Although there are millions of ethic Filipinos in the United States and a large community in the New York area, restaurants offering this cuisine are not terribly common. There are, however, several options in Manhattan, one of which is Maharlika, a restaurant that serves modern Filipino food and is located on 1st Avenue between 6th and 7th. This past weekend I went to visit this establishment with a group of friends. The previous weekend I had attempted to arrive without a reservation and found the restaurant packed, but even after calling a day ahead as I did this weekend I found there were few unreserved tables. My experience at this restaurant soon justified the hassle and explained why it is so popular.
The sort of food offered by the restaurant was very unique and best described as a sort of fusion of Asian, American, and Spanish cuisines, perhaps explained by the history of the Islands. In lieu of bread we were given fried chicken skins with a variety of dips including banana-ketchup (basically a sweeter version of ketchup with a distinct banana flavor), house vinegar, chili, and soy sauce. For appetizers we ordered some unique items: Spam Fries (beer battered sticks of fried spam and a clear case of cross-cultural culinary development); Lumpianh Barquillos (rice paper cigars with beef, pork, and vegetables) ; Pampanging Style Sizzling Sisig (pig ears, snout, cheek and belly cooked with garlic, chili, and onions, served with scrambled egg and garlic fried rice). All of these appetizers, strange though they are, were delicious and enhanced by the various dipping sauces I mentioned above.
Our entrees included Chop Suey (grilled marinated tofu with steamed vegetables and peppers); Prok Adobo (spare ribs braised in soy sauce and other flavorings with potato); Beef Short Rib Kaldereta, served with potatoes, fried chorizo and grilled pineapple; and Filipino Fried Chicken and Ube Waffle, the waffles were made with purple yam, the butter contained anchovy, and the syrup was caramelized. Once again every member of the party was satisfied with their dish.
The restaurant is not terribly large but the atmosphere is lively, with both a bar as well as a number of tables and some thematict decoration. I was asked multiple times by various staff if this was my first time at the restaurant and they were truly delighted to find that it was. They staff was extremely helpful and enthusiastic and seemed very proud of the food and experience that they were providing. While the food was undeniably good, I think what was most enjoyable was the experience and novelty of the place, as well as the cozy, friendly, and fun environment. My only word of caution is that the food is very meat focused (though there are some vegetarian options) and most of it is also quite heavy. In any case, I’ll certainly be planning another visit at some point and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a new culinary experience.