"Filipinos don't have restaurants," explained Brian Panganiban, our resident office foodie of Filipino descent. "The Philippines are like the Canada of Asia. Canada is the nerdy friend of America; they make us laugh, but they're not taken too seriously. We're Asian, but we're also Pacific Islanders, and heavily influenced by our Spanish conquistadors. Filipino food is great for potlucks, it's great for getting all your white friends to like you, but we've never had a super-inflated opinion of our own cuisine."
Panganiban's comments help explain why, outside of Foster-Powell mainstay Tambayan, Portland has had so few notable spots for the food of the Philippines, a country whose history of trade with its Chinese and Indonesian-Malay neighbors and Spanish colonization has created a diverse food culture. So it's nice that a new Filipino food cart, Adobo, recently moved from its former location in Happy Valley to the increasingly diverse Piedmont Station cart pod on North Killingsworth Street.
Adobo focuses on Filipino comfort classics, including the eponymous stewed meat and vinegar dish; bistek ($10), marinated beef simmered in soy and lemon; and lumpia, the Filipino take on fried spring rolls; along with a few regional specialties from the Pampanga region, including longanisa ($8.50), a sweetened pork sausage served with egg and vegetables.
Our meal began with two finger-length lumpia ($1 each, $5 for six) fried and stuffed with either chicken and vegetables or "Shanghai" shrimp and pork, served with sweet chili or vinegar dipping sauce. The latter was a delight, fully stuffed with a sweet and savory mix of meaty goodness. The former, less so, tasting noncommittally vegetal. You'll want the vinegar sauce, a sharp foil to the meat and fat of the fried pastries.
The adobos come served alongside steamed rice and a choice of green beans or cabbage, both cooked with garlic. The vinegar chicken adobo ($9) was something like the Filipino answer to Carolina pulled pork. Served shredded in a vinegar-based sauce, the chicken is tender, sweet and gently tangy, nicely set off by the garlicky beans.
But what you really want is, as noted on the menu, the cart's speciality. Simmered in a tomato-based sauce and finished with what tasted like a pound of butter and cream, the shrimp adobo ($10.50) was deeply rich, a mess of dairy fat cut with sweetness from the shrimp and acid from the tomato into something almost like an alfredo sauce served over rice.
Adobo's portions aren't small. Our meals seemed to contain at least a pound of food, and the sauces are tasty and plentiful enough to have you digging into the rice well past any semblance of fullness.
Portland has yet to experience the boom of chefed-up Filipino food that's sweeping cities like New York, Los Angeles and D.C. Until then, a big plate of shrimp with a lumpia or two will do nicely.
Adobo, 1331 N Killingsworth St., 971-272-3889. 11 am-7 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11 am-8 pm Friday-Saturday, 11 am-7 pm Sunday.