Looking for a good Filipino restaurant in Richmond is like looking for a needle in a haystack (pardon the cliche). I can only name around 3 as opposed to the hundreds of popular Chinese dimsum places in this city! One of the more popular Filipino restaurants though is called the Little Ongpin located on No. 5 road behind the huge Shopper’s Drugmart. The exterior actually looks like a mix between traditional Filipino and Chinese designs– the use of eye catching color and big bold letters that’s easy to read from afar. Inside carries the same theme of simplicity through the choices on fixtures and decor that’s actually very Filipino. The top half of the walls are lined with mirrors that actually help make the place a lot brighter and more welcoming. The bottom half is covered with neatly lined bamboo sticks that give it a more oriental feel.
We were greeted almost immediately by the staff with smiles and showed us to our seats. The table setting is definitely simplistic, not at all cluttered with different sauces and spices (since most dishes that come with a sauce is just served with it) which brings us to our next agenda: The Food.
One thing you should know about me, I LOOOOOOOOVE (I can’t stress that enough) coconuts. Everything about them is good. The meat, the juice– I’ll eat everything and spare none! Usually it costs around $3-4 each in your local grocery store and you’re not even sure if the fruit you’re getting has a lot of juice or not! It was wonderful to see that they actually have fresh ones that you can order. I understand that this is a seasonal item on the menu so consider yourself lucky if it’s there when you visit!
The hull of the coconut is expertly chopped at the top, kind of creating this ‘mug’ with a straw and a spoon for getting all the meat out. The juice is refreshing! Definitely no preservatives there! It’s full to the brim and it’s chilled. (Plus, it’s good for your kidneys and for cleansing toxins!)
As you can see, I am very much addicted to this fruit! I threw away the straw and just drank from the hull itself. When that was done I just attacked the meat! If you haven’t had this yet, I suggest you buy it at least once in the grocery store and try it! I guarantee you’ll come back for more.
Since it was raining, we also ordered one of the most popular dishes in Philippine cuisine, a tamarind based soup with shrimp or in popular terms, sinigang. The soup is very mouthwateringly sour! It definitely increases your appetite! The flavor of the shrimp is beautifully mixed in with the broth and the shrimp itself is cooked very nicely. It still has that crunch and not at all rubbery, which is hard to do when you’re simmering it with soup (there’s always a tendency to overcook it). Overall it’s quite good and an order serves around 4 people.
The reason why I ate here in the first place is because of the main event: The Crispy Pata or the fried pork hock. If Andrew Zimmern’s* praises for this fine delicacy still doesn’t convince you to try it, I hope this review will! 🙂
This beautiful piece of meat is cooked for a very long time. First it’s lightly seasoned and boiled for a few hours until the meat is extra tender and cooked through. Then it’s dried out until all the water from the skin has evaporated. It is then dunked into a deep fryer and the shock of the cooled pork with the hot oil actually forms air pockets on the skin creating a nice, ultra crispy skin that you would crave all year round. I usually peel off the skin from the meat and eat it separately so I can savor the slightly salty taste of it.
The meat itself is very tender, very much the opposite of the skin. The dish is served with a soy sauce and vinegar concoction with an extra added spice from chopped onions. This goes very well with the meat that’s just very lightly seasoned. The price range is very reasonable as well. The small starts at $9 and only a dollar difference from the medium and the large. This is definitely the dish to eat when you stop by the Little Ongpin.
What also added value to this visit was I found out that it was run by husband and wife team Eduardo and Mercy Lee. They were both in the store at the time and were definitely very open to a short interview. Eduardo Lee was actually born and raised in the Chinatown of the Philippines that the locals call “Ongpin” (hence the name). His family already owned a restaurant called the “Shining Star” (which was actually quite popular at the time because my mom still remembers it) back in the 70’s and that was where he first learned the basics of cooking. To this day, he personally cooks and oversees every single meal that comes out of the kitchen and his wife on the other hand runs the front of the restaurant! How’s that for quality control?
Overall the experience was awesome! Not only did they warm my stomach (does that phrase sound wrong?), but they warmed my heart as well with their stories and their hospitality! I hereby give them my seal of approval! 😀
I am literally counting down the days ’til I next eat that pork again hahaha 😀
(604) 278 – 4667
Hours: Serves Lunch and Dinner
*Andrew Zimmern is the host of the TV show Bizarre Foods and is a notable food critic. He was featured in an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” where he actually talked about the crispy pata and even went through the whole cooking process of it. You can find a brief overview of the episode and (hopefully) the video of it here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/local/il-chicago/rubys-fast-food-restaurant/index.html