Oak Park's Only Filipino Restaurant: Lola Tining's Cuisine

Kawali, adobo, longaniza and lots of other good stuff

March 21st, 2018 12:00 PM

Lunch plate at Lola Tining's Cuisine/photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

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've 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.