Bayan Cafe… Filipino Food Worth Breaking the Rules For

When I started this blog a little less than a year ago, I quickly set up boundaries that defined exactly where a “Midtown Lunch” could be.  We’ve only got an hour for lunch (and some of us less), so there had to be a border.  8th Ave. on the West, 3rd Ave. on the East.  Central Park to the North, and 32nd St. to the south.  The south part was pushing it a little, but I was biased by my love of Koreatown.  The whole point of doing this is to give me an excuse to stuff my face every day at lunch… how could I leave out Koreatown? 

There have been many temptations to cross those imaginary lines. Thai food on 9th Ave. has been recommended to me often, and people seem to love the falafel at Azuri Cafe, which requires you to trek almost all the way to 10th Ave!  I thought I was going to crack for the new Bahn Mi place on 2nd Ave., but luckily they charge way too much for what I’ve heard are pretty mediocre sandwiches, making it a little easier to skip (I still may end up trying it, we’ll see).  It’s been tough, but I have managed to hold it together.

Well, I finally met my match.  A few weeks ago, I received an email tip about something that I just could not ignore.  A place that embodies everything a Midtown Lunch should be (under $10, unique and adventurous), while combining the qualities of two of my favorite cuisines (Latin & Asian).  And they’ve got a lunch special to boot.  Readers of Midtown Lunch… I give you… BAYAN CAFE.  Filipino Food in Midtown.  That’s right.  Filipino.  What’s Filipino Food?  I’m not exactly sure.  But it’s freaking good.  So what if it’s East of 3rd Ave.  What’s an extra 15 feet for something that exists nowhere else in Midtown? And for that, I will now break my self imposed, meaningless to everyone but my feeble brain, Midtown Lunch boundaries. 

What they got, photos and the +/- after the jump… 

I guess I sort of know what Filipino food is.  It’s food from the Phillipines.  I’ve only had it once before (at a street fair in Hell’s Kitchen), and what I had was awesome.  The food is a mix of ingredients from all sorts of different cuisines, including fish sauce, soy sauce, curry, and adobo (the Spanish spice mixture).  The end result is something not quite Asian, not quite Spanish- but a delicious combination of the two. 

Bayan has got a full menu, but ordering from it will cost you well over $10.  The lunch special is the way to go.  $6.95 gets you rice and a choice of any two entrees from the steam table.  Every day they have different dishes for you to choose from.  The lunch special sign says “For a Limited Time”, but what they really mean is “Available Until the Food Runs Out”.  The first time I went, I made the mistake of showing up at 1:45, and got the dregs.

One piece of adobo chicken, a pork chop, and some veggies with a peanut sauce poured over the top.  Despite being the left over bits and pieces, it was all pretty delicious.  The Chicken Adobo was fall off the bone tender, and the pork chop was nice and crispy. I really liked having it with the peanut sauce covered veggies, which provided a sweet counterpart to the saltiness of the other two dishes.  The second time I went back, I made sure to get there a little after Noon, and got my pick:

Pork Adobo

Beef Stew

Pork Knuckles

Eggplant (in what I think is some sort of Coconut Milk based sauce)

Pork with Shrimp Paste

Curry Chicken

I had already had the chicken adobo, so I decided to skip the pork adobo (they have one or the other every single day) and go with the pork with shrimp paste, and the curry chicken. Both were tasty, but incredibly greasy.  The chicken was once again fall off the bone tender, but the curry was not as flavorful as either a Thai or Indian Curry.  I probably wouldn’t get it again.  The pork with shrimp paste was really good, but probably not for everyone.  Shrimp paste has a very strong flavor, very similar to fish sauce used in Southest Asian cuisine, and can be an acquired taste.  But if you are into it, you will definitely like this dish. 

When I finished, the guy behind the counter “guilted” me into buying one of these fried, spring roll looking things that was clearly a dessert (and by “guilted” I mean, gave me the strength to silence the voice inside myself that constantly reminds me I’m a total fatso).  It turned out to be a plantain that had been wrapped in a spring roll skin with jackfruit and deep fried, then covered in syrup.  If I even need to say that this thing tasted good, then quite frankly- you don’t know me at all.

Despite the glazed spring roll of delicious death, I surprisingly liked my first lunch (the dregs), better than the second lunch (the one where I had my pick).  It may have also helped that they gave us a little taste of three items, instead of two- and the adobo is clearly the signature dish.  The second lunch showed me that ordering is very important, and that depending on what dishes they have that day, you can have a great meal, or just a decent meal.  A lot of the choices are super greasy (isn’t everything good?), and not everyone is going to like every single dish (pig knuckles, anyone?)- but if you choose right, you just may end up getting one of the best Midtown Lunches you’ve ever had.


  • Half Asian, Half Spanish.  Two of my favorites!
  • I love variety.  The lunch special is only $7, and you get two dishes with rice.
  • Try to get one sweet, one salty if you can.  Ideally something covered in peanut sauce (like the veggies I got), to go with one of the adobo dishes.
  • The meats are all fall off the bone tender
  • Um… where else are you going to get Filipino Food in Midtown?

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)

  • Everything is pretty greasy/oily
  • Since Filipino food is not as well known as other ethnic foods, it may take some trial and error to figure out the dishes you like the best
  • The curry isn’t as flavorful as Thai or Indian curry
  • Too much fatty meat!
  • For stewed meats with rice, I’d prefer to eat at Sophie’s Cuban or Margon

Bayan Cafe, 212 E. 45th St. (Just East of 3rd Ave.), 212-450-8260


  • For traditional non-midtown places, head out to Woodside for Krystal’s or Ihawan, it’s a trek, but worth the travel. There are also 2 steam table-style places in the East Village (Pistahan and Elvie’s) and just a little south is a sit-down (another Krystal’s). Cendrillon (Soho) and Kuma Inn (LES) both serve more contemporary interpretations of the cuisine.

  • I saw the article about your site in the NY Post. Congradulations. The midtown luncher effect will now be even worse when you reccomend a place.

  • Your photos of “Pork Adobo” and “Beef Stew” are obviously the same steam plate shot from 2 different angles! Looks more like beef stew, but who knows? Also, I saw you on NY1′s “In the Papers” this morning. Congrats on the NY Post article.

  • Does anyone have the link to the NY Post Article? Thanks. I searched but could not find it.

  • Thank you!

    Zach now I figured out why you prob worked in Lynn, WFNX right? [I grew up there and Melrose]

  • i’ve eaten here before and also found the food way too greasy for my taste. they had some sort of noodley side that i tried that was especially bad. it was basically overcooked rice noodles swimming in oil with a few bits of veg thrown in.


  • Adding to the Filipino list, Renee’s in Woodside (little Manila) is my fav. The gf is Filipina and I wasn’t big on the food until I finally made it to the Philippines, now I can’t get enough. Definitely head to Woodside for the best/most authentic Filipino home cooking at the right price. Kuma Inn is awesome too, for something more upscale.

  • Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — go the the overpriced and undertasty bahn-mi place you mentioned on 2nd Ave. (Boi to Go). It’s over $8.00 (!) which is crazy, but I still had to try one. They don’t even use a baguette (wha?) , instead opting for a dense, overly spongy bodega-type roll. If you are gonna cut corners, guys, don’t do it with the bread of a bahn-mi! No cilantro. The pate they use is sooo unbelievably bland, it has virtually no taste. It’s like this place set out to make a bahn-mi for gringo. Girl making mine made a face when I asked for it to be extra spicy, and still was tight with the hotsauce. Complete and utter failure on ALL COUNTS!

  • Just came back from lunch there. The place was empty at 12:30. The food was cold and not tasty at all. I will not be back.

  • Our lunch group is gping to have to make a trip over there. What’s up with the Filipina dating service add under the blog, lol…to funny.

  • The prices have gone up a good deal. You end up with a small amount of meat and vegetables and way too much rice. I was also unhappy that even though I was dining in, the food was served in a styrofoam container. It was tasty though.

  • my winky is as small as that ^

  • The price for 2 dishes with rice was $10.24. The chicken adobo was dry, and the beef with peanut sauce was tasteless and strange…like corned beef covered with sauce. Needless to say, I will not go back, and I do not recommend this place.

  • If you want the best Filipino food in the city, you’ll probably go to Woodside Queens and head to Ihawan. Bayan Cafe is a few blocks from where I work, so when I have a craving for Filipino food for lunch, it’s an OK alternative. The food is good (not bad, not the best) based upon the Filipino foods I’ve tried in the past. The people who work there are very friendly and will explain the foods and how they will taste. They even have a garden in the back so you can eat outside when the weather is nice. I’ve been here a few times and never been disappointed, but keep in mind that if you have a big appetite you’ll want to get 2 choices of food with rice which I believe is now $8. Not cheap, but should fill you up. Also, you’ll want to get there early.. as in before 1pm. I’ve gotten there at 1:15 and their popular dishes were already empty. Sometimes you’ll see a very pretty Filipino woman working behind the counter. She’s actually the owner – very cool person.

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    I went past the other day and this place has closed. Too bad…

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