When I first moved to metro Detroit from Chicago several years ago, I was missing a taste of home. So I started a Filipino food pop-up to share a piece of my culture and love of Filipino food.
While I set out to fill what I thought was a void I eventually realized that there was already an active and vibrant Filipino community with several restaurants serving up traditional Filipino — you just need to know where to look. For starters that means where there’s food you’ll find community. I was lucky to tap in by connecting with an informal group called the Detroit Filipino Supper Club, through which I met metro Detroiters and transplants all bonded together by our love of food (and karaoke).
The pop-up is on hiatus right now but I’m happy to report that there are still the longtime businesses still holding it down as well as newer restaurants putting their own spin on Filipino food, such as JP Garcia and his wife Jacqueline Joy Dino, the husband and wife team behind Isla
With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines’ diversity is reflected in its food.
With Isla, Garcia says “Filipino cuisine ... [is] a big melting pot of different cultures.” With his formal culinary training and Dino’s pastry skills, they aim to introduce the masses to Filipino food and give it “some light and representation in our area.”
“We're trying to introduce [Filipino cuisine] and make it more accessible to not only the Filipinos in the area, but introduce it to the different cultures and nationalities around. So that's our goal, and hopefully we can be successful … we're on a journey to push our cuisine forward and make sure it's the next big thing for sure.”
For restaurateurs like Eddie Bautista, the chef and co-owner of Edo Ramen House in Royal Oak, trying to represent Filipino food has been a longtime endeavor, in his case since 1995 when he opened Little Tree Sushi in Royal Oak (he has since sold the business).
“There was no Filipino restaurant in the area so I wanted to try to represent the Filipino culture, and show [metro Detroiters] … Filipino food,” he says.
He says unlike areas like the west and east coasts, where there are significant Filipino populations and chefs putting a modern spin on Filipino food, the cuisine is not as well represented in the Midwest and in metro Detroit. But with more Filipinos coming to work in health care here, he says the population is growing.
And maybe with it the appetite for Filipino food?
Here’s a sampling of where to get Filipino food in metro Detroit. What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.
While this Madison Heights eatery specializes in sushi, there is plenty of Filipino fare on the expansive menu. They serve two different kinds of pancit (bihon and canton, which features egg noodles), mami (noodle soup with your choice of chicken or pork with the option to add a steamed pork bun), and crispy pata, deep fried pork leg. For a traditional Filipino feast, get the kamayan option (eat with your hands). Select up to three dishes such as adobo, lechon kawali, longanisa, and more for $35.
31632 John R Rd., Madison Heights, MI 48071
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Ramen might be in the name of this Royal Oak restaurant, but chef and co-owner Eddie Bautista is representing his Filipino culture here in some traditional and not so traditional ways. Alongside the Japanese noodle soup is “Mami Pinoy,” the Filipino counterpart to ramen.
Other Filipino options range from the traditional like the noodle dishes pancit bihon or canton to more fusion-type fare like the Edo House Fried Rice (featuring the Filipino sausage longanisa) and steak fries topped with chicken or pork adobo. The adobo rice bowls are popular as is the sisig (spicy pork belly). They also offer a kamayan feast (a type of service where the food is laid on banana leaves and people eat with their hands) for $35 featuring three dishes served with white rice and eggs.
4313 W. 13 Mile Rd., Royal Oak MI 48073
Open 4-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 3-7 p.m. Sunday
Balikbayan boxes (care packages to send home to relatives), grocery shopping, and food to go are all available at this Warren business, making it a one-stop shop. This is a classic turo-turo (translation is literally point point) where you select your dishes from whatever is available that day cafeteria style. A recent menu featured pancit, paksiw bangus (milkfish simmered in vinegar), kare kare (oxtail braised in a peanut butter-based sauce), pinakbet (a sauteed vegetable dish from the Ilocano region), and chicken tinola (a gingery chicken soup) to name a few. They regularly post their menus on Facebook, so make sure to call ahead to see what they have cooking (and they might even set aside some for you). Or get there early (before 11:30 a.m. if you can) to ensure you get what you want before they sell out.
3866 E. 13 Mile Rd., Warren, MI 48092
Open (winter hours) 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday; 9 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Sunday
(summer hours) 9-3 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday; 9 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. SundayTropical Ube Cake, Isla
Husband and wife team JP Garcia and Jacqueline Joy Diño were working in IT when they decided to transition into culinary arts. Garcia went to the Art Institute of Michigan while Dino went to the French Pastry School in Chicago. The two went on to work for some pretty big names in the business such as chef Takahashi Yagihashi of Slurping Turtle. Garcia also opened Maru and Urban Ramen. But then they started thinking about doing Filipino food, starting with a pop-up at The Menagerie in Pontiac. It sold out, and that gave them the confidence to keep going. They applied to be one of the restaurants at the Fort Street Galley, which coincidentally was located next to Maru, bringing Garcia’s culinary journey full circle. When they got the call to open their Filipino restaurant, they thought “this may be something special.”
While the food hall didn’t last, it helped Garcia and Diño build up their clientele. They found a turnkey space (which used to be a bakery) in Sterling Heights, where they reopened Isla earlier this year. Many of the dishes from the galley are represented, such as the best-selling adobo and the lechon kawali with dinuguan sauce. Dinuguan is a traditional beef blood soup, and Garcia says it was a pleasant surprise to see many of the customers who are not Filipino order the dish. “It's pretty good to know that we're introducing [the traditional Filipino soup to non Filipinos].” Another regional dish that isn’t as common around here is chicken inasal. There’s also Dino’s unique desserts, such as the tropical ube cake, chocolate yema cake, and cashew sans rival (a meringue cake with cashew and buttercream).
2496 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights , MI 48310
Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am.-3 p.m. SundayFilipino platter, Krowl Family Kitchens.
While this fast-casual restaurant serves more than Filipino food, with an eclectic menu featuring everything from burgers to orange chicken, the Filipino influence is clear in classic dishes like lumpia (spring rolls filled with shrimp and pork or beef), pancit (rice noodles with chicken, carrots, celery and cabbage), and BBQ skewers (chicken marinated in banana ketchup). Can’t decide between the three? They offer the Filipino combo where you can get all three.
Gene Krowl, owner of the restaurant, has worked in the restaurant industry for 30 years. He was working in the Washington state area where he met his wife, Tessie, whose family hails from Cebu in the Philippines. She cooked a lot for family and friends and eventually started cooking lumpia, pancit, and other dishes for other Filipinos who learned about her food through word of mouth.
The couple, who has a 12-year-old daughter, moved to Michigan (where Gene is from) about six years ago and Tessie kept on cooking. In 2019, Gene was laid off from his restaurant job. The two had talked about having their own restaurant for a long time and the layoff seemed like the opportune to branch out and do their own thing.
Right now they have just the few Filipino dishes.
“I want to do more, but we're a really tiny place,” Gene says. Despite that the two have big plans. They started running a special on chicken adobo, which has been getting “rave reviews,” Gene reports. And if he can make it work, once the temperatures rise he’s hoping to serve halo halo.
33140 Groesbeck Hwy, Fraser, MI
Open 11 a.m. - 7:15 p.m. Monday through Friday
Along the usual favorites such as lumpia shanghai, pancit, and pork or chicken barbecue, check out some of the other specialties like all-day breakfast i.e. silogs (which is the Filipino version of put an egg on it) with your choice of meat like tapa (beef), tocino (pork), or longanisa (sausage). Other signature dishes include chicken afritada (a savory tomato-based stew with carrots and potatoes) and dinuguan. They also have a wide array of desserts, including turon (a fried banana spring roll) and sapin sapin (glutinous rice cake with toasted coconut). When summer rolls around, the halo halo (shaved ice dessert) is not to be missed. They’re only open for carryout at the moment so call them at 586-217-5947 to place your order.
27751 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores MI 48081
Open 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday
Another turo turo spot, this eatery located in a Troy strip mall and serves up the classics as well as some unique items you might not see elsewhere. A recent menu featured pork binagoongan (pork belly stewed in shrimp paste), and during Lent they offered their best-selling smoked boneless bangus. Also not to be missed are the desserts like leche flan and cassava cake. They also have a small selection of Filipino groceries and staples.
42915 Dequindre Rd., Troy, MI 48085
Open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday