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Pugon de Manila Is Authentic Filipino Food for Those Looking to Try New Things

Pugon de Manila offers authentic Filipino food for adventurous diners unfazed by blood in their stew or innards in their stir-fry.

One of the best dishes at Pugon de Manila is available every day starting first thing in the morning: Pancit. Pancit is the generic term for noodles in the Philippines, but in this case, the offering is almost always pancit bihon. It's a simple preparation of thin, clear rice noodles mixed with spaghetti and pan-fried with soy sauce, fish sauce, citrus, chicken and vegetables like carrots, cabbage and celery. The overwhelming flavors of the dish are chicken and soy sauce, which makes it a comforting alternative to plain white rice. A combo plate of pancit and two sides is only $8.99, a great deal for a lot of meat and noodles.

When dining here, though, you can't ignore the freshly baked bread. Literally, you can't ignore it, because one entire wall of the place is filled with rolls and cakes and loaves of Filipino pandesal, Spanish-influenced rolls similar to Mexican bolillos. There are also more American options like cinnamon raisin bread (a great breakfast treat) and round little breads that look like sweet Hawaiian rolls.

Bibingka is a traditional rice cake usually eaten during Christmas but available year-round at Pugon de Manila. As is typical in Filipino cuisine, it combines sweet and salty in one item; in this case, rice flour and coconut milk are formed into a loaf, topped with slices of processed orange cheese and baked in a banana-leaf-lined mold. Here, each round, sweet bread is served with a little cup of freshly grated, ice-cold coconut meant to be sprinkled on top. I ate both items with a fork, mixing the elements together in my mouth. And I ate them far too fast, according to the server, who eyed me curiously when she noticed I was digging into the food with such gusto.

Everything, including all the baked goods and stews, is made fresh in the shop the day that it's served.
Troy Fields
Everything, including all the baked goods and stews, is made fresh in the shop the day that it's served.
The menu options change daily, and what you see in the chafing dishes behind the counter is what you get.
Troy Fields
The menu options change daily, and what you see in the chafing dishes behind the counter is what you get.

Details

Pugon de Manila

8017 South Main, #250, 713-664-7227. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lunch or dinner combo (rice and two dishes): $7.99

Lunch or dinner combo (pancit and two dishes): $8.99

Dinuguan combo: $4.99

Pandesal: $3 per 12 pieces

Cinnamon bread: $3.50

Bibingka: $2.99

"You must really like to eat," she said, clearly still confused by me. I had just devoured dinuguan, and now I was tearing into a cake usually eaten alone or with tea.

Realizing that I should probably save some bibingka for later (mainly so as not to embarrass myself with the sheer elasticity of my stomach), I thanked the server and got up to leave.

Without missing a beat she said, "See you next time!"

She could tell I'd be back.
_____________________

It's hard to say why exactly I like Pugon de Manila. I've always had a soft spot for funky, hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants. I enjoy the charming staff, the idiosyncratic and ever-changing menu, the weird Filipino game shows. I'm wowed in general by any place that stocks that much bread at a time. But I'm not sure if I like Pugon de Manila because the food is good or because it's different.

Yes, the dishes that sit in hot plates behind the counter all day are less than fresh, but that's why Filipinos use so much vinegar in their food — to preserve it. Perhaps I need to abandon my Western notions of freshness and accept the cuisine at Pugon de Manila for what it is: Authentic. It's a little dry and at times a little chewy, but the food and the atmosphere rolled into one make for a very real dining experience. This is why the place is always full of Filipinos. It reminds them of home.

And it reminds me of anywhere but home, which is something I seek out in restaurants. I like to be challenged by food while at the same time feeling welcomed by the culture.

On my most recent trip to Pugon de Manila, the server recognized me. She smiled and announced to everyone, "Hey, the vampire is back," referring, of course, to my insistence on eating dinuguan.

And then, when I asked for a whole fried fish head, she didn't question my order. She put it in a styrofoam container, handed it to me and grinned.

"Magsaya," she said. "Enjoy."

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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5 comments
Veronica Carr
Veronica Carr

Well if I'm already eating muscles, unfertilized chicken periods, and liquid secretions from mammary glands of cows, then no, I really have no standards.

del.martinis
del.martinis topcommenter

We encounter the same from wait staff in Chinatown, when they look at two white guys trying to order something they feel is either too stinky or too weird.  So we have to insist that we know what we want, LOL!  

crzycicada
crzycicada

Excellent!  Another Filipina restaurant to try!  Thanks for the recommendation and article.  Dinuguan is an amazing dish, my first exposure to it being at Qui in Austin (which I highly highly recommend!).  Intense flavor, deep rich sauce; amazing!  Does this place serve halo halo?

 
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