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9 places to get Filipino-style lechon in Toronto

Posted by Guest Contributor / March 24, 2012

Lechon TorontoAt 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.

See also:

The best Filipino restaurants in Toronto

Writing by Leonard Cervantes. Photo from Kanto.ca

Discussion

23 Comments

Ryan / March 24, 2012 at 10:09 am
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Cleary Bourdain is the be all and end all of taste. I'll have to read his books to know what to eat for the rest of my life. I was really suffering for all these years without his guidance.

That, Leonard is how you write sarcasm. We could have done without it in your post.
poo replying to a comment from Ryan / March 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm
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Dude, take a chill pill. In fact, brother, take two.

This is a page about pig on a stick and it's awesome.
mjnr / March 24, 2012 at 02:33 pm
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I believe Mr Bourdains number 1 pig was in the Indonesian episode, not the Philipines.

Porky Pig / March 24, 2012 at 03:40 pm
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Well, the author is making a pretentious statement about the how much better this roasted pig is after mentioning the recipe was stolen from all the other cultures. No other cultures made a claim about how great their roasted pig is. Funny, most Filipino food is nothing special at all... you can have the roasted pig. #1 roasted pig is in Indonesia? When pigs fly! If so, Muslims can make a great roasted pig!
hop / March 24, 2012 at 04:32 pm
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This is an awesome post. I was actually considering doing this myself at home this summer, maybe over a long weekend, but you have saved me a lot of time and effort. I have to say Filipino cuisine is really under appreciated and I'm glad to see more restaurants serving Filipino cuisine. The one from Kanto looks incredible.
RLTY replying to a comment from Porky Pig / March 24, 2012 at 04:48 pm
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I hardly think that's a pretentious comment Porky. The writer has finally featured a dish that is distinguished by its marinade and cooking style and is offering up places around the city to taste it. I'm intrigued by this feature and hope to try this speciality dish soon!
FeelinIrie / March 24, 2012 at 08:32 pm
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so WHAT?

let him be pretentious! Filipino food is under-represented and under-appreciated... and its the bomb. the writer is just saying so. take the spit out of your own asses and try some good-ass pork.
RR / March 24, 2012 at 08:58 pm
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"Stolen" ?
Come on Porky, the recipe (among other things) are innately influenced by multiple cultures. The Philippines has a history of colonization spanning 400 years.

But this article is about roasted pig and where to get it in Toronto. Thank you for showcasing local Filipino Food.

This article is informative and humorous.
Let's just calm down and celebrate good times with friends and food.
mjnr replying to a comment from Porky Pig / March 25, 2012 at 12:09 am
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For the record I checked and it was Indonesia...on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali
http://www.arradi.com/content/anthony-bourdain-no-reservations-indonesia


Canucklehead / March 25, 2012 at 09:17 am
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Sorry, but Bourdain's actual blog says otherwise. Look for the 'hierarchy of pork' article on travelchannel.com

1. Cebu, Philippines
2. Bali, Indonesia
3. Puerto Rico

Anyways, he's not the be all end all of pork or food - he's just the only one to taste and rank it so far. That list could still change.

The real idea here is to try and make our way to those parts of the world to taste it ourselves - unless we can get it locally. Which as this article says you can, at least for NUMBER ONE.

akswun / April 13, 2012 at 12:29 am
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Anthony Bourdain is amazing, read Kitchen Confidentials and could totally relate my experience cooking for a few years. Wouldn't say he's the end all when it comes to food opinions but I respect his. And there was an episode of his on FN where he went to the P.I. and culminated with the Lechon at the end and he did say it was probably the best roast pig he's tasted.

Anyway, glad to see Iloilo being repped here. Cebu is known for their Lechon but "Tatoy's Lechon" in Iloilo is the bomb. They inject condensed milk into the pig prior to cooking.

All this Filipino food is making me fat... :/
myopenkitchen / June 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm
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Hi. The pork shown in the picture is not lechon; that's lechon kawali. The skin of pig roasted in an open spit will look quite different from one that's deep-fried, as in the case of the lechon kawali. While I have tried a few Filipino restaurants in Toronto, I've had only tried lechon at Mang Bernard's. That, mga kababayan, is the real deal. Bow.
Margo / August 27, 2012 at 03:49 pm
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Will NOT RECOMMEND KANTO BY TITA FLIPS at all, the service of this caterer is very disappointing and really bad. Had hired this caterer at my event recently and was surprised when only one server and a driver came. They even came late at the event and the food was a mess. The poor server cannot handle alone the food preparations and buffet table so the dinner was served really late. Also when trying to contact the owner, no answer at all. After a few days still trying to contact the owner but so many excuses, finally one of my friend discovers that this owner usually accepts so many events at the same day and it is impossible for her to handle so other events suffers with poor service. She should not do this, it is NOT FAIR for the paying customers. PLEASE DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR NEXT PARTY DO NOT EVER HIRE THIS CATERER AGAIN OR SUPPORT HER BUSINESS.If SHE HAS DONE THIS TO ME THEN SHE CAN DO THE SAME TO OTHERS.

www.itassetmanagementhelp.com / October 20, 2012 at 07:12 am
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Thanks for the tutorial...helped me out a lot.
Rosalie / April 19, 2013 at 04:33 pm
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Hi Dear, are you actually visiting this site on a regular basis, if so afterward you
will definitely obtain good knowledge.
mamasita / October 22, 2013 at 11:14 am
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I Disagree about Taste Good BBq.
They do make Filipino style lechon upon request. It is crispy, fresh and quality cut pork. I ordered from Bella's and was sadly disappointed. The tray was 30% bone and table scraps that they stuffed into a $45 tray! Was very disappointed and embarrassed to say the least.
Maria / November 5, 2013 at 04:56 pm
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What about CASA manila. Their in house made lechon is roasted over wood charcoal and basted and watched over by a "real" person for over 3 hours. It is not baked. Their 35lb.lechon has the taste of a baby suckling pig except it is done the Filipino way stuffed with lemon grass and spices and served on banana leaves. Also no MSG added and low salt and oil. Sarap... um... um... Simply the best! See the picture on the page before...Best Filipino Restaurants.
Carmela / December 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm
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Bernard's has the WORST customer service ever. They can't commit to the pick up time agreed upon. Pick up time was for 7PM once we got their they informed me that they are just putting the lechon in the oven and come back at 10PM. No apologies and they dont care if they ruined your plans. Not the 1st time it happened. If you dont want to be stressed for your party, DO NOT SUPPORT BERNARD's.
Jamie replying to a comment from Carmela / December 27, 2013 at 08:43 am
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Filipino time - always an hour late. In this case, they pulled an extreme move on you by being three hours late. I am genuinely sorry to hear that though...
David Menon / June 27, 2014 at 09:28 pm
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i like Filipino food. There are a lot of varieties. I will also try this one for sure. http://qrl-it.com/DC-courier-service.html
Lorna Grunt / June 29, 2014 at 11:10 am
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Filipino style is really popular all over the world. browse this link
Ashley Cunning / July 12, 2014 at 02:21 pm
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This is a nice one. I love to take this. http://www.longtermcaresolutions.com/
Pork Chop / September 30, 2014 at 11:11 pm
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There's only one proper style... And it's Leitão! Check out Bairadino on Landsdowne for the best suckling pig in the best best style...

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