International cuisine has clearly been a driving force behind L.A.’s culinary rise. However, unlike Chinese, Korean, and Persian cultures, which have acknowledged neighborhoods, complete with street signs, the Filipino Food Movement has been a bit more scattered. Sure, Filipino-Americans are prevalent in pockets like Carson, Eagle Rock, and obviously Historic Filipinotown, but now one’s just as likely to find an interesting member of the growing Filipino Food Movement in places like DTLA, Los Feliz, Santa Ana, and now, North Hollywood. Boundaries are breaking.
Chef JR Martin previously worked with traveling sports leagues like the PGA and NASCAR, but after years of roving the globe, he left the grind behind to settle down with wife Chiho and re-focus on their heritage. They opened Tatang last month inside the Vallarta Supermarkets plaza, becoming a vital new member of the Filipino Food Movement.
Tatang occupies a middle ground on the local Pinoy spectrum. The menu bypasses the simple pleasures of chef-driven rice bowls from places like Ricebar and Sari Sari Store and lands a touch closer to LASA’s elegance, but with fewer twists and less of a farmers market focus. That’s not to say ingredients aren’t top-notch — they are. Chickens are free-range “Rocky” line from Petaluma. He also uses organic eggs and heritage pork.
The name Tatang translates from Tagalog as father, and honors JR's late grandfather, a prolific patriach to 16 children, including his mother, the oldest child. Martin was born in Manila, moved to L.A. at age three, and grew up in Atwater Village before becoming a chef.
A banana leaf shades the logo for the couple’s tiny restaurant, along with the tagline: “sharing Filipino flavors and traditions in Los Angeles.” The convivial vibe extends indoors, with Filipino art lining white walls, an open kitchen, and a soundtrack that includes catchy R&B tracks like “People Make The World Go Around” from The Stylistics.
Share-plates called “quick bites” include Petaluma chicken lumpia starring chicken thigh and breast meat instead of traditional pork tucked into house-made wrappers. If going the poultry route, one’s better off ordering chicken sisig ($12).
Sisig is a sizzling stir-fry that typically features spare pork parts like ear and jowl. In this case, Chef Martin skips “everything but the oink” in favor of chopped “Rocky” free-range chicken skin and thigh meat that’s folded with red onion and spicy vinegar. Pierce the poached egg yolk to let loose a “sauce.” Clipped chives provide crunch, and a squeeze of bright calamansi lends enlightenment. Fun fact: Calamansi can be orange or green, depending on the level of ripeness, but the flavor remains similar.
Such boldly flavored food calls for rice. Skip standard steamed white rice in favor of garlic rice ($3.50 small, $6.50 large) with garlic three ways: oil, chopped, and fried.
In an effort to connect with people who may not be familiar with the Filipino culinary canon, Chef Martin spells many dishes phonetically on the menu. The best bet from the grill is listed as li-em-po ($6.95). Fat-streaked pork belly is marinated in calamansi with soy sauce, black pepper, and garlic. The belly is grilled to a beautiful char, sliced into thin strips, and served with spicy vinegar to cut the meat’s inherent richness.
Lon-ga-nisa ($8.95) is a fun char-grilled play on Filipino pork sausage. In this case, Martin folds the casing-free grind with sweet shrimp, brown sugar, oregano, and sweet soy. A meatball mountain is doused with banana sauce and sprinkled with pungent fried garlic chips.
Don’t be deterred by the banana sauce. Chef Martin frequently uses the popular Filipino condiment made with mashed banana, spices, sugar, and vinegar. He favors a brand called Tamis Anghang, a sweet, spicy and tangy version that he imports in bottles and slathers on a number of dishes.
Tatang sells a pair of noodle soups with a choice of egg or rice noodles. Go with beef brisket ma-mi ($8.75) featuring a cloudy beef broth piled with tender, fat-rimmed brisket slice, baby bok choy, charred carrots, crispy garlic chips, and chives. Thin rice noodles are more classic. Request spicy vinegar or Sriracha to help spruce up the broth.
Ribs lacquered with banana BBQ sauce ($12) are available with a choice of four pork spare ribs or pair of larger beef ribs. Pork ribs are particularly good. They start in the oven, where they become fork tender, before getting finished in a pan, drizzled with sauce, and caramelized on grill. Fried garlic chips add crunch and aromatic punch.
Dessert felt like a letdown, so we didn’t bother. Yes, they make pan de sal biscocho from a type of Filipino sweet bread, but Filipino “biscotti” served with ube (purple yam) ice cream doesn’t match the excite level of the excitement we found in the rest of the menu.
Rory McIlroy and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may no longer have easy access to JR Martin’s cooking while jet setting between tour stops, but Tatang proves that the sports world’s loss clearly benefits North Hollywood and the Filipino Food Movement in Los Angeles.
Tatang. 10829 Oxnard St., North Hollywood, 818.331.6375 Open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., but until 8 p.m. on Sundays. Check for holiday hours.