Why At My Place Cafe is the best Filipino restaurant in metro Phoenix – The Arizona Republic

Crispy pig face is a hard thing to get right. Since I first tasted the dish in the back of an empty Filipino market, I knew there was something magical about the street food known as sisig. But I’d yet to find perfection.  
Back then I remember a woman reaching into a buffet tray and scooping out a plastic sample cup of the finely chopped bits, and saying, “Try this.” It was very salty but the texture was incredible. The deep-fried pork just melted away into my mouth, with a little crackle and a light, savory diminuendo.
It set me on a path to find the ultimate platter. That gave me a small window into the world of the Philippines, a vast network of more than 7,600 islands and a mélange of Southeast Asian flavors touched by Spanish and American colonization.
The cuisine is just beginning to sizzle here, despite the fact that Filipinos follow Chinese Americans as the second largest largest Asian American group in the country. Our nations have a shared history. The Philippines was colonized by the United States for nearly 50 years, and Filipinos even fought with the U.S. in World War II. 
But until very recently in metro Phoenix, it’s been much easier to find an egg roll than a fried lumpia. And if you could, it was probably at a cafeteria-style joint like Nanay’s in Chandler, which serves a variety of dishes at a low cost, but doesn’t cook to order. That’s why I was so pumped to find At My Place Cafe, which is the Filipino restaurant we all need to have in our lives. 
Filipino food began to take hold in 2019 when the Jollibee chain opened in the Filipino enclave of Chandler, introducing the Valley to hot dog spaghetti, palabok noodles and buckets of fried “chickenjoy.” 
At My Place Cafe had already been in its original Mesa location for three years at this point, but Jollibee signaled a new kind of momentum for the Southeast Asian cuisine.
Today, ube purple yam is a fixture of East Valley boba shops. You’ll find pizza-stuffed lumpia rolls at the neon dance club Disco Dragon downtown and the nutty vanilla-tasting pandan leaf on the cocktail menus at Khla and Garden Bar. People line up for juicy charcoal meat skewers at Toduken, a stand at the Pemberton that became a must-try for fans of Filipino barbecue. 
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These developments are all exciting. But if you want to immerse yourself in the country’s cuisine and understand what it’s about, you need to hit up At My Place Cafe’s airy new space that opened in Chandler in December 2021. The expanded dining room features a homey decorating scheme complete with inspirational quotes in the entranceway and a projector playing kooky aerobics videos of people exercising in tie-dye shirts. 
The unique cooking from Manila-born and Scottsdale Culinary Institute-trained chef Flordeliza Obregon filled me with that same sense of wonder from years earlier. 
In addition to its flawless cast iron pan of sisig, the little gem across the street from the Chandler Fashion Center serves an exciting array of Filipino dishes made family style and fresh to order. 
I first tasted Obregon’s food at her original restaurant in Mesa and was blown away by her all day breakfast silog. I tried it again at her new spot in Chandler, and loved it just as much. 
The straightforward platters are like the Denny’s Grand Slams of the Philippines. They consist of a dome of garlic fried rice topped with a fried egg and your choice of meat. 
Highlights were the Spamsilog made with fried Spam and corned beef silog made with salty hash scattered with green onions. Other Asian countries might serve soy sauce as the condiment of choice, but these plates come with the classic Filipino side — a plastic tub of Datu Puti white cane vinegar, because sour flavors reign supreme on the islands. The vinegar cuts through the rich egg and meat and makes your lips pucker, which is especially fun at breakfast time. 
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I loved the tapsilog, served with peppery strips of wok fried beef. My co-worker, who grew up in the Filipino province of Pampanga, thought it should have been sweeter. But that’s no surprise. The geography of the individual islands has contributed to more than 120 dialects and just as many regional variations on the cuisine, which is a product of centuries of international influence from Muslim traders, Japan, the U.S. military and other colonizers. With its deeply savory snap, the longaniza garlic sausage, my favorite of the silog dishes, is a bittersweet remnant of Spain’s three centuries of occupation. 
My Place has a large bakery case with Filipino pastries like puto and pandesal. This is a plus for bread freaks like myself and my brother, whom the staff calls Pandesal Guy. He’s never been able to leave without buying a box of the buns, whose name literally translates to salt bread.
The yeasty bread tastes like a better, saltier version of sweet Hawaiian rolls and is filled with queso de bola or purple yam paste. I like to eat them along with my lomi, the decked out Filipino version of egg drop soup that features a thick yellow broth with a medley of tofu and fish balls and cakes. It’s hearty for being so bright, in addition to the proteins, your spoon catches puffy noodles with each bite.
While it doesn’t look like the others, lomi is grouped together on the menu with the noodle dishes, which are a world unto themselves.
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Aside from the banana ketchup hot dog spaghetti, all the noodle dishes go by the name pancit, despite being made with very different noodles.
The pancit Canton is made with Chinese egg noodles, while the pancit malabon has thick rice noodles. I’d go back for the pancit bihon, sprightly thin vermicelli topped with pork and deep fried, butterflied shrimp. 
The noodle dishes highlight my coworker’s biggest qualm with the restaurant, that its family style portions can be too big and heavy for maximum enjoyment. Like many of her Filipino friends, she loves going to the budget-friendly carinderia restaurants for smaller portions and the ability to order a little bit of everything. Filipino food can be rather oily and rich, so the idea is to eat a little bit and move on to a different item.
On the flip side, Obregon prepares food made-to-order to reduce waste and ensure fresher food, in portions designed to share as if you were a guest in her house.  
A simple solution, besides bringing a large group to dine with you, is to balance your order with a bright vegetable dish. You absolutely must order the kare kare, an oxtail stew with lush peanut sauce that’s studded with eggplant and green beans.  
There’s also the sinigang soup with whole shrimp and green beans, intensely sour as the clear broth is flavored with tamarind. It’s good, but I actually preferred a more vibrant version I tried at the Filipino barbecue skewer spot Flaming Pig, where the veggie flavors really popped.  
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And of course, there’s pork. No great Filipino restaurant would be complete without it.
Go for the pata. This showstopping platter has a generously fried pork knuckle so big it covers the plate. I ripped off pieces of the glutinous flesh, watching steam pour from the crevices, and dipped the gnarled bits in dark vinegar. The viscous dark meat isn’t for the faint of heart, or anyone with heart problems for that matter, but it’s about as pretty as pig foot can get.
But most of us will stick to the sisig, the precious pork face I’d been searching for all these years.
Here, it practically roared as the sizzling plate was hurried to the table. A plume of smoke wafted around the cast iron, revealing a torrent of pork cubes sprinkled with chopped onions and Thai chile pepper. As the smoke dispersed, I pierced the raw egg with my fork and spread the yolk around so it cooked like scrambled eggs.
Before I ate it, I squeezed a lemon on top. The result was a dish that was perfectly well rounded and even faintly spicy.
Sisig is actually a verb, stemming from an old Tagalog word that means “to make it sour.” But the contemporary dish is, once again, a story of adaptation. Food historians point to the American occupation, when personnel at Clark Base in Angeles City, Pampanga were eating lots of pig but throwing away the heads. Locals came across the wasteful leftovers and put them to use, incorporating the parts into a smoky, grilled sisig.
Obregon changes the recipe to suit her own tastes. She ditches the head meat, as well as the customary addition of chicken livers and makes it with pork belly, which she prefers because it tastes cleaner. I can’t complain. What’s not to love about a citrusy plate of juicy deep fried pork?
Someday maybe I’ll find the “traditional” version, whatever that means in a country of relentless adaptation. But for right now, I feel just fine right here At My Place, eating the heck out of crispy pork while the steam pours onto my face. 
Where: 3450 W. Chandler Blvd., Suite #9, Chandler.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday. 
Price: Breakfast plates $10 to $15; appetizers $3 to $10; house specials and chef’s choice plates $12 to $28; noodles $12 to $15.  
Sound: They’ve experiment with some bold music choices, but conversation is relatively easy as the music is kept to a quiet hum. 
Vegetarian/vegan options: Most dishes contain some variety of pork or seafood, with not many vegetarian options. That being said, the noodle dishes can be made vegetarian. 
Recommended dishes: Pork sisig, oxtail kare kare and lomi noodle soup.  
Details: 480-838-1008, facebook.com/atmyplacecafeaz.
Stars: 4 (out of 5) 
Should you go?
5 — Drop everything
4 — Yes, and soon
3 — When you get a chance
2 — Maybe, if it’s close
1 — You can do better
0 — Not worth your time
Reach reporter Andi Berlin at [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin,  Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin.

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