A lot has changed since the first caveperson made fire. For starters, we call our caves “apartments” now, and “friction and twig” sounds more like the name of a digital branding agency than basic survival necessities. But innovations aside, coming together for big meaty dinner is still just as satisfying in our modern lives as we imagine it was back in the caves. There are fancy steakhouses to fulfill this primal need, but there’s also Mama Fina’s. It’s a casual Filipino restaurant in the East Village where you should have a communal meat experience involving some excellent pork sisig.
The real charm of Mama Fina’s lies in the delicious Filipino food. So the fact that you order your dinner at a counter, and that the all-wooden dining room feels a little bit like a Renaissance Faire cafeteria and plays the song “Footloose” every hour, is beside the point. Show up with a few people who like each other as well as the idea of spending a couple of hours eating skillets of meat and drinking beer in a garlic steam room, and you’ll have a great time. This is the kind of place where you could probably stand up to give a toast after more than a few San Miguels, and absolutely no one would care.
And like choosing curtains to go with your bedding, ordering at Mama Fina’s is an exercise in complementing the sisig - a Filipino dish that’s a hash of chopped-up meat, crispy skin, and fat, all served in a sizzling skillet. The classic pork is by far our favorite. It’s sort of like pork potpourri, with pieces of meat that are crispy and crunchy, along with chopped red onions and more garlic than is acceptable in most social situations. If you don’t eat pork, they have a really great milkfish option (called bangus) that tastes creamy and remarkably meaty. Order a couple of different types of the sisig, along with the fried lumpia shanghai, bistek marinated in onions, and the halo-halo for dessert.
At Mama Fina’s, you’ll get to experience the same kind of fundamental joy humans have historically felt while sharing meat. Only with bottles of San Miguel, chopped-up pork, and the ability to take the subway home to your climate-controlled cave.
The sisig skillets at Mama Fina’s are so hot that each one comes on top of a corkboard so it doesn’t ruin the table. These are filled with chopped-up meat mixed with red onions, garlic, and a lot of fat. The middle of the pork sisig is especially soft, and contrasts nicely with the crispy-crunchy outer edges.
This version is made with milkfish and it’s tangy and creamy at the same time. If we didn’t know we were eating fish, we’d probably assume it was chicken. It’s meaty-tasting and excellent, and we like the spicy version better than the mild one.
This garlic rice is absolutely necessary. And you should upgrade every sisig to make sure it comes on the side.
Crispy little pork-filled rolls. These could be the star of any cocktail party and they’d be gone way before any of those sad sliders or lettuce wraps.
Meet one of the few vegetables in the House of Sisig. Say hello. Order these taro leaves and dig through the coconut-milk to find the hidden pieces of shrimp - they’re great.
Ordering the bistek is a nice break from all the pork (should you need it). This thinly cut beef is nicely charred and sautéed with onions. It would work well as a solo entree if someone doesn’t want to share.
Our favorite non-sisig entree. Chewy, semi-sweet rice noodles in a shrimp-based sauce with tiny pieces of crispy pork, fried garlic, and hard-boiled eggs on top. We really like this, and the portion is huge.
Spaghetti With Fried Chicken Wings
This a plate of spaghetti covered in a very sweet tomato sauce with a few pieces of fried chicken wings on the side. It’s a bit too sweet for us, and the chicken is on the dry side. Skip this in favor of other dishes.
Aside from the sisig, the desserts at Mama Fina’s are probably the next most exciting thing here. The halo-halo is stacked nice and tall, with shaved ice, evaporated milk, pieces of green and red jelly, ube, and red beans. We also love the leche flan which is firm and sweet, and you’ll want to read it stories and tuck it in before bed.