Manila Machine is a Great Gateway to Eating More Face
There were quite a few standouts at the LA Food Fest tasting event last weekend at the Rose Bowl, but none stood out more to me than the pork belly adobo served up by the Manila Machine, a Filipino food truck that hit the streets of L.A. back in June. Run by two popular food bloggers (not a joke), the truck launched with a ton of great press (mostly by bloggers, natch) but I couldn’t help but be a little skeptical. Nobody gets more excited about street food than me, and I’ve been covering the ascent of the “hipster truck” for over 4 years now. But I’ve also been burned by one too many mediocre new school food trucks, and have gradually gone from feeling like “anything new with four wheels is worth getting excited about!” to “I’m going to wait until I hear something really good from somebody who isn’t friends with the owner of the food truck, or getting free food” before I dig in.
A single bite of pork belly adobo with pineapple changed all of that, so on Friday I found myself on Olympic btw. Bundy and Centinela- ordering practically the Manila Machine’s entire menu.
I’m a big fan of Filipino food, and can’t figure out for the life of me why it isn’t more popular. Or, more specifically, why white people immediately think “weird” when they hear the word “filipino”? (A friend of a friend opted for a hot dog truck instead, and didn’t seem interested in trying anything we were eating.) Sure there are some funkier dishes involving shrimp paste and fish sauce, but at its core Filipino food brings together flavors from Asian and Spanish food that no Angeleno should be unfamiliar with. What I’m saying is, there is nothing strange about Filipino food. And Manila Machine makes it incredibly easy to try the stuff for the first time… not just because everything on the menu is tasty, but everything is inexpensive and served ala carte, allowing you to mix and match all sorts of stuff and still come out with a tasty and filling lunch for under $10.
I was bummed to discover that technically their pork belly and pineapple adobo is a special, and not available every single day… so we went with the chicken adobo- a “Filipino classic”. For $5 you get a single piece of chicken, stewed in vinegar, soy sauce , and garlic, and served over rice (think soy sauce chicken with a big time tang). Way too many places in L.A. serve boneless chicken during lunch, so I was excited to find that M.M. leaves their chicken whole- for maximum flavor. They most likely marinate the chicken for a while too, so that delicious sauce seeps into every pore of the super tender, fall off the bone meat. And the rice provides the perfect device for sopping up all the juices at the end. For those of you who just can’t stand the bones (or prefer to enjoy your lunch sans fork and knife), they serve a boneless shredded chicken adobo slider- topped with caramelized onions- for $3. How can that be bad?
Chicken isn’t the only slider they offer, though. There is also a beef tapa slider, a longganisa slider (Filipino sausage), and a spam and egg slider, all for $3. Just like the chicken, the chunks of beef were also super tender (I couldn’t decide if it was more like brisket or pulled pork), sticky and really sweet. I didn’t really notice the slaw or the spicy sriracha, but the pan de sal was perfect (kind of like a sweet Hawaiian roll with a slightly crustier exterior.)
Filipino sausage (longganisa) is a fave of mine, and is something that I can’t imagine anybody not liking. It has a similar sweet flavor to Chinese sausage, but stubbier. I prefer the outside to be a bit more charred (for maximum carmelization) but it was still good- and with some rice and eggs it would make the perfect breakfast.
Speaking of eggs, I couldn’t help but order the spam and egg slider as well. Once again, I would have preferred a darker char on the outside of the spam but it still tasted good. And the egg was perfectly cooked… and by that I mean slightly runny, so you got a whole mess of goo over the whole sandwich.
For $2, the lumpia shanghai are the closest thing to a must order at the Manila Machine… not necessarily because they are the best fried spring rolls you’ve ever eaten (although they are pretty damn good), but because for $2 how could you not!? Here’s the way my mind works. I’ve got $10 to spend on lunch… that means main dish ($5) + a slider ($3) only equals $8. You don’t want that extra $2 burning a whole in your pocket, do you?
With the pork belly not available on Friday, the sisig became the dish I was most excited to try. Unlike the chicken adobo, the sliders, and the fried spring rolls (which should easily be enjoyed by everybody who tries them) sisig is a bit more of an acquired taste. Traditionally made from any and all the parts of a pig’s head, sisig usually features ear, but can also contain snout, cheeks, pork belly and liver all chopped up into tiny bits and sauteed in a frying pan with onions, garlic, peppers and more until super crispy (kind of like a cross between head cheese and scrapple).
To make it more familiar to the masses, Manila Machine decided to forgo the ears and make their sisig with just pork cheeks. I was disappointed, but it was hard to be too mad. Ears are tough to make tasty, and admittedly not for everybody (even fans of offal don’t love them all the time), and if you’re dealing with a clientele that asks stupid questions like “Is anything on your menu healthy?” I can understand why it would be futile to offer real sisig. (It’s the same reason the Dim Sum truck never has chicken’s feet!) The cool thing about their version is hopefully it will entice enough people to try their sisig as a gateway to the real thing. The cheeks are crispy and fatty and salty, and once you add a squirt of lime it’s a big time party. Not as good as belly, and it should have been chopped up way more (the slightly larger chunks left some bites chewier than others) but there’s nothing super weird about it.
Manila Machine isn’t going to end my quest to find great Filipino food in Los Angeles (for one thing, they don’t do straight up lechon. And obviously I’d like to find an ear filled sisig served on a sizzling platter.) But most of the time Manila Machine will be the closest Filipino option… and for that alone, I will definitely be back. And for those who have never had Filipino food, Manila Machine is a great intro. Like going from opium to heroin (or cigarettes to weed) it’s the perfect gateway for those looking to expand their horizons.
THE + (What somebody
- Filipino food that anybody could enjoy.
- All the meats are well cooked, super tender, and are made with delicious sauces.
- I love sweet bread, and the pan del sal is kind of like hawaiian rolls. So good!
- I’m curious to try sisig, but don’t like pig ears.
- Surprisingly not greasy. (A trademark of “real” Filipino food!)
- Everything is cheap enough that you can order 2 or 3 things and keep lunch under $10
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like about this place would say)
- It’s tough to do some real Filipino preparations on a truck (like getting the longganisa dark and crispy)
- I need my sisig with ears! And served on a sizzling platter. And chopped up super finely. The fat was a bit too chewy.
- The beef and pork belly are a bit too sweet for me.
- I don’t like vinegar
- Nobody makes better Filipino food than my mom
Manila Machine, Follow them on Twitter for their current location.