Filipino food is hard to come by around here but it's worth seeking out!

by Jay Friedman
June 8, 2018

Manila Manila is your place for a turo-turo experience. Turo-turo roughly translates to “point-point,” and that’s what you can do to order at the modest steam table facing the front of the store.

But Mariela Fletcher, the “mom” of this true mom-and-pop shop, might not let you do that. Eager to feed you and eager to please, she will take you on a tour of the day’s food offerings, making suggestions to  please your palate. “We cook food fresh every day,” she says (the “we” includes her husband Nick, who’s usually in the kitchen if he’s not out delivering food for the catering side of the business), adding, “We have different items on different days.”

Dinuguan, lechon kawali, and pancit at Manila Manila. Photo by Jay Friedman.

Born in Manila, Fletcher came to Seattle in 1988, and while she works in real estate, the grocery store/restaurant is her labor of love. She opened Manila Manila in 2010, wanting more of her native food but noticing the lack of Filipino restaurants in the Seattle area. “I want to be involved in my local community and my Filipino-American community,” Fletcher says, noting that Filipinos come from all over to her Lake City location, though the local clientele is diverse and includes Latinos, Africans, and Asians.

When Manila Manila first opened, the outdoor sandwich board advertised a rice box (with two entrees) for $3. Today, at $7.50, it’s still a deal. Adobo and kare kare are a classic combination, the kare kare consisting of stewed oxtail, Asian eggplant and greens in a savory, peanut-based sauce, served with a side of funky, fermented shrimp paste. Another Filipino favorite is dinuguan, also known as “chocolate meat,” which is a dark rich stew of pork offal and meat in a savory sauce made with pig’s blood, vinegar, and spices. It’s great with rice and goes well with lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly) with lechon sauce—made right, a liver sauce that’s sweet and tangy from sugar and vinegar. Time your visit right, and you’ll find fresh fried treats like lumpia and Filipino-style empanadas. For dessert, look for leche flan.

Manila Manila’s kare kare and adobo. Photo by Jay Friedman.

While business is mostly take-out, there are a few tables for those who want to dine-in. The store itself seems modest, though there are plenty of bags of chicharrones and bottles of soy sauce. The freezers are where the real action is, containing various types of dried fish, halal meats (namely goat and lamb), longaniza (Spanish sausage), tocino (Filipino bacon), and tapa (beef jerky). Most intriguing is a freezer with a diverse mix of items like frozen coconut, purple yam, pork and beef blood, and papaitan—a bitter stew typically made with cow or goat innards that I’d love to try. If these meaty matters interest you, note that you can also order a whole roasted pig with five days advanced notice.

When I asked Fletcher why there are so few Filipino restaurants, she said, “Filipinos are risk-averse in terms of opening businesses.” She’s sad about the recent loss of the Filipino restaurants in the Beacon Hill area and warned that a recent landlord change puts her place in jeopardy of closing. Until that happens, Fletcher will continue to bring a taste of the Philippines to Lake City and help customers turo-turo to their hearts’ content.