Filipino Food Digs In

Veggie egg rolls (Photos by Steve Mosco)

Asian cuisine—from regional Indian food to Chinese grub of varying authenticity—continues to explode in popularity across Long Island. Suddenly, there is a new player on the menu, as cuisine from the Philippines is set to become the trendy new treat for island eaters.
Yes, Filipino food will be Long island’s next big culinary discovery—but before it becomes fashionable, let’s take a moment to bask in the freshness of the island’s original Filipino restaurants. Included on the list of trendsetters is East Meadow’s Kabayan Grill.

This warm, welcoming, no frills establishment—situated in what was an old school-style Taco Bell—greets eaters with an intriguing display of prepared food on two steam tables. Everything from familiar bits of charred pork to more striking presentations of milkfish and other alluringly mysterious items are set up perfectly for the adventurous eater on-the-go that loves options.

The eatery also includes sit-down service with rows of long tables, where a helpful staff gladly guides diners through the menu. As the enticing aroma indicates, pork is the protein of choice at Kabayan. The appetizer menu includes items like lumpiang Shanghai (mini pork egg rolls), chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines), tokwa’t baboy (deep-fried tofu with braised pork ear) and inihaw na kilawing baboy (grilled pork belly with onions and peppers).

Pork also shines in Kabayan’s most audibly pleasing dishes, sizzling sisig, a gorgeous medley of finely chopped pork jowl, ear and shoulder with hot pepper and lemon, served on a hot plate. The potpourri of pig parts pops and crackles as it comes to the table, upping the ante even before you take a bite. But the dish is more than merely sound and fury, as the varying pork morsels provide different textures and flavors—the jowl is silky smooth and smoky, while the ear brings a crispness and the shoulder manages a meaty unctuousness.

Perhaps the best characteristic of Filipino cuisine is its ability to cross over with foods from other regions. The cuisine itself seems like the perfect combination of Spanish and Chinese. The barbecue chicken demonstrates this nicely, with Filipino-style chunks of marinated chicken impaled on skewers, for the always fun meat-on-stick food delivery system. The chicken is richly flavored, with a deep almost pork-like reminiscence. Noodle dishes also dot the menu, with palabok (steamed rice noodles with shrimp sauce, crushed pork rinds, egg and crispy garlic) the most enticing.

Barbecue chicken

A definite must order side dish is the large garlic rice, good for three to four people, depending on the hunger level of your party. The no-frills nature of the garlic rice is its charm, as its preparation of oil, garlic, fried-to-a-crisp garlic and scallions offers a garlicky sense of comfort.

Kabayan also opens for breakfast, with many of its dishes—including sisig—enhanced with the addition of eggs. And if you need to fill your pantry with Filipino goods, Kabayan boasts a small grocery with sauces, breads, noodles and other essential Filipino options. As for dessert, try halo halo, a famous Filipino dessert featuring shaved ice, evaporated milk jello, fruits, sweet beans and leche flan topped with rice krispies and a scoop of ice cream.

Filipino cuisines begs for exploration with an open mind and Kabayan Grill is a superb place to begin marinating in an all-new food obsession.

Kabayan Grill, 1634 Front St., East Meadow, 516-500-9574,

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Steve Mosco
Steve Mosco, the former editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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