Unlike some other major cities in the United States, the Filipino population in Miami is small. As in, 0.2% small - i.e. just over 5,000 out of the 2.7 million inhabitants of Miami-Dade County, according to the United States Census ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates (2019). The good news is there are some Filipino restaurants in Miami-Dade, they’re just a bit spread out. From homestyle-cooking in North Miami Beach and Cutler Bay, to self-serve buffets in Downtown Miami, to contemporary Filipino in Wynwood, here are five great spots to check out across Miami. Bonus: Most of them also house Filipino groceries, so feel free to bring a little extra cash for some shopping.
Walking along Flagler, you may have seen the sign for “Manila Kantina: Asian Food and Grocery” and thought that it’s just a store. Although its shelves are lined with Filipino pantry staples like pancit noodles, bagoong jars, and bibingka mixes, it’s also a sit-down restaurant, serving Filipino dishes buffet-style for $12 per person. Chicken adobo, dinuguan (pork blood stew), chop suey, lechon kawali, fried lumpia, and pinakbet (stewed vegetables) are some of the dishes prepared daily (except Sundays) by mother-and-son duo Judith and Noi Blasco, and their Miami nanay, Linda. Their halo-halo, topped with mango ice cream (instead of the ubiquitous ube), is also quite refreshing. Inside, Bible passages can be seen as wall art, and Christian worship music often plays in the background. They also have a few tables for outdoor seating. Judith, who used to work as a chef at a Chinese restaurant in Brickell, opened Manila Kantina seven years ago to cater to Filipino cruise ship workers and continues to see her customer base expand to include a cross-section of locals that come by the hour to pick up takeout orders.
Chef Nicole Ponseca opened a second location of her New York-based Jeepney at 1-800-Lucky in Wynwood last December. The Asian food hall’s first Filipino concept features signatures like sizzling sisig (three-times cooked pork belly topped with a perfectly cracked egg), juicy chicken or pork barbecue skewers, pancit guisado (a mix of two kinds of noodles, the rice noodle bihon and the Canton egg noodle, tossed with vegetables, longganisa, and chicken), and the almighty chori burger - a beef/longganisa sausage patty topped with a fried egg and sandwiched in a sesame bun from local baker I Knead More. They also serve Filipino desserts and baked goods like halo-halo, and chunky ube cookies from another local baker, Cookies by M.E. They’re launching weekend brunch soon as well that will include ube pancakes and horchata bibingka, which we should all be excited for.
There’s a good chance that even after Google Maps says, “You have arrived,” Aklan Buffet and Sushi will be nowhere in sight, since this Filipino canteen is actually located within an indoor plaza that also houses a Marshalls. Jocelyn Cabangil and her husband Joel, a former cruise ship employee, created Aklan (named after their home province) seven years ago to cater to Filipino cruise ship workers, much like Manila Kantina. It’s buffet-style, where for $10 you can choose from a variety of dishes on a small steel cart, like vegetable lumpia, fried bangus (milkfish), stir-fried ampalaya (bitter gourd) with egg, salmon sinigang (sour tamarind soup), laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), and lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly). There are tables outside if you want to eat before you head home, but make sure to stop by Fil Trip, a Filipino grocery store run by the owners’ daughter, which sells everything from cookies and chips to salabat (ginger tea), before you do. It’s located diagonally across the hall. Just keep in mind that both establishments currently only accept cash or Zelle.
The first thing you’ll notice about Lutong Pinoy is its extensive menu - from ukoy (vegetable fritters) to sisig (they can do bangus or tofu alternatives) to chicken afritada (chicken braised in tomato sauce) and bulalo (beef marrow soup). It was opened in August 2013 by Darren Mendoza, a former software engineer, who was born and raised in Pasay City, Philippines and is a self-taught chef. As soon as I walked in, the bright green and red walls and banderitas that line the counter immediately reminded me of fiestas in the Philippines. And the fiesta plate (viand of choice plus pancit, rice, lumpia, and shrimp crackers), at $14.99, allows you to try a bunch of different things without spending a ton. If you come here to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, though, go for a Boodle Fight - the Filipino tradition of eating a whole range of dishes atop banana leaves with your hands. You can have it for dine-in or takeout for $99.99 (good for three to five people). And for those of you up north, there’s a second Lutong Pinoy location at Pembroke Pines in Broward.
There’s a reason why people have been driving from as far as Key West to get their Filipino food fix at Pampangueña in Cutler Bay for the last 22 years. The grocery store operates as a restaurant three days a week (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) where sisters Josie Magtoto-Lacsina and Elsa Magtoto-Burger cook dishes they learned from their mother in their hometown of Pampanga (hence the name). The dishes change regularly and each cost $6. On the day I went, they had ginisang munggo (mung bean sew), deep-fried bangus, fried lumpia, sinigang with salmon head, and denengdeng (similar to the vegetable stew, pinakbet, but with the addition of more leafy vegetables). But whatever you do, don’t miss the silky leche flan, which they sell by the slice or as a whole. Since they have no set menu, Pampangueña welcomes advance orders and special requests too.