9 places to get Filipino-style lechon in Toronto
At a Filipino party, there is always one centre of attention - and its not the loud line-dancing auntie, the creepy uncle hogging the karaoke, or the wealthy doctor's snooty beauty queen daughter. No, the real star of any real Filipino fiesta is the roast pig - the lechon. But what if you don't have a party to crash this week and have a hankering to dig on some swine, Filipino-style?
Lechon originated in Spain and variants of it exist in many former Spanish colonies, the Philippines being one. And just because the Philippines is in Asia and early Chinese immigrants molded a lot of the country's history, don't be confusing Filipino-style lechon with that Chinese siu yuk roast pork hanging in the window at Spadina and Dundas. It's like comparing apples (in a pig's mouth) and oranges.
In fact, I'm sorry Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese people: Filipino-style lechon is the world's number one roast pig - just ask chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, or any of the purveyors of fine Filipino pork products listed below.
Here is a list of places in Toronto to get Filipino style Lechon.
Bernard's Pilipino Specialties (1534 Queen Street West)
Operating in Parkdale since the 1980s, Bernard is the elder statesman for Toronto lechon-aires. Not only is he from Iloilo (this area of the Philippines is known for the best lechon), Bernard is also 80 years young, so rest assured - you are getting both authenticity and years of porcine craftsmanship with every bite. This, my kaibigan (my friend!) is the REAL THING. Respect.
Taste Good BBQ (4186-4188 Finch Ave East)
The sign outside says 'Filipino-style lechon' but once you get inside to eat, you realize this is Chinese-style BBQ pork. The differences between Chinese-style and Filipino-style roast pork are actually subtle enough to fool a novice's palate, but in this case those details are inconsequential. Simply put, the roast pork at Taste Good... didn't.
Bella's Lechon (1139 Morningside Avenue, Scarborough)
The trademark of Filipino-style lechon is the smooth red-coloured skin, crackling and shiny like a candy apple coating. It's not uncommon to arrive late to the party to find that early birds have left the lechon totally stripped naked of this rare treat. The pork skin is the stamp of authenticity in Filipino-style lechon and Bella's gets it just right.
Mike's BBQ (4400 Sheppard Avenue, Scarborough)
Mike's is a Chinese BBQ place, which means you can get BBQ chicken, duck and Chinese BBQ pork. So where's the lechon? Like many Chinese barbecuers, they offer Filipino-style pork too! But not so fast -- the skin isn't the aforementioned smooth and shiny kind. It's puffed and bumpy - Chinese style. WAIT, don't walk out -- take a bite and you'll taste traces of lemon grass and garlic, which are trademarks of the Filipino way of making lechon. Think of Mike's as a hybrid, which is sort of like Filipino culture anyway if you think about it.
Sun BBQ Co (296 Browns Line)
Sun is another Chinese pig roaster, so when ordering make sure that you specify Filipino-style. Forget to do so and it will be a different experience, right down to the spice and the sauce. The Chinese variant of roast pig is seasoned with five-spice, white pepper and salt and and is usually served with hoisin sauce. Ask and ye shall receive -- Sun can give you the Filipino-style roast complete pig with Filipino-style lechon sauce made of breadcrumbs, black pepper, onion, vinegar, ground pork liver and sugar. That's right, all the good stuff.
Son Lechon BBQ Restaurant (3366 Keele Street)
Not to be confused with the west-end competitor of almost the same name, Son Lechon has actually been roasting up lechons in Toronto for a number of years, so they have the Filipino-style down-pat. Filipino-style pig-roasting incorporates the use of lemongrass, garlic and bay leaf - the best things available in a typical rural Philippine setting. Only thing missing? My Uncle Boy squatting over smoky coals, painstakingly hand-rotating the pig on a spit while smoking a Marlboro with the other hand.
Kanto by Tita Flips (Dundas and Bathurst, northeast side)
In the Philippines, eating more daily meals in smaller portions on-the-go is a big reason that street food is a cultural staple in the archipelago's more urban locales. One thing is clear - Filipino street food is a genre that needs to be taken to the next level here in the Tdot. We're glad to hear that Tita Flips has set up Kanto at the corner of Dundas and Bathurst to offer, among other tasty things, a single-serve Lechon Kawali (Crispy Pork Belly) that is getting streetwise rave reviews for its juicy-ness and outer crisp.
Dynasty BBQ (1550 South Gateway Road, Mississauga)
Could it be? Filipino lechon west of the 427? Not quite - but if you ask the Chinese cooks at Dynasty BBQ in the Dixie Park Mall to roast a pig for you Filipino-style, they'll do it and get it mostly right. The skin isn't quite Cebu-style but the accompanying lechon sauce tastes authentic -- so does the tenderness of the meat. That's surprising since Filipino-style lechon is typically cooked differently - "slow and low" for a more fall-off-the-bone experience. Pay at the register and drive around the back where someone will help you load The Lord of the Flies into the cargo area of your Chevy Astro minivan.
Lamesa (669 Queen St. W.)
The Filipino restaurant rumoured to open in the location that The Rosebud once occupied hasn't yet gone public -- but the buzz on the street is deafening. Insiders have tipped us off about a possible Pork Belly Adobo -- which (if it truly does exist) is what would happen if Lechon Kawali got married to Adobo, the Philippines beloved national dish. If that's not enough, I thought I heard someone mention chicharon (deep fried pork rind) as the garnish on top of it all (keep your damn cherry!). Fusion and creative plating? Could the Filipino cuisine beautification project be finally underway? I won't say I told you so.
Writing by Leonard Cervantes. Photo from Kanto.ca