We usually begin with Sinigang -- a clear, uncomplicated broth flavored by tamarind, a sour fruit indigenous to the Philippines. When it’s piping hot the heat and the sourness give off a warm and healing sting.
Our favorites range from popular fare -- bronzed lumpia shanghais -- to “insider” dishes like Adobo pusit, which is broiled squid cooked in soy, vinegar, garlic plus their own ink. We also enjoy other specialties like Barrio’s rendition of Beefsteak Tagalog; a soy sauce and vinegar steak served with peppered, caramelized onions, as well as the Garlic Chicken served with banana ketchup. The vegetables stewed in coconut milk (Ginataan Gulay at Hipon) can always hook someone who has never tried Filipino food before. And to finish off, the radiant purple Ube ice cream is full-bodied and calming with a slight coconut note.
Thankfully, Barrio Fiesta has been able to defy the odds and hold its own as an advocate for good Filipino food in the Bay Area. From my experience, it’s the only one that distinctly and accurately reveals the flavors of the Filipino family.
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Zare at Fly Trap
Reviewed Barrio Fiesta Restaurant: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
We made a reservation for 6:30 and showed up at the restaurant at 6:45. We drove from San Francisco to Milpitas, 45 miles, in rush hour traffic. The restaurant is in a strip mall with accessible parking. Upon entering the restaurant we were taken immediately to our table. The décor was bright and cheery with artifacts from the Philippines including chandeliers made from sea shells.
The waiter came over to ask us (I had another from San Francisco with us) if we had any questions about the menu. None of us had ever been to a Filipino restaurant so we asked for suggestions. We took all of his recommendations. He then asked us if we wanted a drink. We asked if they have wine or beer. He told us they don’t sell alcoholic beverages. We ordered Gulaman and Sago -- a sweet drink made with juices, tapioca and Jell-O squares. The drink is served with a straw that has a wide diameter so the Jell-O squares can fit. The drink was a little too sweet for my liking but had a nice flavor.
The restaurant serves all their meals family style, therefore all the dishes came out as they were prepared. The first dish was the Lumpia -- mini egg rolls with ground pork. These were served with a sweet red sauce for dipping. They were deep fried, golden on the outside and soft inside, quite tasty. Then we were served Crispy Pata -- selected pig’s knuckle seasoned and deep fried until crisp and golden brown. This was served with a Philippine version of soy sauce. The nature of deep fried pig’s knuckles is a bit over the top for my liking. The outside is kind of like Mexican deep fried “Chicharones” and the inside is like Mexican “Carnitas.” The problem is that between the crispy outside and the moist meat inside that there is a thick layer of fat that is unappealing to my personal preferences. Not knowing the difference between a good or bad Crispy Pata, I would assume that the dish was properly prepared by Philippine standards. Within five minutes, two more dishes were served. The Kare-Kare -- chunks of beef oxtail, tripe, and vegetables served in peanut gravy, and Nilaga Bulalo -- a specialty broth with cabbage, potato, and in our case, beef bone with marrow. Both of these dishes were well prepared in my novice opinion. For me both dishes seemed to lack any distinct flavor; i.e., kind of bland. Then the Garlic Chicken came -- crisped chicken fried in soft margarine with garlic. I really liked this. Again, I thought it was done per top Philippine standards, and it very much appealed to my palate. The chicken was nice and crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside. It was accompanied with special house “ketchup.” Garlic rice came at about the same time as the garlic chicken and it was fine. The last part of the savory part of the meal was the Sotanghon Guisado -- noodles from China sautéed in shrimp, pork, and shredded vegetables...bland. We asked for hot sauce to give it a little flavor. For dessert I had Halo-Halo, a combination of fruit, bean preserves, purple yam ice cream, and rice krispies, a refreshing dessert, definitely on the sweet side.
This restaurant clearly caters to and attracts the Filipino community from the South Bay. We were the only non-Filipinos in the restaurant and the restaurant was full. The staff was extremely accommodating to us first timers. They were very attentive and nice.
Occupation: Children's Book Author
Favorite Restaurant: Flora
Reviewed Barrio Fiesta Restaurant: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Dinner at Barrio Fiesta, tucked into a nondescript strip mall off Highway 880, is like eating inside a pirate’s chest stuffed with Filipino treasure. Maps and musical instruments adorn the wall. The chandelier above our table had more nautilus shells than I’d ever seen in one place, and there were at least five more. It looks like a tornado dropped a gazebo in the middle of the restaurant. The effect is pleasantly overwhelming. A television on the wall detracts from the charm.
The menu is dizzying too, or maybe overstuffed—three packed pages of “House Specialties” and “Old Time Favorites.” There’s plenty of variety: seafood, poultry, pork, beef, and a few vegetarian dishes (many of which turn out to include meat, unless you ask). But most of the food was too heavy for my taste. The crispy pata (pig knuckle) was tender and flavorful, though as a knuckle novice, I had some practical trouble tackling the dish (Which bits do I eat?). The lumpia was crispy but unremarkable. The chop suey was greasy and limp. Afterward I felt lethargic and a little too full of butter. There is no beer or wine.
Dessert was refreshing though; the meal’s high point. The halo-halo, a mixture of fruit and sweet bean curds served cold, was exciting and fun to share. A dinner companion described it as “the perfect milk left over in a cereal bowl.”