Over the past few years there has been one metro area where Filipino food has sky rocketed in popularity: Washington, DC. DC is odd in a way because it’s an area of the country not known to have a high concentration of Filipino families. While the latest census figures do say that there are 70,000 people in the DC area that have some Filipino ancestry, there is not a single specific are where they concentrate and that number pales in comparison to other metro areas like San Diego, which has 170,000 Filipinos. Yet, despite this, there are now about a half a dozen Filipino restaurants in DC and and number continues to rapidly grow.
These developments, of course, gave me a wonderful opportunity to see how Filipino food is like in DC during my travels there this past Labor Day week. Since I only had a limited number of meals, however, I only got to try 2 of the restaurants with different friends.
513 23rd Street S
Arlington, VA 22202
The first one I tried was Bistro 7107 in Crystal City. I met two of my friends there, neither or whom really had experience eating Filipino food, to see how it was like. After an exhausting day in 93 degree heat, I drank a glass of water and immediately browsed through it’s decent sized menu. We deliberated for a couple of minutes and ordered the following:
- Lumpiang Shanghai – These classic Filipino egg rolls were artfully cut and still tasty. I liked the very meaty filling that had a nice amount of mung bean noodles. The skin was fried nicely as well and I was half tempted to order another one.
- Dinuguan – Admittedly, dinuguan is not one of my favorite Filipino dishes, but I did like this version. The pork belly was almost as crispy as lechon and worked well with the flavor of the sauce. I still wasn’t a fan of the sauces consistency though, which is mainly due to the consistency of the pig blood
- Kare Kare – The oxtail marinated well in a very peanuty stew, probably the most peanuty kare kare sauce I’ve had. Regardless, aside from one very fatty piece of oxtail, the dish was really nice with tender meat and bok choy to help cleanse the palate.
- Pancit Bihon – While this is a fairly simple dish, my friends and I really loved it. The mung bean noodles were stir fried and seasoned well with the minced pork and vegetables. It definitely wasn’t my favorite version of the dish but pretty solid to satisfy my cravings of this basic dish.
- Mechado – The short ribs were marinated with a slightly sweet, but really delicious red wine and soy based sauce. The meat was pretty good, though the portions a little small.
All in all, I liked the food here. I would say my favorites were the mechado and the pancit bihon, but next time I will try to order the bangus and see how it is instead of the dinuguan or kare kare. The decor and service were pretty nice and friendly too, even though the prices were a little higher than what I would expect.
Fairfax Inn Restaurant
2946 Sleepy Hollow Road
Falls Church, VA 22044
The next day I went with a Filipina friend of mine to eat at the Fairfax Inn, a restaurant tucked in the corner of a small office area just off of 7 corners. The restaurant seemed to be a classic American diner in its former life, but is now more happily transitioned as a Filipino restaurant. After my friend and I sat down at a table, we ordered a few dishes for an early dinner:
- Lechon – The fried pork belly was one thing my friend specifically ordered and it did not disappoint. The pork was crunchy but with a nice little chew. The sauce they served to dip it in was very nice as well.
- Palabok – I liked the mung bean noodles that absorbed the shrimp sauce of the palabok well. The ground pork was nice as well. I did think it was a plainer palabok than I have eaten before, but the flavors were really nice, especially considering how rare it is to find this dish even with DC’s Filipino food boom.
- Pork Adobo – The pork was very nice and tender, absorbing the adobo sauce really well. I liked the sauce overall, with a nice balance of saltiness with the sourness of the vinegar. However, if you are more used to a sour adobo, this dish will probably be okay, but not wowing.
- Halo Halo – For a treat, we ordered halo halo, which my friend loved. The ube ice cream was really nice and it blended really well with the condensed milk and shaved ice below. The fruit, jelly, and sweet red beans at the bottom were very nice as well. It was a very refreshing way to end dinner on a day the thermometers outside hit the mid-90s.
All in all, I liked Fairfax Inn and the very mom and pop vibe of the restaurant. I would definitely order the lechon and the halo halo again. The one downside, however, is that the restaurant closes at 6PM so you have to go there during lunch or eat a very early dinner as my friend and I did.
Overall I was pretty impressed with the two Filipino restaurants I ate at. While I couldn’t say they both were of the quality that would remind me of friends’ parties as a child or my sister-in-laws’ holiday feasts, I was very impressed by the range of Filipino food that was on the menu given the relatively small amount of Filipinos in DC and the lack of resources compared to large cities in California. I definitely feel excited to taste more Filipino food in DC when I go back and to see how the scene grows and changes as it becomes popular.