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Photos: These Gourmet Filipino Rice Bowls Taste Like Home
There's an affordable Filipino rice bowl shop that recently opened in downtown L.A. where you won't be finding the regular ol' adobo or lumpia there. Think more comfort food like addictive home-made longganisa sausages topped over a bed of heirloom rice—and they're all made by a chef whose background comes from making gourmet French food.
Rice Bar invited LAist to their tiny 275-square-feet restaurant this week, a hole-in-the-wall joint smaller than some of our apartments, that seats about seven along its counter. Chef Charles Olalia, formerly the executive chef from high-end French restaurant Patina, and his partner, Santos Uy, who owns Papilles and Mignon, surprisingly manage to whip up a variety of different bowls in such a limited space.
"This reminds me of Manila," Olalia, who's Filipino, says of his restaurant.
What Rice Bar does is something different. Olalia is obsessed with rice, and tries to feature the grains like a coffee shop does with their beans. He says he doesn't want rice to just be the filler, and more so have the toppings complement the rice. While rice is the main focus—they get different varieties of free-trade, non-GMO grains imported from the Philippines—it's the savory, sour, and sweet flavors that come from the amalgamation of his ingredients and the feeling that you're getting a home-cooked meal with a modern kick that sticks out to us.
Take his house-made pork longganisa, a sweet and spicy sausage that isn't too far off from the flavors of Chinese sausage. It's a recipe that was passed on to Olalia from his uncle, and is juicy with small chunks of fatty goodness in it. It's accompanied by pickled vegetables atop of crispy, garlic jasmine fried rice. Make sure to add their spicy vinegar that's sitting at their counters to add more pop to the flavors.
Rice Bar's Pancit Luglog (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
Their Pancit Luglog is already a feast for the eyes right off the bat. This one's not made with rice, but it's a good alternative for folks who are craving noodles. Crumbles of yellow hard-boiled egg yolks decorate the top of the bowl with a criss-cross of green onion slivers. It sits on thick rice noodles with baby shrimp and shellfish sauce. You can barely see the bits of pork chicharrones in the bowl, but you know they are there because there's a smoky flavor you get after you mix it all together. It's sour, tangy and has the umami taste that you get from things like fermented fish sauce in Vietnamese or Thai dishes.
Rice Bar's Crispy Anchovies (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
The Crispy Anchovies is a refreshing bowl full of veggies that sits on a bed of black rice. There are slices of avocado, grape tomatoes and red radish, and curled strips of scallions. The very tiny crispy anchovies give some bites a burst of salty and charred flavors. It reminds us of a non-greasy version of the Cantonese salted fish fried rice, but with fresh vegetables.
Rice Bar's Bistek Tagalog (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
For the ones craving beefy goodness, there's the Bistek Tagalog, strips of soy-marinated Angus beef that's pan seared, and served along with steamed Milagrosa jasmine rice. The braised onions are surprisingly crunchy and packed with flavor. It's one of the simpler bowls of everything we tried, but something that reminds us of the type of basic comfort food you get from your mom's home cooking.
Rice Bar's Iced Buko Coconut Pop (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)
For the vegans and vegetarians, they get the option of the Mushroom Tamales. Think of the classic lo mai gai dim sum dish—steamed sticky rice and toppings packaged in lotus leaves like a wrapped present. The chef makes his own mushroom ragout with shiitake mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and a black bean sauce. This one didn't particularly stand out for us as the flavors didn't pack a punch as much as the other bowls did.We finished off our meal with a creamy and milky Filipino popsicle made with coconut. And just like the traditional dessert is usually served in the Philippines, this one comes straight out of a clear, cylindrical plastic bag with no stick. Olalia cut the top of the bag open with a pair of scissors and we sucked on the popsicle bag. Why don't we eat all ice cream like this?
Rice Bar does quite a bit of take-out orders since it's such a small place and located in the heart of a bustling city. But if you're lucky enough to grab a seat, you might just enjoy it like you're sitting in a family member's kitchen.
Rice Bar is located at 419 W. 7th St. in downtown L.A. They're open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Saturdays and Sundays. Bowls and tamales range from $6.50 to $9.50.
Inside the tiny, tiny Rice Bar (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)