Crispy pata, the well-loved Filipino dish of deep-fried pig’s trotter, is known for its meaty opulence. Boiled in spices until the meat approaches liquefaction, hung out to dry and then blasted with hot oil, the final product is a plunder of salt, fat and crunch.
At Spoon & Pork, a casual Filipino restaurant that opened earlier this year in Silver Lake, chefs Ray Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas make a version of the dish called patita that involves braising pork shank for 15 hours and air-drying it for a full day before it meets the fryer.
It’s glazed in a sweet chile sauce and dusted with crumbles of dried garlic, an unconventional turn that adds vivid flavor and crunch and gives the voluptuously meaty bone a sticky, photogenic glow.
The patita’s improbably thin, brittle crust splinters neatly under the teeth; the meat, supple and loose, rolls off the bone in thick flakes. In the early days of Spoon & Pork, the dish was served with a Popsicle stick for slicing the meat. “You don’t need a knife to eat it,” Tugas told me recently.
In a year packed with pork-heavy lunches and dinners, the patita is the most compelling pork dish I’ve eaten in months. The dish is a showpiece of flavor and texture, but also reveals a deftness for revising classic Filipino dishes.
Spoon & Pork began its life in 2017 as a food truck making regular weekday lunch appearances in Santa Monica and downtown L.A. The truck developed a following for dishes like the patita and adobo belly nigiri, a quivering slab of sweet-spicy pork belly draped over a block of rice.
In July, the restaurant moved into a sunny space with patio seating next door to La Playita Siete Mares on Sunset Boulevard. The modest-size dining room, comfortable and minimalist, is brightened by palm frond wallpaper and big picture windows with views onto Sunset.
Yaptinchay and Tugas, friends since high school, are Manila natives who grew up traveling to the States regularly with their mothers, both retired Philippine Airlines flight attendants.
The affable pair — they complete each other’s sentences and joke about squabbling like a married couple — were business majors and home cooks who dreamed of starting their own restaurant. They contemplated a French fry food truck concept, which seemed the most commercially viable way to break into the food business. But, inspired by the success of Filipino restaurants like Lasa and Rice Bar in Los Angeles, Bad Saint in Washington, D.C., Maharlika in New York and Pinoy Heritage in San Francisco, the duo decided it was the right time to cook and sell Filipino food.
“This generation isn’t trying to assimilate,” Yaptinchay told me recently. “They’re in your face: ‘I’m Filipino.’ This is what I bring to the table.”
Yaptinchay and Tugas, who split cooking duties equally, are purveyors of what they call “modern Filipino comfort food.” It’s the stuff of home-cooked meals and family reunions, reimagined through the lens of two young chefs weaned on Food Network reality TV, Bourdain and the omnipresence of food Instagram.
The heart of the menu is devoted to pork belly adobo, the meat braised in vinegar and garlic with a stutter of soy. There are probably more adobo recipes in the world than there are islands in the Philippines, many of them tightly held family heirlooms; Turgas says at least one customer has refused to try any of the restaurant’s adobo dishes on principle — he only eats his mother’s.
He is missing out: Spoon & Pork’s fried chicken adobo is gloriously crisp and fragrant with roasted garlic. The lechon kawali, deep-fried cubes of pork belly over Jasmine rice, vanishes on the tongue like a ripple of hot butter.
A meaty banh mi stuffed with pork belly, pâté and chicharrón is moderated by thinly sliced chiles and veggies. What you remember is the ultra-crisp bread, a shriek of fresh citrus and the way every bite falls gloriously under the sway of tocino glaze, a salty-sweet sauce made from cured ham and pineapple.
Calderata bravas are an homage to Tugas’ Spanish heritage (his father is from Spain); a peppery, rich beef short rib topped with wobbly eggs and served with extra-crisp twice-fried potatoes.
The menu is not wanting for vegetable dishes: Coco jack, a take on the jackfruit and coconut milk dish called ginataang langka, is a creamy, gingery pastiche served over a bed of crisped-up purple riceberry. Eggplant insalata is more delicious than typical small plate fodder: The gently grilled Chinese eggplant is served whole with salted egg cream, thumb-tip-size tomatoes and snips of fresh greens.
A chicken rice porridge dish called arroz coddled egg collects many of the restaurant’s tropes on a single plate. The porridge is mild and buttery, but with raw garlic, egg, scallions and streaks of calamansi-infused oil, it thickens into something emphatically lush.
Almost everything is enhanced with a squirt of the restaurant’s suka, the chile-inflected vinegar sauce central to Filipino cooking and eating. Its bright acidity bridges together sweet, pungent and savory flavors and cuts through the richness of pork-dense plates. Squeeze bottles of house-made Sriracha sauce also are available to anoint dishes as you wish.
For dessert, Yaptinchay and Tugas probably will recommend you stroll to nearby United Bread and Pastry — the tiny Filipino bakery near the intersection of Griffith Park Boulevard and Sunset — for a couple of turon, the syrupy egg roll-like dessert filled with sweet plantain and ripe jackfruit.
It’s tempting to take home a whole box of the sticky-sweet treats, and one of everything else in the bakery case: fluffy siopao filled with sweet-savory pork butt; buko pie, the filling halfway between coconut custard and pudding; ube pastries and cakes of every shape. Already you are plotting your return, starting again with a meal at Spoon & Pork.
Spoon & Pork
Location: 3131 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 922-6061, spoonandpork.com
Prices: starters $6-$14; rice bowls $12-$22; sandwiches $12-$13; sides $5-$7
Details: Credit cards accepted. No bar. Lot parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Recommended dishes: Patita, adobo pork belly nigiri, fried chicken adobo, eggplant insalata