Wednesday, November 03, 2010

No Worries Filipino Vegan Food in Oakland -- CLOSED

A New Way to Discover Filipino Cuisine
UPDATE (10/31/11): Walked by recently and noticed this place is now closed. There's a mediterranean sandwich shop in its place.
1442 Franklin St. (at 15th), Oakland
PH: 510.444.4466
Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner, Monday to Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

Filipino food seems to be the new hot thing, or as some people have said, it’s the new Korean. I don’t know too much about Filipino food, but I was surprised to notice a new restaurant near my Oakland offices that showcased not just Filipino cuisine but vegan.

The appropriately named No Worries restaurant opened last month and is the brainchild of Chef Jay-Ar Isagani Pugao, who has run a catering business of the same name before opening the restaurant. Chef Pugao’s business model is to serve healthy food that celebrates his Filipino heritage. His ingredients are locally sourced and he operates his business to support the Oakland community.

While No Worries is open for dinner, I only visited during lunch. For the lunch menu, Chef Pugao offers a limited selection of classic Filipino cuisine as plates with the price based on the number of selections: two items, $5.95; three items, $6.95; and four items, $7.95. All plates come with a scoop of steamed white rice (you can substitute for brown rice for an additional $1).

My first time I got the Afritada and the Bistek. The Afritada is a soy chicken dish with potatoes, red bell pepper, green peas and garbanzo beans in a tomato sauce. It had a nice flavor, and reminded me of a stew. It was very comforting, and the soy chicken really did have the texture of chicken.

Side note: All the soy products are sourced from a local provider and isn’t made in the house.

The Bistek is a soy beef strips sautéed with onions and fresh string beans. This is like any other stir fry, but I felt the soy beef was a bit tough. So in a way it really mimic overcooked beef strips.

On another visit, I tried the Pancit, a traditional rice noodles dish stir-fried in vegetable broth, cabbage, celebry, carrots and thinly sliced soy chicken. I love rice noodles, but this dish seemed soupy to me because of the vegetable broth. I don’t know if that’s the texture one gets when eating Pancit, but it’s not something I would order again.

I got the Pancit with the Mungo, which was a dish with mung beans boiled in vegetable bullion and combined with tender squash, string beans and tofu. The Mungo was like eating lentil and also reminded me of another stew dish. It was tasty but the one piece of squash I got, while nice in flavor for the season, didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the dish.

On my last visit, I decided to go with three items because I thought I’d finally try one of the most signature Filipino dish – the lumpia. If you’ve had lumpia, you’d know why I would avoid it because it’s like a deep-fried spring roll. But since this is such a classic dish, I figured I had to try it.

I order the lumpia along with Tocho and Giniling. First off, the lumpia came only as just one piece (I think you get two when you just order it on a two item plate), which probably is OK since I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods. The lumpia was nicely fried, with a thin shell and crispy texture. But I felt the filling leaned more toward the vegetables and I hardly tasted the soy ground beef.

Tocho is a soy fish dish sautéed in black beans, ginger and soy sauce with red bell pepper. The soy fish actually had a fishy taste to it, but overall the dish was pretty straight-forward. Giniling is a soy ground beef dish cooked with potatoes, carrots and peas. It had the most spice in the flavor, with something similar to five-spice. The ground beef actually did remind me of ground beef, and the overall dish was very comforting.

I want to also note that the price isn’t very high compared to other restaurants in the area, but the serving size isn’t very big either. It’s almost like the chef is practicing portion control for you, which I guess is a healthy step. But don’t expect to leave feeling full.

No Worries is an interesting concept, and even though I’m no expert on Filipino foods, I found all the dishes to have good flavor and the soy substitutes are quite convincing. The healthy aspect of everything being vegan is just an added bonus.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Tasty and comforting)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

No Worries on Urbanspoon


Gene said...

I think the reason you didn't like pancit is because you ate it with mungo. Mungo is best paired with fried fish. Pancit is more like an afternoon snack best paired with puto (rice cake) or bread. I don't know what is the chef's idea with mungo, it's not supposed to be served like that and definitely not with squash.

Lumpia is mostly vegetable so it is expected for the ground beef to be not that tasty. If you don't want deep fried food, you can try lumpiang sariwa (sariwa literally means fresh) with peanut sauce.

I'm no food critic but I sure do know what Filipino foods are. Somehow I feel bad that our food is not represented well. But I think the difference in taste could be blamed to the substitution of real meat with soy foods. Or the lack of some ingredients necessary to achieve the taste of Filipino food. Though I find it amusing that the way the food is served is very similar to how the food is served in most of the food courts here in the Philippines.

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Gene for the background info, very interesting. Never heard of lumpiang sariwa but will definitely keep an eye out for it!

Mrs. L said...

My mom laughed when I told her there was a vegan Filipino food restaurant. "No pork? No eat!". My mom's pansit has bacon, ham and pork roast... And my moms lumpia, nothing like a spring roll. Her mungo? Yep...pork! It may have been sixty years since she lived in the Philippines but I still love her Filipino cooking.

stephen said...

Wow!!! I love that Filipino recipe ever...

Carolyn Jung said...

I remember hearing a couple guys saying with disbelief that they'd just heard about some new vegan Filipino restaurant. Well, lo and behold, you found it. A very interesting concept, that's for sure! ;)