Oak Park has only one Filipino restaurant, more than most Chicago suburbs.
Lola Tining’s Cuisine (1141 Garfield) is right across from the Volvo tower, in a small, unprepossessing shopping mall. You’ve probably driven by it many times.
First time I walked into Lola’s, the nice lady at the hot table looked up at me as though to say, “Are you sure you’re in the right place?”
My appearance, I suppose, screams gringo, but I’ve long been a fan of Filipino food. Based on that first visit, I wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune/Redeye in praise of the lechon kawali, incredibly delicious cubes of boiled and fried pork belly:
“glistening nuggets of pork, alternating layers of fat and meat, crunchy and soft, oozing glorious juice with every bite. You feel you probably should stop after one piece; you know you definitely should stop after two pieces; shame vanishes with the third piece, and then you’ll likely keep eating it for as long as humanly possible. Take note, it’s dangerous.”
When I went back to Lola’s last week, I got a lunch combo; pork adobo, kinapusan, ginataan calabasa, garlic rice and a skewer of longaniza.
Adobo is perhaps the most beloved Filipino food; it’s a stew, usually pork but any meat can be used, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and various spices (usually garlic, but it varies; , as with many traditional dishes, adobo is open to random improvisation).
Sarahlynn Pablo, my friend and co-founder of Filipino Kitchen, once told me that “Adobo is a comforting childhood memory, but the aroma is strong. When we made adobo, we’d close all the doors to our rooms. Some people may not like it, but for me it’s a beautiful cloud of smells.”
Lola’s makes new dishes all the time. The last time I visited, I was introduced to kinapusan, a kind of fried bacon and, as manager Ashley Strong mentioned, “it’s pretty much the same as lecon kawali, but meatier.”
The ginataan calabasa is also an item I hadn’t seen before: it’s squash stew, with green beans, coconut milk, and shrimp, very mild, and a good foil to the lush pork that I also had on my plate.
With the lunch combo, I always get garlic rice. The alternative is white rice, which is okay, but why would you not want something tastier?
The longaniza is a sweet sausage, which I adore. I encountered a smaller version of these sausages in Bangkok, where I bought them every chance I got; I like the ones at Lola’s even better because…they’re bigger.
Everyone is a food explorer these days, open to trying new foods because they want to learn about other cultures but also because there’s a lot of deliciousness out there. If you want to sample the Filipino version of deliciousness, you now know where to go.