News & Reviews

Phoenix New Times - 10 Favorite Bakeries in Metro Phoenix

Owners Tony and Tess Menendez went to culinary school and spent many years as pastry chefs at various high-end resorts around town, but in 2006, they left their respective corporate kitchens behind to open a tiny bakeshop in a strip mall at 35th Avenue and Thunderbird. Although they offer bakery standards such as eclairs and tiramisu, the real draw -- for Filipinos and those who appreciate Filipino specialties -- are the unique breads and pastries found here, many of them tinted a deep purple from ube, a purple yam indigenous to the Philippines. Insiders come for ultra-soft pan de leche, pan de sal and ensaymada, a Filipino sweet bread so milky and rich it makes a lovely extravagance with morning coffee. There's also a gorgeous coffee cake-like situation swirled with ube -- probably meant for morning, but it tastes good any time. Of course, if you're up for adventure, you won't want to miss the desserts, often made with mango, coconut, or ube. You'll find ube tarts, ube mousse, mamon (think sponge cake), and sapin sapin, an island-y, layered spin on blancmange, sweetened with coconut, ube, and jackfruit. And of course, when the weather gets hot, you won't want to miss the Halo Halo, an icy, fruity concoction that always hits the spot. Read More >>

By Nikki Buchanan, Phoenix New Times, Mon., Apr. 15 2013

AZ Family Review of Casa Filipina

Feel like something sweet? Or maybe a bit unusual? Food critic Nikki Buchanan takes us to a fabulous little place called Casa Filipina. - July 11th 2008

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AZ Central - Casa Filipina Bakeshop and Restaurant, 3.5 stars

If unrecognizable ingredients make you skittish and offal sounds awful, hold it right there. If, on the other hand, you're willing to eat just about anything that doesn't eat you first, get ready to fall in love with Casa Filipina, a clean, pleasant bakery-cum-restaurant featuring Filipino classics.

It's the handiwork of Tess and Tony Menendez, culinary school grads who worked as pastry chefs at Valley resorts before opening a tiny bakeshop in 2006. The place was a hit from the get-go, so last year they took over the space next door and expanded their menu. What's the appeal? Well, there's a lot more to the Philippines than Imelda Marcos and her shoes. Positioned on the western edge of the Pacific near China, Vietnam and Malaysia, the Philippines (an archipelago of over 7,000 tropical islands) have always been a commercial hub, a link between East and West and a cultural melting pot. The result is a food culture that's utterly unique.

At Casa Filipina, your adventure may well begin before the food arrives. A stand-up easel in the bakery serves as the restaurant's only menu, offering a dozen unfamiliar dishes such as pinakbet and embutido without a word of description. You'll have to corral Tess, Tony or their affable server for explanations and suggestions.

Although most of the menu is devoted to main dishes, you'll want to make a starter of lumpia Shanghai - thin, Filipino-style eggrolls stuffed with ground pork and served with sweet and sour sauce ($3.99). Pastry wrappers (not wontons) make them extra crunchy and therefore better than their greasy Chinese counterparts.

In the Phiippines, stir-fried noodle dishes called pancit are almost as popular as rice. Pancit Malabon, an orange heap of thick vermicelli noodles, tossed with shrimp, green onion, celery and hard-cooked egg has an interesting flavor profile ($5.50). It's a dry dish, finished with crumbled pork rind and a spritz of lemon, and I can imagine craving it once a week.

Bistek Tagalog, a classic Filipino dish of steak and onions, should appeal to the meat-and-potatoes crowd. Strips of steak are first marinated in lemon and soy, then fried and topped with fresh (not breaded) onion rings ($6.15). Eaten with a mound of fluffy white rice, it's hearty and uncomplicated.

But I confess, my favorite dishes are the ones many Americans would never order. Lechon kawali, chunks of deep-fried pork belly with thick layers of fat attached, are almost as crunchy as chicharrones on the outside. Inside, they're all juice ($7.75). Dinuguan, evocatively called "pork blood stew" in English, is composed of pork butt and sliced pig ears, smothered in shiny, almost black sauce containing you-know-what. Get past the thought of it and you'll find that dinuguan is fantastic: tender, flavorful chunks of meat and rich, vinegar-edged gravy that transcends its humble ingredients ($5.99).

Desserts are usually a combination of rice, tropical fruit and coconut. This time of year, you'll likely appreciate ice cold Halo-halo, layered with red mung beans, jackfruit, purple yams, sliced coconut, shaved ice, cream and evaporated milk. The garnish? A cube of custard flan. Mix it up and slurp it with a spoon ($3.75).

You don't need a lot of money to eat well at Casa Filipina. Just bring a twenty and an open mind.

By Nikki Buchanan - Jul. 7, 2008 'Everyday Dining' critic