At about 10 p.m., a small-of-stature woman sitting behind a table that's in front of a large, white food truck turns around and picks up a huge microphone that's attached to one of those Aiwa stereo systems, like the one you got for your college dorm. You know, with the detachable speakers on each side, a 3-disc CD player and an ominous red glow, like undercarriage lighting on a tricked out Honda? One of those.
She picks up the microphone and begins making an announcement in a high, sweet voice over the crowd of people on the sidewalk. The reverb is turned up so much, though -- who knows, maybe it's on purpose -- that you can't really make out but every other word. "[LOUD INAUDIBLE] DOLLAR HITS [ECHO ECHO] EVERYTHING'S ONE DOLLAR [ECHO ECHO]."
Dollar Hits has been serving traditional Filipino street food for just over a year now. Everything on the menu, mostly skewers, goes for the low, low price of — you got it — one dollar. The popular truck has a carnival atmosphere about it on weekend nights; music playing from the stereo or a neighbor kid who brought his guitar and a plug-in amp is noodling around, families mill about, waiting to pick up trays of meat and fishball skewers, friends laughing and talking around the big communal charcoal grills that are set up on the sidewalk, cars jockeying in and out of the postage-stamp-sized parking spots in the small lot in the mini-mall.
Step up to the table, grab an order sheet, and mark the items you'd like to try. Hand the sheet to one of the ladies behind the table, and she'll smile and ask your name. If you look somewhat Asian, she may ask you if you're Filipino. If the answer is "yes," she'll be very happy. If the answer is "no" (Author's note: I'm part Chinese), she definitely won't be unhappy, but she may look slightly concerned.
She definitely won't be unhappy, but she may look slightly concerned
You also might notice that everyone there is calling her "Auntie." Does that mean everyone there is literally her niece or nephew? Nope! In Filipino culture, sometimes you just call women who are older than you "Auntie" as a term of endearment/respect.
Pretty much everything at Dollar Hits is a skewer, and it's mostly non-vegetarian. The food is pre-cooked but comes cold -- it's then up to you to mosey over to one of the grills and GYOS (grill your own skewer). Don't make the mistake I did the first time I went, and immediately shove the food in your maw when it's handed to you from the truck. Cook it first. If it's busy, you may have to wait a bit for some free grill space to open up. Also, as you might guess, everything costs a dollar -- with the exception of a few items. The pares bowl (beef stew) is $3. The nightmarish balut (partially-formed duck embryo, still in the shell. Google it. Well actually, don't Google it.) is $2.
Fish balls, lobster balls, BBQ pork and BBQ chicken -- perennial Filipino favorites -- are all on the menu. The rest of the selections lean heavily toward organ meat and offal. If that's not your thing, let's just say that Dollar Hits may not be the place for you. No part of the animal goes to waste. The names of the items are, generally speaking, pretty fun to learn. Some are onomatopoetic, others merely awesome: kwek-kwek is breaded quail egg, enrile is a chicken head, adidas are chicken feet, and betamax is pork blood.
Pork isaw (intestine) you'll want to let sit on the grill for awhile, and once it's got a nice char, it tastes just like a piece of maple-glazed bacon. Fish balls and fried lumpia (egg rolls) go perfectly with a homemade sweet sauce mixed with spicy vinegar. Betamax comes as a skewer of three or four cubes of congealed pork blood. If you can mentally get past what it is, it's quite enjoyable, tasting like a firm, iron-rich tofu.
Sodas and water are $1, as is a bottomless styrofoam cup of sweet, icy cantaloupe juice, ladled from a communal barrel on the front table.
Dollar Hits is located at 2422 Temple St. (at Carondolet) in Historic Filipinotown. They are open from Thursday-Sunday, 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Photos by: Matthew Kang