Some restaurants need you to know they’re a big deal. You’ll wait 30 minutes for your table (even though you have a reservation), they won’t let you sub out the peanuts you’re deathly allergic to (even though they’re only sprinkled on top), and they’ll take another 30 minutes to bring you your check. Lasa is not that kind of restaurant. Lasa is actually kind of big deal, but they don’t need you to know that. They’re just happy you came to eat here.
Originally operating as a pop-up in Far East Plaza, Lasa is now a full-time restaurant run by two brothers (one in the kitchen, one in the dining room) in the same space. During the day you can drop by and grab a rice bowl from a little window outside for lunch, and the place turns full-service at night. The dining room feels a little like a first apartment furnished with a single trip to Ikea, and there are Filipino dictionaries scattered around and family portraits on the walls. The place comes across as an idea a group of friends had around a dinner table a while back and then spent years trying to make happen. And we’re glad they did.
Unless you’ve eaten a lot of Filipino food or are fluent in Tagalog, the menu needs a bit of explaining. The staff will direct you to their favorites, tell you which dishes are the best introductions to their food, and possibly get distracted and end up talking to you about how great Chinatown is. Dishes here are a funky mix of the familiar and not - chicharons are made with rice flour instead of pork, steak tartare comes with salt and vinegar taro chips, and condensed milk ice cream has a black sesame milk powder sprinkled on top. Above all, the food is both interesting and comforting - even more so when you realize nothing is more than $22.
Given that it’s hidden in a Chinatown plaza that’s much busier during the day, when everyone in the world is waiting for Howlin’ Rays, Lasa might feel a little out of the way for dinner. But eating here is worth the effort. Not just because of the excellent food, but because the people at Lasa are glad you came in, want to be friends, and actually hope you’ll be back. Which you probably will.
Normally you might be kind of annoyed that these chicharons are only pretending to be pork (they’re made of rice flour), but when they’re covered in addictive scallion and mushroom powder, you’ll get over that pretty quickly. Start with these.
According to our new friends (everyone who works here), this is an ideal way to introduce your table to Filipino flavors. The mix of radicchio, fruit, housemade cheese, nuts, and sugar cane dressing makes this salad sweet, salty, and sour at the same time.
A salt bomb, in a good way. The XO sauce is spicy, and there’s crispy rice on top. They are impossible to stop eating.
A rich choice, but the salt and vinegar taro chips they give you to scoop your meat onto cut through all of that.
This comes on top of something called kabocha ginataan, which turns out to be the best pumpkin puree you’ve ever had. It’s coconut-y and goes perfectly with the crispy, salty pork belly. We’ll take this over pumpkin pie any day.
The duck is crispy and falls off the bone at the same time, the ginger and lemongrass broth underneath is excellent, and the words duck fat chilli oil have changed us.
If it’s hard to restrain yourself from ordering too many savory dishes, remember you need to keep yourself in check for this ice cream. It’s creamy and smooth, and comes with a crunchy black sesame milk powder that we would like to sprinkle on all ice cream, forever.