I'll admit I'm no expert when it comes to Filipino food, my experience has always been limited to the more mainstream stuff. I have had on multiple occasions the standard lumpia, chicken adobo, pancit, and escabeche at Filipino friends' BBQs, dinners and potlucks. I've even made biko for dessert once when I had a vegan and a gluten-free guest over. But all that is just a drop in the bucket within the spectrum of delicious dishes the Filipino culture has to offer. Their cuisine is a terrific fusion of Spanish, Southeast Asian and Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques. In fact, I remember Andrew Zimmern commenting back in 2012, "I predict, two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months … I think that’s going to be the next big thing." Hmmm, maybe that would be the case in Sac if we had more Filipino restaurants? I don't know. What I do know is my interest was piqued recently when I stumbled upon a new Filipino restaurant in South Sac, called Chelo. The name of the establishment comes from the combination of the words, "Che" (meaning dessert) and "Halo-Halo" (a type of Filipino treat).
Chelo had been open for about three weeks when I dropped in for lunch with my friend Lacy. The restaurant was a bit hard to see from the road. Look for the South Pointe Plaza (where Seafood City is) and Chelo is just a few doors down from Starbread bakery (where they serve the most amazing señorita bread). It's kind of angled and in a nook, so just look to the left of the bakery. When Lacy and I walked in, we were greeted by a bubbly young lady at the counter. I saw all the milk teas, smoothies and desserts listed and thought I had made a mistake...I wanted lunch not a drink or snack. Turns out that Chelo not only serves all those things but they also have an "All Day Silog" menu. What's a silog? Well, as I learned- a silog, is a Filipino breakfast combo consisting of garlic fried rice, an over easy egg, and your choice of a sweet or salty protein. I'm one of those people who loves breakfast foods...pretty much anytime except early in the morning, so I was pretty stoked to try their silog out. The choices they had were:
I ordered the bangsilog which turned out to be four good-sized pieces of boneless milkfish, marinated in garlic and vinegar and then fried to a golden-brown. Lacy went with the sisigsilog, a combination of minced pork meat mixed with garlic, soy sauce, citrus, onion and some sort of spicy pepper. She gave me a taste and it was delicious. I liked my bangsilog but next time I would probably veer towards ordering the sisigsilog. I thought her dish was much more flavorful than mine and had several layers of flavors- sour, salty, garlicky and spicy (I could see this dish going perfectly with a nice, cold beer). The garlic rice that accompanied the orders wasn't what I expected, I guess I was expecting something more like Chinese fried rice. This was much more simpler- made only from rice, garlic and oil. The over easy egg rounded out the meal quite nicely. With my meal, I also had a freshly made fruit juice made from calamansi, a citrus fruit that's native to the Philippines but has started being grown in California. The drink had a very mild citrus flavor to it and was refreshing. It kind of reminded me of Crystal Light lemonade.
We were too stuffed to try dessert but I gathered from the pictures at the counter they specialize in halo-halo. Halo-halo (which means "mix-mix") is a colorful layered creation typically made of shaved ice and evaporated milk, mixed with boiled sweet beans, coconut meat, jackfruit, and topped off with a scoop of übe (purple yam) ice cream. Mmm! Sounds delightful, doesn't it?
The restaurant itself looks brand-spankin' new inside- a cool contemporary design with exposed ductwork, fashionable tile, and bright red, roomy booths. The staff is friendly, although a bit young and informal in their service. Our waitress would check in on us by calling out, "You okay?" as she would whiz past our table. The place has a casual vibe though, so it was fine.
I would definitely like to go back to Chelo to try some of their other silog dishes. There are so many choices; not to mention- the prices are cheap, portion sizes are just right, parking's a breeze and they take plastic. Oh, they even do take-out! So if you're feeling a little bit adventurous, I would suggest heading out to South Sac and partaking in the national breakfast dish of the Philippines. It's a wonderful mélange of fatty, salty, greasy deliciousness! (Ideal for hangovers.)