Bourdain and Zimmern predicted it, and Grubstreet recently added their stamp of approval with a trend piece earlier this week: Filipino is NYC’s up-and-coming culinary scene.
With main players—including the widely popular Maharlika—crowding the East Village/LES area, we thought we’d give some love to a student favorite right around the corner that dishes out delicious Filipino fare without breaking your wallet.
This homey, no-frills sit-down with a lively bar shuttered temporarily after Hurricane Sandy and only just reopened in October with subtle renovations.
Friends who grew up on these dishes swear that Cafe 81 and its sister restaurant Krystal’s Pastry Shop in Woodside’s Little Manila are the real deal—both are Pinay-certified by Jen from No Gut Glutton. While the new menu was slimmed down during redesign, long-time visitors can still request their favorite dishes that went off the books.
For the impending winter days, consider a piping hot bowl of the soup du jour for $10—we recommend Thursday’s sinigang, a savory tamarind-based broth that warms the body (and soul)—or the daily noodle dish for just $9.
Big groups can tuck into to-share appetizers like a platter of (literally) sizzling sisig, a pork hash topped with egg and lemon juice, or a bowl of lumpia shanghai, the Filipino variant of fried spring rolls.
Favorite mains include adobo, a marinated chicken dish, as well as all-day Filipino breakfasts—with names all ending in -silog—served with garlic rice, eggs cooked your way and your choice of meat.
The standout from the dessert list is halo halo, a Filipino rendition of Asian shaved ice, which comes with bright purple ube (taro) ice cream, slices of fresh fruit and sweet beans in a goblet of evaporated milk. Other choices include leche flan and ice cream scoops in ube, creamy avocado and vanilla bean flavors.
For bar-oriented patrons, Filipino brews—including San Miguel’s Red Horse and Cerveza Negra—are always on offer and a sports game (or Pacquiao fight) is always on the TV screen. Not looking for booze? Try sarsi, a sarsaparilla-flavored soda popular in Southeast Asia or sago at gulaman, a sweet brown sugar-flavored tapioca beverage.
Tip: Happy hour is from 5-7pm on weekdays!
Address: 81 E 7th St (between First and Second Aves)
Hours of operation: Mon: closed, Tues-Thur: 5pm-midnight, Sat: noon-2am, Sun: noon-11pm