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Four Fearless New Filipino Restaurants Changing the Game

From “chocolate meat” to Spam and smelt lumpia, their adventurous dishes are taking risks, with impressive results.

Marlon, Malvin, and Cybill Tan
Marlon, Malvin, and Cybill Tan are the siblings behind Cebu. Photos: Jeff Marini

Cebu

2211 W. North Ave., Wicker Park
THE TAKE:A meaty taste of Cebu’s regional dishes
WHY GO:Siblings Marlon, Cybill, and Malvin Tan invoke the flavors of their home island of Cebu with culinary derring-do. Yes, the sisig ($16) incorporates traditional ingredients like spicy peppers, calamansi, a soft fried egg, and pork mask (part of the pig’s face), but then the chefs go and add duck liver. Desserts feature equally bold twists, like an ube panna cotta with coconut crème anglaise ($8).
START WITH:The crisp-skinned lechon belly ($25) — the island’s most famous dish — which comes with pickled slaw and vinegar and soy-calamansi dipping sauces

Bayan Ko

1810 W. Montrose Ave., Ravenswood
THE TAKE:Filipino with a Cuban accent
WHY GO:Lawrence Letrero and his partner, Raquel Quadreny, want you to know all about the shared Spanish colonial roots and deep appreciation for garlic that tie Cuban and Filipino cuisines together. Some offerings at their cozy BYOB stick to tradition, like umami-rich pancit (stir-fried noodles with carrots and cabbage, $12). Others, including the crispy adobo chicken wings ($14) slicked with caramel or the luglug noodles ($26) topped with scallop, uni, and chicharrón — well, not so much.
START WITH:The tender oxtail kare-kare ($18), an enduring Filipino favorite, served with long beans, eggplant, and bok choy in a rich sauce of peanuts and shrimp paste

 

Food from Subo Filipino Kitchen
Clockwise from top left: Chicken lumpia, calamansi juice, noodle bowl, dinuguan Tagalog, breakfast rice bowl, and daing na bangus (milk fish) from Subo Filipino Kitchen.

Subo Filipino Kitchen

4712 N. Kimball Ave., Albany Park
THE TAKE:Unedited traditional specialties from a veteran
WHY GO:Minda Menor, who emigrated from the province of Isabela and ran Three R’s Filipino Café for more than 30 years, and her son Rod offer most items for less than $10. “Subo” means “to feed” in Tagalog, and the no-frills counter menu lives up to the name, serving generous noodle bowls ($7.95), all-day breakfast bowls of garlicky fried rice and eggs ($5.95), favorites like lumpia ($2.95 to $4.99), and rotating regional specials like dinuguan Tagalog ($6.50), a stew made with pork blood and intestines, garlic, and vinegar that’s nicknamed “chocolate meat” because of its dark brown hue.
START WITH:The salmon sinigang, a tangy tamarind-based soup ($6.50)

Young American

2545 N. Kedzie Ave., Logan Square
THE TAKE:The Philippines meets the Midwest, with a healthy dose of irreverence
WHY GO:Nick Jirasek’s risk-taking flavor combinations reimagine Filipino classics and evoke nostalgia at the same time, whether in a Filipino riff on pad thai with coconut peanut sauce ($11) and a choice of smoked cauliflower, braised beef cheeks, or shrimp or in popcorn crème brûlée ($9) with sea salt caramel and cotija powder, a dish that replicates the savory-salty-sweet goodness of Chicago popcorn mix.
START WITH:The lumpia Shanghai ($9), four crisp cigar-shaped rolls of beef, pork, Spam, and smelt bagoong. It’s a party in a Spam can — literally. (The rolls are served in one.)

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