The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Tag Archives: food

Tu Mero Mole @ Sunnyvale


One of the great disappointments of my trip to Mexico City last year was that I was never able to taste authentic Mole. The first time I tasted Mole was in California, and it tasted like pureed rust with vinegar. It was awful. The meals that my Mexican co-workers had me try during my stay blew me away, so I figured that I would give this infamously complicated dish another go. Sadly, I ran out of time.

Enter Tu Mero Mole in Sunnyvale CA. I can’t say definitively that their Mole Poblano tastes just the way the originals down south of the border do. But I would consider lining up for it.

Their branch at this location just opened this month, and am hoping it lasts longer than all the other establishments that have occupied this spot over the past few years.

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Filed under Mexican, US, California
Aug 25, 2011

Ling Nam Noodle House (South San Francisco)


Part of this post has been posted on

You can find good and bad restaurants in any city or country. At times its not so much about how to avoid them, but rather about how you manage expectations. For Bay Area residents thinking of going to the Philippines, and who want to prepare themselves for how bad some of our restaurants can get, then you’re in luck. You can experience authentic Pinoy bad service without getting on a plane. Introducing Ling Nam Noodle House in South San Francisco.

I’ve only been to this place twice. Both have been disasters.

My first visit happened the week after Thanksgiving last year, with a large group of friends. There were five families in our group, so we occupied three sets of tables. Our table was closest to the register so the waitress got to us first — which set off the first sign that the evening was not going to go well. She started by asking if we were together, to which we said yes. She then told us that we would pay have to pay together.

Come again? Who was she to tell us how to pay? Her “instruction” actually ran contrary to what we had in mind which was to pay per family. That way we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of who owed what.

Happily one of us was a regular, and charmed his way into letting us have our way. But we still got an “admonition” that we shouldn’t do this next time. Hmmm . . . interesting. Things went downhill from there.

My wife ordered a fish dish called “bangus”, she ended up with another fish that wasn’t even on the menu. By then I had gotten sufficiently pissed with this place that I picked up my wife’s dish and took it to the cashier to ask for an explanation. Apparently, they had run out of the Bangus and simply saw fit to substitute another fish dish without telling us. To make things worse, they initially insisted that what they served was what we ordered. My wife protested, which forced them to admit that they had run out. My wife eventually ordered a completely different dish.

On my end, I order a deep fried crispy pork dish called Lechon Kawali. They got the order right, but it smelled and tasted so rancid I couldn’t help but wonder if they cooked it in the same oil that they had already used for fish.

By the end of the meal, I had pretty much decided never to return to this place. But it was not to be.

In of May this year, friends who picked us up from the San Francisco airport whisked us here for dinner. We arrived late in the evening, and one of our friends had a Pinoy-food craving. This was pretty much the only place for that around. I wasn’t thrilled, but I figured that I’d give the place another try.

This time, my wife and I were careful to avoid the food we ordered before. I ordered grilled pork. To be fair, it was pretty good.

But the staff were . . . as interesting as ever.

Apparently live entertainment was made available that night, in the form of the one member of the kitchen staff challenging another to fist fight. Nothing like a good dose of shouting and commotion to spice up one’s dinner. Interesting insight into the mindset of the people preparing the food.

Arguably, the main thing going for this place is its hours of operation. If you have a craving for Filipino food at odd hours, and you are either disinclined, or don’t have enough time, to cook yourself, then Ling Nam is indeed the place for you. But take the time-element out of the equation, and there are plenty of other BETTER places within 10 minutes of this place.

Perhaps with better management, this particular branch (I’ve never been to others), could become decent. I’m not in any particular hurry to follow up on their progress.

Sep 25, 2010

Boiling Crab


Part of this article was posted on

Would you bother going to a restaurant where you have to wait for three hours for a table, receive your food in a plastic bag that’s served in a bucket, and then eat a messy meal with your hands? For the easily dozens, if not hundreds, of folks who troop to Boiling Crab in San Jose each day, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!!!”

BC is a Cajun seafood restaurant that serves Shrimp, Crab (Dungeness, Alaskan King Crab, etc), Crawfish, Fried Oysters, Chicken, and a number of other minor items. My wife likes to cycle through some of the selections, but I consistently go for the mildly spicy steamed garlic butter shrimp. Unless stated otherwise, I’ll be talking about this shrimp dish.

Its lone branch in San Jose is so wildly popular, you can see long lines at this place even in the middle of the week. On the weekend, its practically impossible to get a table. Any time you visit, you will see a sizable portion of its the largely Asian clientele sitting meekly on the curb outside the restaurant, waiting in a long snaking line, held in stasis by early-arrivals who are slowly savoring scrumptious shrimps swimming in sinful sauce. If patience were a virtue, BC has among the most virtuous patrons in the Bay area. I do not consider myself a patient person, but I would still consider going to this place on a weekly basis — if I didn’t fear for my arteries.

Once you’ve tried this place, you’ll be hard pressed to look for viable alternatives. Before BC, my wife and I used to happy patrons of Crawdaddy, where we were first introduced to the eat-out-of-a-bag concept. Always on the look out for alternatives to our favorites, I Yelped Crawdaddy to see what other folks thought. A common refrain amongst those who posted positive reviews about Crawdaddy was “It’s good, but its still not Boiling Crab”. Feline curiousity got the better of us, and we were Boiling Crabbers ever since.

The impracticality of sacrificing whole swaths of one’s day or evening to waiting for a table became evident very quickly. As early as our first addictive trial, my wife and I went to work looking for ways to beat the lines. Friday to Sunday evenings were hopeless. We fared better at lunch. We initially worked out that we had to be there by 11:30 for a decent 30 minute wait. Time-lines jump to 45 minutes as we get to 11:45, and we again return to hopelessness if we get there by 12 or later. As more people flocked to this place, these early tips proved worthless. One Saturday we arrived at 11:30, the resto was still closed, but there was already a line. We once followed a lead that stated that going mid-week, an hour or less to closing time improved our chances of getting in. Not true. The lines remained, despite warnings from the staff that they couldn’t guarantee the availability of seats before closing up shop. The night we tried this night-time ambush technique, we actually ended up resorting the only line-beating option that had reasonable success: BCTO = Boiling Crab Take Out.

BCTO does have its draw backs. By the time you get home, the shrimp had already cooled somewhat. Lessens the overall zing of the dish for some reason. You also had to make sure that you started eating the shrimp that was still immersed in the sauce to keep them from being overcooked. Still not the same as eating in-restaurant, but it guaranteed a quick BC fix . . .

. . . with only a 20-minute wait.

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Filed under Food Trips
Sep 18, 2010

Rene Rose Island Cuisine


Part of this article has also been posted on

This is Clarita’s Filipino Cuisine . . . with better ambiance.

The must haves are all there: Inihaw na (grilled) Pork, Pork Adobo, Beef steak, Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork) and Bangus. From a pure flavor standpoint the average Pinoy palette would be happy with either restaurant. Their hits and misses are complimentary. Personally I like Clarita’s Adobo and Beef steak better. However, this place’s Inihaw and Lechon Kawali balance things out.

But one area where this place definitely has Clarita beat is the dining area. Its brighter, clearly given more thought, and lacks the annoying TV with cheezy noon-time shows. If you were to introduce a non-Filipino to common-Pinoy food, you’d probably make a better impression with Rene Rose. In the summer, the air-conditioning at Rene Rose definitely helps.

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Filed under Filipino Food
Sep 3, 2010

Hard times for a favorite resto


Parts of this review was also posted on

This used to be one of our favorite Italian restaurants. From a purely flavor point of view it still is.

When seeking to preserve profit margins while maintaining the same menu, there are arguably only two ways to go: sacrifice quality, or reduce portion size. This place went the latter route.

While our favorites were as good as ever, the quantity given the price was just absurd. The original servings had always been just right. We’re not large eaters, so their portions were always great. Now, they are half what they were.

My wife still can’t get over the bread that’s typically given as an appetizer. They were the size of over-sized croutons, and served directly in the basket, without a napkin or anything.

That being said, their seafood pasta is as fantastic as ever. But spending upwards of $20 for a meal that requires you to go to another restaurant to make sure you don’t wake up hungry later . . .

I know that pricey restaurants aren’t a place to gorge. But we’ve been to three-figure restaurants, with the infamous small main course portions, but taken as a whole — from appetizer to dessert — you do leave satisfied. Satisfaction was truly missing this time.

This resto is definitely experiencing problems. It even appears to be in the midst of a name change. I hope they recover. But the rip off the other night will keep us away for a while.

Filed under Food Trips, Italian
Aug 15, 2010

A Taiwanese question about Jollibee in the US


Late last year, a friend from our Taipei office emailed me a question about Jollibee. He was working on his MBA and for some reason, he was working on a case study that involved this Filipino food chain. He asked about its popularity on the US west coast, if their target market was more Filipino that American, and whether or not the chain made changes to adapt to the local market.

His questions were interesting for a number of reasons. First, I’m still getting over Jollibee-deprivation. It’s easy to take Jollibee for granted when your in the Philippines, where practically every mall has one. But spend three and a half years in Taiwan, where it doesn’t exist despite the legions of OFWs on the island, and you learn to appreciate it really fast. I’d already been in the US 5 years by then, and I visit a Jollibee at least once a month . . . but I’m still getting over the prolonged separation from the crispy greaseless chicken and palabok.

Second, was the timing of the email. As I started writing my reply, I realized that it had been a while since I wrote just for fun. After weeks of poring over debug logs and flowcharts, it was time for a break.

That email, and the resulting response, planted the seeds for this blog.

My response is shown below (tweeked slightly to eliminate typos and improve the flow). Happy reading.

Here in Northern California, Jollibee is definitely popular. In the past two years alone, they opened two new branches. One in the largest mall in the region, the “Great Mall of the Bay Area” in Milpitas, and another in San Francisco. I have not been to a Jollibee in Southern California, but given that the concentration of Filipinos there is actually greater than up here, I would imagine that it is a big hit there as well.

It has the exact same look, feel, and offerings as a regular Jollibee that you would find anywhere in the Philippines – perhaps with the exception of the following:

• Accepts credit cards for payment (I called this an American adaptation in the original email. Only to find that this had become true in the Philippines as well, thanks to Banco De Oro and their card machines)
• Self-service for drinks (another common practice in American fast food chains)
• Clean-as-you-go for the tables instead of having a server clean up tables for you

It is definitely targeted at Filipinos, and arguably capitalizes on the fact that food is a well established cure for homesickness (heck, my wife ended up learning to cook while we were in Taiwan because of it). Close your eyes and the sounds and smells in a Jollibee restaurant will transport you back to the Philippines.

Unlike other minority-inspired chains like Baja Fresh, El Polo Loco (Mexican), and Panda Express (Chinese), which deliberately cater to what Westerners think are Mexican and Chinese food, Jollibee remained true to the food that generations of my countrymen grew up with and have come to love. The menu remains unchanged, and has not been adjusted to suit the local palette. There is, however, a caveat to that fidelity to the chain’s Filipino roots.

One important Filipino quality that Jollibee captures is the Filipino’s underlying aspiration to be anything else other than Filipino. Its default look and feel in the Philippines has always been Western. The founders of Jollibee reportedly sought to emulate McDonald’s in their restaurants. When the first Jollibee opened in my hometown in the late 80s, the line to the restaurant went around a reasonably sized city block. People lined up for almost an hour just to experience my hometown’s first western-inspired fastfood restaurant: organized, hygienic, very well lit, and colorful.

Most of us think of Jollibee as McDonalds with better tasting food. We like strong flavors. Jollibee delivers; McDonald’s doesn’t in most of our minds. But we appreciated that it had a McDonald’s-like ambiance.

Although Jollibee is a Filipino icon, it’s really a restaurant that pre-embraced a Western — particularly American — way of doing things. So it’s a chain that really doesn’t need to adapt to America, because it was already designed to bring America to the common Filipino from the start.

Filed under Filipino Food
Jun 24, 2010