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Manila Cafe, Filipino at 7020 Commerce Street in Springfield - Closed

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He's got a blog now.  Worth keeping an eye on, as he sometimes ferrets out some very obscure places, such as Manila Cafe in Springfield (mdt, call your office!)

I called my office and decided to stop by Manila Cafe for lunch today. I wish I would have gone sooner as I had a good meal. They have a $10 lunch buffet that had assorted pork (belly in some), beef, and chicken stews along with some rice and fish dishes. The only dish that I tried that was labeled was Kare-Kare (oxtail stew). It and the others that I tried were all good with nice seasoning and fall off the bone soft. One item that was particularly tasty was some whole fish (smelts?) that I believe were dried. Dessert was plantains and a small piece of a sweet cake like item.

Knowing nothing about Filipino food I cannot attest to the authenticity, but I was the only non-Filipino in the place. I will be back.

They also had a little stage area with some lights that I guess is used for entertainment on the weekends. According to the take out menu that I have they do the Pork BBQ with 1 day notice so I will have to try this and report back. Hmm, maybe sausage making day...

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I've heard Manila Cafe in Springfield (on Commerce Street, near T-K Thai) is good, but I've never been there.

I have been for the lunch buffet a few times and enjoy the food. Granted I have no knowledge of what authentic Filipino food should taste like so YMMV.

Click for some info from Tyler Cowen. I wish he would provide the condiment education.

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i was able to get to manila cafe this past saturday for the lunch buffet ($12.50). it's a small place - maybe 12-15 tables. when we (my bfriend and i) walked in, i immediately noticed filipino music playing as well as a tv in the corner for saturday night karaoke.

there are 3 buffet tables with about 6 dishes each. here's a list of some of the dishes they had that day:

-kare-kare (peanut butter oxtail stew)

-pancit bihon (thin rice noodles with soysauce and kalamansi)

-pancit palabok (a noodle dish topped with a sauced colored with achuete; their version used the thin rice noodles)

-lechon (roasted suckling pig, already cut up into pieces)

-atchara (relish made with sliced papaya, red peppers)

-pork bbq (on skewers)

-chicken adobo (chicken cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic)

-chicken adobo with coconut milk (same as above except little to no vinegar with added coconut milk - more like curry)

-pork sinigang (sour soup flavored with tamarind and added veggies)

-laing (greens, usually taro leaves, cooked with pork and coconut milk)

-bicol express (pork and chilis cooked in coconut milk)

-fried tilapia

-guisadong mongo (stew of mongo beans, pork, and other veggies)

-caldareta (beef stew with tomato sauce and other veggies)

-pinakbet (ilocano dish with bitter melon, shrimp paste (bagoong), other veggies)

-chicken afritada (chicken stew in tomato sauce and other veggies)

-steamed rice

-garlic fried rice

-fried banana pieces (eaten as dessert, but was not wrapped in spring roll wrappers, i.e. not turron)

-ginataan (thick dessert soup made from coconut milk with sticky pieces of purple yam (ube) and sweet potato. this version also had tapioca pearls in it)

i tried most of these dishes. here are some of my notes:

the fried tilapia seemed like it was fried earlier in the morning and by the time i ate it, it was dried out.

chicken adobo (regular) was pretty good - had the correct combo of vinegar/soy sauce.

pancit bihon had good flavor, but was a little greasy.

bicol express - spicy!!!

laing was too salty for me.

the head of the lechon was sitting in the tray with pieces of the body cut up next to it. it looked like it had been picked through already (no crispy skin available!) but the pork itself was moist.

pinakbet was pretty bitter, but that is what is expected.

beef caldereta was excellent. meat was cooked long enough so it was tender and had great flavor.

kare-kare was a little bland, though had the correct thickness/consistency. i usually like a more pronounced peanut butter flavor. i also wasn't too fond of the bagoong alamang (shrimp paste that you normally serve with the dish) they had at the buffet. it was too raw for me.

the ginataan was warm, thick and wasn't too sweet and ended my meal perfectly.

by the time we left there about 8-9 of the tables were filled with all filipinos. the wait staff (owners?) were very nice and were willing to get anything you needed that wasn't out on the buffet tables. it looked like most of the filipinos there had been there before and wasted no time in getting their plates of food.

one thing i didn't like was that the labels of the dishes were mixed up, or non-existent, though, i guess most of the people going there already know what the dishes are and don't need labels. though, if you were still unsure, i think the staff would have been happy to explain what the dishes are.

i've gone to small filipino buffets before (not in the area, though) and most of the time they only have 5-6 dishes to choose from. there were a lot to choose from at manila cafe, and i would definitely go back again in the future (though, i don't know how much dinner buffet costs. sorry!) manila cafe also has a to-go menu as well as a catering menu.

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Here comes The Express...

No, not B.T. Express, sillies, Bicol Express.

"What is Bicol Express, Don?"

I'm pleased you were interested enough to ask. First of all, it's pink. No, I mean it's REALLY pink. And it contains more fatback than Red Lounge. If it's lean meat you're looking for, steer clear of the Bicol Express.

And I know what you're thinking - it's some stupid name that Manila Cafe made up for a casserole.

Nope! Here's the Wikipedia entry, and it even comes in a can!

Available randomly on the weekend buffet ($11.95), the combo plate (2 items + rice, $7.75), and a la carte ($9.45). Manila Cafe's version is mild.

The buffet is loaded with fatty cuts of meat, but the cooking itself is clean.

End with a Halo-Halo if you really want to slut things up.



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Must have been pretty recently. I drove by about two weeks ago and was deciding between Manila Cafe, which was open, and a new pizza place next to Fischer's Hardware, and the pizza place won. To bad in retrospect...

Wow, that's a shame. I'm Filipino, and I thought the place was pretty decent. I went there about 2 or 3 times, shortly after they were reviewed by Washingtonian. The food was generally okay, but some of it was very good, and reminded me of the Philippines very much. It was very hard to drive to and get out of, especially around that time when they were re-constructing that part of I-95. More than once I went the wrong way down a one way street to get out.

Being Filipino, I can say there are no really good Filipino restaurants around. For some reason other Filipinos with the chance to open a restaurant will open a "carinderia" or cafeteria type place, with a steam table and food sitting out all day. There are no Filipino restaurants in the DC area that are really "date-worthy," a sit down restaurant with good Filipino food, good service and a nice atmosphere. I'm thinking along the lines of Thai restaurants, like Tara Thai, but serving Filipino food.

At any rate, thanks for the brief spot on the map, Manila Cafe. You'll be missed.

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