We in the Bay Area are truly blessed when it comes to the abundance of Filipino food.
Little restaurants are speckled around the Peninsula from San Bruno up to Colma and Daly City, serving all sorts of fried, roasted pork and sizzly sisig dishes that will make you feel like you’re eating Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house. When I’m pining for a feel-good, home-cooked meal, I head on down to the coziest neighborhood I know, the Tenderloin.
Kusina Ni Tess has some of the most no frills, casual, rustic, and delicious Filipino food in the whole city. The tiny, diner-esque restaurant is located on the edge of the Tenderloin, only a few blocks west of Market, squished between a liquor store and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Once inside, fluorescent lights beaming from high ceilings and wafts of garlic inundate you. The glass counter displays rows of steel chafers full of different types of pork, beef, chicken, and stewed vegetables. I recognize nothing on the menu and yet feel a burning desire to try it all, and with prices ranging from $1.25 – $13 a plate, it’s certainly a feasible goal. The menu, hanging on the wall behind the cashier, is a long list of a la carte items like lechón kawali (fried pork belly), veggie lumpia (savory fried spring rolls), and tortang giniling, a ground-meat omelette similar to Korean pajeon. In the center of the menu is a short list of breakfasts that make the perfect little meal, for any time of day.
Itlog, meaning egg, refers to the different breakfast plates that are offered in Filipino cuisine. At Kusina, whether it be beef, chicken, pork, or vegetables, all the breakfast plates come with a heaping scoop of salty, soul-warming garlic fried rice that’s smothered with a soft, over-easy egg. Dishes vary with Western influences like hotdogs (hotsilog), corned beef (cornsilog), and spam (spamislog) to more traditional preserved, grilled, and cured beef (tapsilog).
Kusina’s must-try item is the Milkfish or banislog. The white, flaky Milkfish (bangus) is butterflied and lightly deep-fried in cooking oil. The body curls into a succulent, crispy fish chip and falls apart like a buttery croissant. The sweet, savory rice works its way into each bite incorporating the bouncy, vibrant egg into all the dish’s nooks and crannies. The most wonderful part of the entire meal, and every breakfast plate, is the accompaniment of a small, piping-hot cup of bone broth. The piquant, fatty broth washes down every bite like a luscious flume. It’s a bizarre mouthful of flavors that feels new and exciting with familiar and approachable elements.
We’ve all had a plate of meat and rice, but Kusina Ni Tess has that untouchable quality that only some eateries can possess. It has this way of making you feel like you’ve been eating here for your entire life, even if you’re tasting some of these flavors for the first time. It’s that nostalgic aroma of childhood and family that can’t be taught or learned, but can only be felt in bones and broth.
Kusina Ni Tess,
237 Ellis St., (415) 351-1169