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A Look Inside Jersey City’s Cafe Pilipino

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At Cafe Pilipino, locals can find no-frills, to-notch Filippino food. Tucked away at the corner of a plain-looking brick house, sharing the space with the Philippine Bread House, another wildly popular establishment, Cafe Pilipino feels more cafeteria than a restaurant. No-frills vibe, quick service, many to-go options. The cooking, however, is serious business. Since the late 1980s, it has been a favorite hanging out spot for the local Filipino diaspora. Neighbors have moved. Management has changed hands. But the solid quality has remained consistent. Here’s more about this hidden gem, located on Newark Avenue in Journal Square:

cafe pilipino jersey city

The Food

It’s ok to get your hands and face messy at this small eatery. Breakfast is served until 10AM. After that, the food is ordered “turo-turo” {point-poing} style, as in a cafeteria — you point to the dish you want, and it is spooned onto the plate. Two entrees with rice on the side come at no more than $10, and some special dishes can be ordered on their own. 

Meat is heavily featured, starting from breakfast, which is a serious, substantial fare in the archipelago country. Mainstays of the breakfast options include longanisa {sweet and spicy sausage, generously flavored with brown sugar, chili pepper, and a lot of paprika}, tapa {thinly sliced beef, cured for hours in a soy-based marinade and lightly sauteed}, or tocino {pork belly coated in a thick, sweet-savory sauce}. They are served with egg and rice on the side for breakfast, but the meat dishes are also available throughout the day. 

Read More: Filipino Restaurants in Jersey City to Try ASAP

Pork does the heavy lifting for lunch and dinner. The rotating menu {intermittently posted on the restaurant’s social media pages. Instagram @cafepilipino} is always a dazzling and absolutely fascinating list of how different cuts of pork can be cooked in countless imaginative ways. 

philippine bread house cafe pilipinojersey city

Trotters {crispy pata} and pork bellies {lechon kawali} are deep-fried, with skin, fat, and all the cartilage and collagen attached to the meat. Pork shoulders and ham hocks are slow-cooked until melt-in-your-mouth tender, as in menudo and patatim. Any cut, lean or fatty, goes well with sauces made of shrimp paste {binagoongan}, soy and vinegar{adobo}, and coconut cream {bipo express}. 

For more adventurous meat-eaters, there is bopis, or chopped organ meat. Tossed with a generous load of tomato and chili pepper, it is rich but not fatty, heated but not overly spicy.  

This doesn’t mean pescatarians or vegetarians cannot enjoy a good meal there. The fish menu, albeit small, is glorious. Do not always expect clean fillets. Bones, tails, and sometimes meaty heads {a treat} are all parts of the game. 

See More: Korai Kitchen: A Delicious Bangladeshi Restaurant in Jersey City

First-timers should go for daing na bangus rubbed whole milkfish, butterflied with tail still attached, rubbed with a heady marinade of vinegar, garlic, and pepper, and deep-fried until crispy. Meatier fish, such as flounder and galunggong {similar to mackerel} sometimes appear on the menu too. For a lighter and more refreshing taste, try sinigang, a tangy soup, usually paired with tuna, or even better, salmon head. Interesting vegetable ingredients include jackfruit, cooked with coconut, and bitter okra, lightly sauteed.

cafe pilipino

Almost all the dishes travel decently, another advantage for pandemic eating and takeout. There is no risk of the stews “disintegrating” during a bumpy ride home. And the meat, many slow-cooked, to begin with, are resilient to reheating. 

The desserts travel and keep well too. One can order a container of boka pandem {jellies in coconut cream and condensed milk}, or a cup of bubble tea {get the red bean or taro flavors}, and leave them in the fridge for a few hours later. For dining in, a great dessert choice is halo-halo, or coconut milk-soaked shaved ice topped with ube (purple yam) ice cream.  Each serving is huge. So are other savory dishes. After all, this kind of no-frills, family-style cooking is meant for sharing. 

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.