While Vallejo may not be the fine dining capital of the North Bay, the Filipino food in this former Navy town offers plenty of interest for chowhounds. Knowing next to nothing about this cuisine, Ive been following up on friends recommendations to learn more. The staff at the places Ive visited almost always address me first in Tagalog, mistaking me for Filipina Chinese, making me feel at home and welcome immediately.
For a glossary of Filipino cuisine, check out http://myweb.gettinghere.com/country/...
CMC Pampangueña Restaurant (3744 Sonoma Blvd., 707-642-1039, 7am to 6pm) has a second sign that reads CMC Pampangan so Im not sure of the true name of this place. Something I had not been aware of is that the cooking of Pampanga province is considered the best of the Philippines regional cuisines. The article linked below states, Pampangos live to eat Food became a cult there
This unassuming corner of a strip mall is reputed to be one of the most talented Filipino kitchens in California. Its adjoining banquet hall is available for catered events and also hosts ballroom dancing lessons and competitions! The restaurant features a steam table with many choices, including goat on weekends, and some desserts are stacked next to the register. Vallejo and Manila time are displayed on the two wall clocks. The seating area is spare with formica-topped tables. I grabbed a take-out lunch (2 choices with rice, $4.75) and eyed the green-lipped mussels draped with cilantro and chilis for a long time. But I didnt think theyd reheat well at lunchtime and settled on the pork dinuguan plus what Id been told was a vegetarian dish. The dinuguan featured a chocolate-colored velvety sauce that had been thickened with fresh pork blood and livened with vinegar. The balance was impeccable with layers of rich flavors, complex spicing and tight focus at the same time. The tender pork chunks seemed like shoulder meat with its smooth texture and mix of lean and fat, and I used a tissue to dab off the layer of grease floating on the container. The vegetable dish turned out to have small pieces of pink-tinted white fish flakes and small shrimp in it, plus was flavored with fish sauce. The vegetables were an interesting mix of unctuous and sweet lavender-colored eggplants, bitter melon, sweet potato, onions, Chinese long beans, and chopped water spinach. Id also picked up one fried chicken drumstick (75¢) that had a light crust of seasoned flour and was red to the bone the way I like it, juicy, and relatively greaseless. With only one visit here (and before I had read anything about Pampangan food), Ive barely scratched the surface and want to return soon for more exploration.
Valerios Tropical Bakery is a couple doors down from CMC Pampangan in the same strip mall. Theres an amazing array of sweet and savory pastries and breads that look so exotic to the uninitiated like myself: flakey buns filled with purple ube, beef empanadas, coconut dusted pastels, and many others that I cant pronounce. I couldnt buy anything my one stop here because the clerk was involved in a lively negotiation for a bulk discount with an assertive Filipina customer.
Ling Nam Noodle House (972 Admiral Callaghan Lane, 707-553-8827) offers Filipino and Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ive posted on one visit here and have been back recently. This is one of the few restaurants of any type in Vallejo thats open after 9pm. It has the typical rice plates and noodle dishes of a Cantonese barbecue house, and features Filipino-style breakfast dishes. The Filipino influence shows in the extra garlicky flavors and richer soup stocks. Ive had the mixed won ton noodles here (earlier post) and also the roast duck/barbecue pork noodle soup. The soup stock has been flavorful and intense with no apparent MSG, but did have more than a minor oil slick. The eggy noodles themselves were of very good quality. The roast duck was average, the barbecue pork was too dry, and Id avoid the won tons. Still, I did find these noodle soups restorative and deliciously satisfying, even with these bumps. Maybe Ill just get the soup noodles with scallions and napa cabbage next time and skip the extras.
Jollibee (4399 Sonoma Blvd., 707-557-3290) is a Manila-based fast food chain that has followed its ex-pats to the States to offer them the kind of hamburgers and American-style food they grew up with in the islands. The fried chicken is good here with the heavy stick-to-your-ribs quality that cooking in lard lends. Also a tasty snack was the fried mango/peach pie which had chunks of real fruit, not just sweetened goop, and a crackly greaseless crust. Local delivery service is offered for a small charge.
Goldilocks (3885 Sonoma Blvd., 707-557-9977, 9am to 7pm) is a brightly lit bakery and coffee shop, also a Manila export. Quality is good here but prices are higher and the staff have been less able to answer questions about the food on the steam tables.
Captain Bennys Seafood on Sonoma Blvd. has gone out of business recently. This is a shame as the whole fried fish was good and cheap.
One place that I havent visited yet is Banana Q which has had a couple recent mentions in the SF Chronicle and from GraceAnn Walden. It was last to try on my list due to friends who said that Goldilocks and CMC were much better.