Homecoming at the Pinoy Greasy Spoon

By Nancy Powell

Posted October 21, 2011 in Eats

Nanay Gloria opened eight months ago at the Fiesta Food Market on La Sierra and Magnolia, it was like a homecoming. You see, the thing about a restaurant located in an ethnically-owned market is that luring aromas of mother’s kitchen, the offering of good, but greasy, foods tasted and savored while growing up. Only now, it’s all within acceptable driving distance of UCR and affordable to a starving student (or two) in dire need of a little familial comfort. Frankly, it’s about time Riverside got its own Flip-based hangout.

This tiny, family-owned and operated Southern California (and Las Vegas) chain of eight turo turo cafeterias was first started by Nanay “Mother” Gloria in Eagle Rock’s historic Filipinotown. Gloria’s son expanded the enterprise with two restaurants in Las Vegas, one in Artesia, and its recent Riverside digs. The ladies behind the counter all hail from Gloria’s large family, and while the service ranks as nice in that offhanded way, the choices proffered to the hungry patron are staggering. Steam table pickings number 12 items on any given day and most of it contains an assortment of meats with fairly limited veggie options. Contrary to advertisements, this place does not cater well to vegetarians.

Traditional Filipino food tends to be a mixed lot with considerable influences from Spanish, Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Teasers can include the lumpia (fried egg rolls filled with minced pork) and doughy empanadas that seem a bit plastic in their glass display case by the registers. The safer bet would be to order the two-item combo for $5.99. The combo includes a generous serving of rice (or a split of rice and pancit, stir-fried noodles akin to chow mein), with a choice of two entrees from the steam table.

There is salted and fried whole tilapia and milkfish, fried squid, crispy lechon kawali (fire-roasted pork with a mouth-watering fatty layer of fried rinds), bistek (tender pieces of sirloin cooked with melted onions and meat in soy with a hint of black pepper and sugar) and longganisa (bright red and plump Philippine sausages). Absent from the steam table are the iconic chicken adobo (chicken braised in its soupy garlic, vinegar, oil and soy marinade) and sinigang (meat stewed in a tart broth).

I settle for the skewered barbecue chicken tenders and kaldereta (from the Spanish caldero, meaning “cooking pot”). Kaldereta is one of those comfort foods that resonates with youth, a festive and hearty dish of beef and potatoes stewed in a tomato and oniony sauce, with spicy subtleness and acidic overtones shining through its sweetness. I could live on kaldereta and rice alone. The chicken skewer, integrating sweet and savory to create a pleasing sensation on the palate, did appear a bit dry, perhaps from life underneath the heat lamps, but it should prove a crowd pleaser with those uninitiated with Pinoy cuisine. Nanay Gloria’s does produce the fabled lechón, roasted whole suckling pig, for special occasions. Customers should call one week in advance to place the order. Prices start at $160 for a small porker.

The Riverside location of this long-standing Pinoy institution serves as authentic a cuisine as any in the greater Los Angeles area.  This should be welcome news to Filipinos throughout the Inland Empire who desire a little taste of home.

Nanay Gloria’s Filipino Fast Food at the Fiesta Food Market, 1160 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 977-8373; www.thefiestafoodmarket.com. M, V.



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