Filipino food is served fast and delicious at Art’s Kitchen in Duarte – The San Gabriel Valley Tribune

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It’s been estimated that more than 200,000 Filipinos live in Los Angeles, and one million in California, making them the state’s largest Asian demographic.
And yet, the number of Filipino restaurants here in Southern California is surprisingly finite — especially when you consider that there’s a sizable neighborhood northwest of downtown Los Angeles that’s been officially dubbed Historic Filipinotown. You’d expect the streets to be lined with restaurants as is nearby Koreatown. But though there are places to eat in Historic Filipinotown, there aren’t a lot of places. And that’s a pity.
The cooking of the Philippines is an education in culinary geography. The Filipino lumpia, for instance, can be traced directly to the Chinese spring roll, a dish brought to the Philippines by the many overseas Chinese who set up trading posts in this vast chain of more than 7,000 islands.
Pansit, which appears on all Philippine menus, is a fried noodle dish much the same as the fried noodles found in any low-cost Chinese restaurant. From Spain, there are dishes with names like asada, escabeche and torta.
There’s more Spanish in the dishes than Chinese, and more Chinese than native Filipino. And there are Spanish-Chinese dishes as well — inihiw, pinakbet and daing na bangus. (Far as I can tell, a century of American influence has resulted in nothing more complex than the introduction of Coca-Cola.)
Still, Filipino cooking is decidedly…Filipino. The food is notable for a penchant for salt (as in the pungent fish or shrimp paste called bagoong, and the liquid fish seasoning patis). There’s also a sourness that pervades many of the dishes, which comes from the addition of vinegar, tamarind or the lime-like juice of a fruit called calamansi. And if your food doesn’t arrive in a well-spiced manner, you can always ask for a variety of sawsawan (dipping sauces).
Which brings me to one of the few Filipino places in the San Gabriel Valley — Art’s Kitchen, a takeout-only storefront in Duarte, where you choose your dishes from a steam table that’s an education in Filipino cooking – a score of dishes ready to go that can be studied and considered as you assemble a feed.
This isn’t fast-food. But it’s served fast. And it comes with as many explanations from Art and his staff as you need. You want to know the difference between miki bihon pancit and malabon spaghetti, they’re there to walk you through it.
And, honestly, at prices this low, it’s hard to go wrong — a one-item combo is $6.99, two items is $8.99, three brings it up to $10.99. There’s coconut juice to drink. This is as close to over there as we get over here.
There’s a catering menu found online for Art’s that’s considerably larger than what you’ll find on the steam table. But the chow that’s ready to go offers more than a fair sense of what Art’s can do. And what Art’s can do is cram a lot of taste into a spoonful of goodness.
Wandering down the line — which doesn’t take long — the options begin with a trio of fried fish (tilapia, pompano and bangus), crispy and on display. Bangus is also known as milkfish, and it’s well worth ordering — a seemingly simple fish with a wealth of flavors in every bite. And very well fried — what’s crisp at Art’s stays crisp all the way home.
For those who don’t want to bother with explanations, there’s a tray of stewed beef, and another of chicken curry. There’s stir-fried tofu, pork adobo and chicken adobo. There’s menudo — which is menudo the world over. And then, we move into dishes that I for one ordered instinctively, based on how they looked; I’ve long believed that if a dish looks good, it’s gonna taste good. How could it be otherwise?
Art’s sisig (and yes, he proudly puts his name on it on the label) sure looks good — if a bit messy. It’s somewhere between a stir-fry and a “meat salad,” made from sundry pork parts and chicken liver tossed with lime juice and soy, that the late great Anthony Bourdain used to claim was the world’s best drinking food. And goodness knows, he ate, and drank, enough to know.
Beyond that, on this particular day, there was beef nilaga (beef broth), ginataang lanka (vegetable soup made with unripe jackfruit), dinuguan (a stew of pork parts), and kare-kare (a curry flavored with peanut sauce). I especially like the kare-kare, made with oxtail that’s been cooked so long, everything has melted into everything else. Which in the world of Filipino cooking, is a good thing.
And yes — yes! — there’s Filipino ice cream, in flavors like ube, “yummy” langka, macapuno, mango’licioius, maiz con queso and buko pandan. No vanilla. No chocolate. You want that, Ben & Jerry will take care of you, You want mango’licious, the name to look for is Art’s.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email [email protected]
Art’s Kitchen
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