Cambodians might be Long Beach's most visible Southeast Asians, but take any of the city's major streets across the river to the Westside and you'll quickly discover a large Filipino community hiding among the taco shops and wartime houses.
Instead of its own designated strip of Anaheim littered with dozens of traditional restaurants and shops, Long Beach's Pinoys have only a few slices of home and most of them are on Santa Fe Avenue, the Westside's main drag.
Just south of Willow are two Filipino eateries that face each other with barred-up windows and I recently had the guts to go into one of them for my first taste of food from the Philippines. Edna's Filipino Cuisine won my patronage because of its parking lot and colorful, tropical logo, but I have heard that Hapag Kainan across the street is similarly structured.
Known as a “turo-turo” joint, Edna's is a small restaurant where you “point-point” to what you want to order from the spread of dishes sitting under heat lamps Chinese take out-style. Prices are Westside cheap: a one item combo is only $4.50 and comes with soup and a bed of sticky steamed rice; an extra $2 gets you a second item.
The Spanish influence present in most mainstay Filipino food is downplayed here and the only familiar Latin things were the whole, fried fish and a giant pile of chicken chicharrones, which you can buy by the pound on your way out. Instead, the 20 or so pre-made dishes available at Edna's emphasized Pacific Island specialties like BBQ pork, goat soup and whole-squid stew.
Like with Cambodian food, some of the aromas and flavors in Filipino cooking are seemingly off-putting to the Western palate. A goat soup called pinapaitan gets its intense battery-acid bitterness from the addition of the animal's bile. And a homestyle specialty known affectionately as “chocolate meat” is not Pinoy mole as it appears, but instead fatty chunks of pig offal floating in a dark brown blood stew.
But there are still many edible things for those looking for tamer options. A beef stew called kaldereta drenches thin cuts of steak in a Dinty Moore-worthy brown gravy. The BBQ pork skewers coats thick bacon cuts in a better-than-Teriyaki sweet sauce. And the kinilaw na kambing is a ceviche-style mix of grilled goat cuts (skin, meat and liver) tossed with chiles and onions and ginger.
Traditionally eaten cold and with a beer, the kinilaw comes pre-packaged in a Styrofoam container so you can savor it at home later. Pour some vinegar over it for maximum effect.
As one of the few hubs for Filipino culture in Long Beach, Edna's is also home to a Western Union office and a mini internet cafe where people can connect with the motherland. But it's not all just for Pinoys. White people too can order a halo-halo at this turo-turo and enjoy the Tagalog telenovelas blaring on the TV.
Edna's Filipino Cuisine, 2540 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach, (562) 424-3177