For the past couple of years, Filipino cuisine and Filipino-American chefs have rightfully dominated food conversations in Southern California. In Orange County, people such as Ryan Garlitos of Irenia, Ross Pangilinan of Mix Mix, Jason “Chicken Wang” Montelibano of Chapter One and dessert queen Ashley Guzman have wowed eaters with modern takes on one of the greatest cuisines on Earth, one in which pork is a vegetable, vinegar is gospel, and there are so many immigrant influences it makes America’s melting pot seem as monochrome as a black hole.
And all I can do is tell SoCal eaters you’re welcome.
For 15 years, it was only OC Weekly among Southern California newspapers and websites that praised Filipino cuisine, who took pancit and sisig as seriously as pho and tacos. No, seriously: Look it up. Edwin and I won’t take credit for the current Filipino renaissance, but we’ll always proudly say we were on the trend years, if not a good decade, before anyone else.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to the mainstreaming of Filipino food: The old-school turo-turo (“point-point” in Tagalog, referring to buffets) joints are slowly disappearing. While there’s still a bunch around OC, not many more are opening, as more recent immigrants choose to settle around the Artesia-Cerritos-Bellflower triangle or move up north to Daly City. In five years, you’ll see some of the current turo-turo spots close, and within a decade, they’ll go the way of El Torito.
That’s why you should visit MJ’s Pinoy Fiesta soon. It has all the trappings of a classic turo-turo joint: a buffet with no labels, packaged goods to take home, and a television tuned to Filipino soap operas. A chalkboard lists prices for combo plates, to-go trays and sides of fried everything (the crispy pata, chunks of fried pork leg, is akin to sipping on lard). That’s the beauty of old-school Filipino restaurants: You learn, by trial and delicious error, how to eat the food and become a lifelong fan. And everything MJ’s makes is fabulous.
Whatever you eat, end with the halo-halo. How genius is Filipino food? Sweet potato, mung bean, jelly cubes, coconut milk and a scoop of purple ice cream as dessert—take THAT, heat wave!
MJ’s Pinoy Fiesta, 2806 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 828-3333.