République power couple Margarita and Walter Manzke recently swapped decadent French toast for savory rice bowls. Their latest project? A Filipino food stall located in the heart of Downtown’s Grand Central Market.
A small but bustling open-air shop, Sari Sari Store is the newest addition to L.A.’s ever-expanding Filipino food scene. Named and modeled after a traditional Filipino convenience store, the causal spot features a number of classic Pinoy dishes, from abodo fried rice to halo-halo shaved ice. “We fantasized about the idea for quite a bit of time,” says Walter.
Margarita—who goes by Marge—was born and raised outside of Manila. Though she’s arguably best known for her impressive pastry career (she nabbed a James Beard nomination last May), her culinary roots began at the grill. She spent childhood summers operating a barbecue stand with her brothers. The Manzkes are also co-owners of Wildflour, a Manila-based bakery chain, and generally travel there every few months.
It wasn’t until an opening appeared in Grand Central Market that the Manzkes thought seriously about opening up a Filipino restaurant in L.A. Formerly home to the late-lamented Bar Moruno, the stall’s design reminded Margarita of a ubiquitous Filipino neighborhood corner shop, which seemed to fit right in with Grand Central Market’s bustling and lively atmosphere. “There’s a huge amount of energy in the market. It definitely feels like Asia when you’re there,” adds Walter. With the feel of the space leading to the store’s concept, everything else seemed to follow.
The menu itself largely revolves around the concept of silog, a portmanteau that refers to a popular breakfast pairing of fried rice and eggs. The morning staples are usually combined with another protein or roasted ingredient, forming a tasty trifecta of savory breakfast flavors. One example: a flavorful fried-rice bowl topped with pork belly, pickles, and a fried egg, it’s the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, and one that the Manzkes frequently enjoy at home.
The sweet and smoky grillled pork ribs—made with the same sauce Marge used at her childhood barbecue joint—are delicately plated on top of a rice base, complete with a crispy fried-egg, achara (green papaya slaw), and tangy pickles. The arroz caldo puts a different spin on the rice and egg pairing. A hearty porridge seasoned with savory fish sauce, it’s topped with pork, fried garlic, scallions, and a divinely-cooked soft egg.
The only “non-traditional” item on the menu is the breakfast sandwich, a creation that grew popular in the Philipines in the 1960s, thanks to the presence of American soldiers who were stationed there. The base of the sandwich starts with freshly-baked pan de sal, a brioche-like bun that derives its influence from Spain. Then they fashion traditional longanasia pork sausage into an patty, grill it and top it with pickled ginger, onions, achara, American cheese, and mayo.
For dessert there is summery halo-halo, a classic shaved-ice dessert typically made with traditional Filipino fruits. Sari Sari’s version favors local fruit such as peaches and strawberries, and the Manzkes make their slush base out of the fruit itself rather than syrups. Other items include Filipino beer nuts, a coconut-laced buko pie, and a refreshing mango slush. The Manzkes have managed to pack in a lot of different flavors into one short menu.
The response so far? Overwhelmingly positive, from Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. With crowds getting longer each day, Sari Sari Store has already become one of the market’s most popular destinations. With a liquor license is in the works, customers will soon be able to pair their meals with a variety of Filipino beers, as well as a selection of white and red wines. For now, though, Sari Sari’s house-made sodas will suffice.
317 S. Broadway, Downtown, 323-320-4020, sarisaristorela.com