Authentic Filipino food in New York City is not hard to come by. Just take the 7 train to Woodside, or even better, go to New Jersey, and you’ll have a plethora of options (and old ladies trying to hawk bootleg DVDs). But if you want a more modern, slightly sacrilegious take on the cuisine, you may not even have to leave your borough. In the past few years, Manhattan and Brooklyn have seen an increase in Filipino restaurants geared towards the younger, David Chang-loving set. Yes, many of these restaurants paint themselves as (gag) “Asian fusion,” but the food speaks for itself.
The best example of these new restaurants’ twist on an old cuisine: halo-halo, the obligatory end to every Filipino meal. A concoction of shaved ice, evaporated milk, ube (purple yam) ice cream, and colorful fruit, jelly, and beans (Anthony Bourdain called it “oddly beautiful”), the dessert lives up to its name, which means “mix-mix” in Tagalog. Halo-halo has been around for over 100 years, so it’s no surprise that this new batch of restaurants decided to update the recipe. Here are 5 of some of the most creative versions.
Pig and Khao // 68 Clinton Street, Manhattan
With its steady playlist of old school hip hop, mood lighting, and tiny tables, this restaurant fits in seamlessly with the rest of the Lower East Side. Their halo-halo is bean-free (a pattern that I’ll later see at other restaurants) and sprinkled with coconut and chunks of leche flan. It was definitely a lighter affair than traditional halo-halo (and not as colorful), but delicious nonetheless. Who knew halo-halo, the technicolor, bean-crazy cousin of the dessert world, could do classy?
Umi Nom // 433 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn
Situated right by Pratt Institute, I used to go here on days when I needed an adobo boost. The restaurant (whose name is a meme-centric play on the Filipino word “drink”) also has a heavy Thai influence, but their halo-halo seems to come straight from their Lola’s kitchen, with a couple of added ingredients. Instead of coconut, they throw on some Rice Krispies for some nice texture, and once again, there isn’t a bean in sight. (I’m not complaining.)
Grill 21 // 346 E. 21st Street, Manhattan
Another restaurant that totes the “Asian fusion” title, Grill 21 seemed to be the closest to a traditional Filipino restaurant. For one thing, there was the strictly 90’s R&B slow jams playlist (pretty much the reason behind most of the Filipino babies born between 1990 and 2002). Their halo-halo came out in a huge serving, again quite traditional. I’m not an ube fanatic, but for once, I was all over the stuff thanks to the drizzle of honey and coconuts. Blame it on Boyz II Men?
Jeepney // 201 First Avenue, Manhattan
A Filipino gastropub? That was a first for me. The place seemed legit to me though. They even have a “kamayan” night, in which all plates and silverware are forsaken for banana leaves and your God-given hands. Like Umi Nom, their halo-halo also used Rice Krispies and saw no reason for any beans. There seemed to be more milk than ice, which was perfectly alright with me since cracking through the ice can sometimes be more arduous than drilling for oil.
Talde // 369 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn
Dale Talde, the restaurant’s owner and former Top Chef contestant, seems to be a big reason behind halo-halo’s re-incarnation. Not only did he bring the dessert to Bravo, but his version could politely be described as “bat-shit crazy” (in a good way). Gone are the beans and ube ice cream in favor of less traditional ingredients. Throw in some Cap’n Crunch, bananas, and pineapple chunks, and you have this Frankenstein version of halo-halo that is, not surprisingly, the food of the gods.