Rice and the Sisig Fried Rice. The Adobo Fried Rice shares little resemblance to its traditional counterpart. Adobo—chicken or pork traditionally marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic—is usually served family style with rice and smothered in a strong sauce. Sari Sari’s take on the classic dish features dried pork belly mixed with garlic, rice, pickles, and small red chilis with a deliciously strong flavor that seals the deal on this dish. Topped with a fried egg, the Adobo is best eaten mashed together with a fork and spoon. The Sisig Fried Rice is almost identical to the Adobo except for the meat. The Sisig, or dried pork head, gives a deliciously salty addition to the meal. However, with dishes priced at $12-$13, they aren’t the cheapest option at Grand Central.
Sari Sari Store also serves two desserts: buko pie and halo halo. The buko pie features a light custard atop firm and fresh young coconut. Encased in a flaky crust, the pie is a filling but not overly sweet dessert. Halo halo is an intense mashup of yams, beans, coconut, rice, gelatin, flan, ice, and milk that make for an interesting experience of flavors and textures and can be overwhelming for those who lack a strong sweet tooth. Sari Sari modifies the dish to bend more to the American palette by substituting ube ice cream with classic vanilla among other minor replacements. Sari Sari’s changes aren’t unwelcome though the inclusion of fresh fruit makes the dish a bit more like dessert parfait than the colorful Filipino halo halo.
Sari Sari store finds perfect compromises in its menu, creating dishes that won’t scare away novices to the Filipino cuisine and that staunch lovers of traditional Filipino comfort food can still appreciate. The undeniable success of this stand may be sign of an oncoming surge of Filipino food in the LA limelight.