I’m a nostalgic guy, and my years living in John Fante’s Bunker Hill (2003-12) continue to fill my days (with what, I do not know!). But memories are best served by creating new ones, and thanks to Grand Central Market’s Sari Sari Store, my holidays are just a little brighter. Details on the “Filipino concept” haven is below!!
One of my only complaints during my Downtown Los Angeles years was the lack of Filipino cuisine in my neighborhood (I had to drive to Seafood City for my Pancit Palabok fix!). Thankfully those days are gone, and credits goes to this Jenn Harris post for the wonderful news:
If you’re not familiar with Downtown Los Angeles, I suggest parking on Bunker Hill (there are a couple of lots on Olive St.) and, before walking to Grand Central Market, actually try the longer route.
By walking to 1Cal Marketplace (btw I’ll always call it California Plaza!!), you can hop on to the recently re-opened Angels Flight and take a ride straight down to the Grand Central Market. If you’ve never ridden a funicular, now’s your chance, and as soon as you touch ground, cross the street and beeline it over to Sari Sari Store!!!
Obviously the food is king and queen no matter what establishment one frequents, but a little bit of social niceties and convo is also an added plus. Chef de cuisine Don Dalao is an unassuming and friendly dude, and we had a short discussion on Filipino food we grew up loving (I’m Filipino and Thai). I joked about the lack of Balut on the menu (btw if you want to hear Don’s take on the type of Balut he loves – just ask him!), and since one of Sari Sari’s employees had no idea about the delicacy, I gave her the rather horrid 411. If you have no idea bout Balut, let Superstore’s Nico Santos school ya!!
The Sari Sari Store staff were friendly and patient with my questions and comments, and considering how the spacious stall is configured, I’m assuming a ton of great conversation is had at the venue. On the nostalgic end, it was great seeing ready to bake Pan De Sal off to the side and sauces I grew up as a kid take a worthy place at the proverbial table:
The brainchild of Republique’s Walter and Margarita Manzke, Sari Sari Store’s strength is honoring Filipino tradition while putting their own spin to the food. Since I’m transitioning to a vegetarian diet, I scarfed down their version of the Tortang Talong.
I was craving fried egg in the morning for some protein love, and the charred eggplant, cherry tomatoes, corn, basil, and cilantro all made for a flavorful and scrumptious experience. Below are two before/after photos of my dish (the before is the way they prepared, the after pic shows the egg):
Along with my taste buds and stomach being satisfied, the dish didn’t weigh me down for the rest of the day. Though Filipino food is inextricably part of my soul, many of its dishes leave me feeling bloated and far from refreshed. This dish actually reenergized me and gave me enough fuel for a midday gym workout.
I also ordered another Tortang Talong for my mom, along with a slice of their Buko Pie. Both items stayed fresh several hours after being made (my mother, though she hates whenever I buy her food, gave the TT a ringing endorsement). As for the Buko Pie, it was simply to die for, (Jenn Harris names it as one of the must eat pies in Los Angeles). The pastry cream featured in Sari Sari’s Buko Pie is absolutely unforgettable, and I really loved how the Coconut didn’t take overtake the entire dish. The flavors, textures, and delectable crust of the Buko Pie all work in unison, and every bite for me was a memorable one. I believe it’s $36 to order an entire pie, and though I am a fan of the cheaper custard pies over at Marie Callendar’s, this will be my go-to for special occasions (I believe you should order the pie 48 hours in advance as it takes a full day to prepare).
At 46, I find myself often too beholden to memories (my dad would have really enjoyed this place), but honestly partly living in the past isn’t such a bad thing. T.S. Eliot’s oft-used quote (“We shall not case from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”) was on my mind during my Saturday morning excursion. Sari Sari Store, via a bit of conversation and some kick ass food, connects me back to my roots while offering something new (and delicious) in the process.
***Last but not least, Sari Sari Store’s wall of pop culture and cinema also won me over, as I co-host the movie review podcast CinemAddicts with my better half Anderson Cowan!! To listen to December’s episode, click below (how’s that for a shameless plug???)
***Last shameless plug, my Find Your Seen partner (and BFF) Deandra Miranda will be be doing some big things on our blog in ’18. Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast for more info!! And thanks for the support on both CinemAddicts and this blog!!