Filipino Restaurant Series: Pinpin

A year after my quest has begun, I can now say with confidence that I have found a Filipino restaurant in Vancouver proper that has become my new standard: Pinpin.

Pinpin: storefront

Don’t be fooled by the “Filipino-Chinese” classification on Pinpin’s awning and menu. Most Filipinos eat dishes whose origins stem from China…but these so-called Filipino-Chinese dishes, like pancit canton and chicken mami, are unmistakeably Pinoy and would probably surprise your average Filipino by suggesting that it was even remotely Chinese. Moreover, the Chinese selections on Pinpin’s menu are clearly grouped on a single page of their colourful and informative menu. 

Let’s touch upon this menu a little more.

Pinpin: menu selections

Pinpin, being one of the rare Filipino eateries in the city that is not turo-turo (buffet) in style, has an enormous selection featuring a wide range of Tagalog and other regional dishes to satisfy most families in the know. For those who are new to the cuisine and unfamiliar with the language, be comforted that the menu also has full colour illustrations of some of the more popular items, plus English descriptions of every dish that would be hard to decipher otherwise.

Inside Pinpin

I’d liken the style of this restaurant to a casual, family-style Chinese restaurant: no-frills environs, descriptive and extensive menu, a mix of standalone and communal tables, and huge portions. We’ve managed to eat at Pinpin as a couple for under $20 and always wind up asking for take-out containers to spoon our leftovers into. For maximum value, come in a group of 4 or more. You’ll be able to try a bunch of dishes for a similar price per person and approximate what it’d feel like to be in the midst of a Filipino family potluck.

Word of warning to non-Filipinos: be prepared for the stares. This establishment, like most Filipino restaurants, are patronized almost exclusively by Filipinos and their families, and having travelled in the Philippines recently, I suspect that it’s a habit to pay rapt attention to newcomers. However, no malice is intended, and if you venture to chat with any of your dining neighbours, I’m sure you’ll find everyone to be hospitable and friendly, if only a little surprised to see you.

But I digress – on to the food.

Pinpin: sinigang na baboy

Pinpin comes the closest to my family’s style of cooking out of all the restaurants I have tried to date. Consequently, I feel right at home each time I drop in for a bite or grab a couple of dishes to take to go. Thus far, I’ve tried the sinigang, kare kare, pancit sotanghon, Bicol Express, lechon kawali, and pinakbet and can’t say anything but yum

Pinpin: pinakbet

This is not to say that there are no criticisms to make.

My favourite dish to order, menudo, is nowhere to be found on their menu, despite conversations with the owners about making it a seasonal or even a regular offering in the future.

Pinpin: Bicol Express It’s also unbelievably packed, so finding sustenance for a group is next to impossible during peak dining times unless you’re prepared to wait in line or willing to settle for take-out.

Win a $30 gift certificate to Pinpin

I am so truly impressed by the food at Pinpin that  I forked out $30 of my own cash for a gift certificate to Pinpin, so that one Tiny Bites reader can get a chance to sample what I feel to be one of the most representative Filipino restaurants in Vancouver proper. But you have to work for it.

Here are the contest rules.

  1. Drop me a comment here.
  2. In your comment, tell me about a Filipino dish that you either love or have always wanted to try. Share your reasons why that is so.
  3. On Friday, May 29th at 12pm, I’ll do a random draw from all the entries and announce the winner here and on Twitter.

If you can’t wait until then to try Pinpin, don’t let me stop you from heading there this week. I hope you’ll love it as much as we do.

Pinpin
6113 Fraser St | Vancouver
(604) 322-3086

Pinpin on Urbanspoon

Filipino Restaurant Series to date:

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High Tea Series: Secret Garden Tea Company

My field trip to Secret Garden Tea Company let me cross off a third establishment on my to-do list of afternoon tea.  Apologies that  this is only the first that I am detailing in words for the High Tea Series.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

The occasion was more special than most. The adventure fell on Easter Sunday, making it doubly wonderful to be able to spend it with 6 ladies of the Vancouver Twitterverse and our rep from the maler sex, Jon.

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On the tea

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

With 8 people in attendance, we were able to sample a good portion of Secret Garden’s sizeable tea menu:

  • Secret Garden Secret: vanilla and “secret sweet ingredient” (Jon, Annika)
  • Grammy’s Darjeeling (Carol)
  • Lavender Earl Grey (Moj, who normally swears by Secret Garden’s Buckingham Palace)
  • Jasmine tea with flowers (Jules)
  • Creamy Earl Grey (Rachel)

I was drawn to the Dragon’s Tears tea: jasmine leaves with blossoms that were plucked within an hour of sunrise. This tea was the only one that carried a premium price tag on the normal menu ($5.95). For afternoon tea, the extra cost is waived. It therefore made sense to my sometime frugal self to try it that day.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

After my first few sips of the Dragon’s Tears, I changed my tune.  It was a beautiful, floral, and delicate blend – one that should be enjoyed on its own – but it was overpowered by food that we ate. Besides, it’s more fun in an atmosphere of scones and tea cosies to be able to stir in cream and sugar as you chat with your companions.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Another nice touch was the mismatched china that Secret Garden employs to serve tea and lumps of sugar in. Someone in our group mentioned that the cups are often donated by regulars.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Thanks to Emme’s Easter salute in the form of bunny ears, bunny slippers, and pom-pom tail, our table was treated to a complimentary take-home pouch of Secret Garden’s Spring Blend. As it turns out, the owner also dresses up for Easter and the day’s staff felt like she would have wanted to reward a person with similar fashion sensibilities. Good call, Emme!

On the food

Secret Garden came out with several 3-tiered trays to the delight of all at the table. It was enough for 9, even though we were only charged for 8 spots. We were happy to take the rest home.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

As with most tea services in the city, treats vary with the seasons and the whims of the kitchen.  Our favourites from the selection we received included the roast beef croissants, the blackberry and almond bread, and the raisin scones (which were the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting).

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Compared with the other afternoon teas I’ve had this year, Secret Garden excelled in presentation and sweetstuffs, even though the chocolate pumpkin cheesecake was awkward to eat without forks.

They fell a little flat with their bottom tier options, as evidenced by a lack of consumption of the egg salad pinwheels. Bacchus had better savoury offerings; T Room is still the winner for me in terms of overall taste.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Secret Garden’s signature lemon tarts were also a bit controversial — some guests questioned whether the lemon curd was store-bought. We never did confirm with the kitchen. Do any of you know?

The verdict

Secret Garden impressed everyone with its chintz charm, patient service, and tea selection. Of the three places I’ve been to, it was the most accommodating for large groups, even with frequent fluctuations in RSVPs (note the 17% gratuity that comes with parties of 8 or more).

Another good sign was that the regular tea enthusiasts in our midst only had good things to say about Secret Garden. One such enthusiast is Carol Sill of Cha-Cha-Cha, who sat across from me during our stay. Carol was nice enough to put together a video summary of our tea party on her site, which is embedded below for your convenience:

Secret Garden Tea Company
5559 West Boulevard | Kerrisdale
604-261-3070

The Secret Garden Tea Company

Secret Garden Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Comments and photos from our table

Enjoy the visuals and comments that others from our party have already published:

Tea party guests – I want to hear from you. What did you like? What could have been better? Where are your photos? Post a comment below.

Next up: The Fish House at Stanley Park

I had so much fun having tea with this many companions that I may just make future afternoon tea outings into official Tiny Bites events. Rather than organize it as a tweetup or online invite, the next ones will be done offline, in order to minimize fluctuations in attendance as much as possible.

So should you be interested in joining me at the next tea party at the Fish House at Stanley Park, pencilled for the month of June, contact me now so I can keep you in mind when we set things up.

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A list of places to do afternoon tea in Vancouver

Food cravings seize me with sudden and often inexplicable vigor. When I dream of tea, the mind spins in a vortex of earl grey, scones, and triangular cucumber sandwiches with the crusts sliced off. Need your tea fix? Here’s quick and dirty list of places in Vancouver that offer afternoon tea service. Comment below if I’ve left any out.

Adonia Kerrisdale Tea House
2057 West 41st Ave | Kerrisdale
604-261-0049

Adorabelle Tea Room & Gift Shop | $16-25
12051 Third Avenue | Steveston Village, Richmond
604-241-1947

Applewood Country Gifts | $10-22
6345 120 St | Delta
604-596-9007

Bacchus Restaurant at the Wedgewood Hotel
845 Hornby Street | Downtown
604-689-7777
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

Butchart Gardens (Vancouver Island) | $30-45
800 Benvenuto Ave | Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island
250-652-8222

Clancy’s Tea Cosy | $11-17
15223 Pacific Ave | White Rock
604-541-9010

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
900 W Georgia | Downtown
604-684-3131

Fairmont Empress (Victoria)
721 Government Street | Victoria
1 (866) 540-4429 | (250) 384-8111
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

The Fish House at Stanley Park
8901 Stanley Park Drive | Downtown
604-681-7275
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >


Flueri Restaurant at Sutton Place
845 Burrard Street | Downtown
604-682-5511

Little White House | $14-18
9090 Glover Road | Fort Langley | 604-888-8386
2626 Montrose Ave | Abbotsford | 604-853-0909

Provence Marinaside
1177 Marinaside Crescent | Yaletown
604-681-4144

Provence Mediterranean Grill
4473 West 10th Avenue | Point Grey
604-222-1980

Salmon House on the Hill | $22-29
2229 Folkestone Way | West Vancouver
604-926-3212

Secret Garden Tea Company
5559 West Boulevard | Kerrisdale
604-261-3070
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

T Room (no website)
4445 W 10th Ave | Point Grey
604-677-2579
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

Tracycakes
101 – 2636 Montrose Avenue | Abbotsford | 604-852-1433
15015 Marine Drive | White Rock | 604-541-4668

The Urban Tea Merchant
G3 – 825 Main Street | West Vancouver | 604-926-3392
1070 W. Georgia Street | Downtown | (604) 692-0071
MY FAVE! Read about our afternoon tea experiences here >

White Heather Tea Room (Victoria) | $18-55
1885 Oak Bay Avenue | Victoria
250-595-8020

I’d like to turn this post into a compendium of Vancouver high tea, but I know that the list is nowhere near comprehensive. Please help me add to this selection so that I may evaluate these offerings for you, as the compulsion to sip tea and nibble dainties hits me again and again. Feel free to raise a hand to join me on these adventures, too.

Filipino Restaurant Series: Cucina Manila

Cucina Manila: storefront

The third establishment on my Filipino dining wishlist was Cucina Manila, a turo-turo restaurant by Joyce Station.  It was highly praised by a colleague and a salsa dancing acquaintance, both of whom make their respective commutes from New Westminster and the West End to partake in its culinary offerings.

Inside Cucina Manila

It was hyped to be much better than Sandy’s Cuisine, the restaurant that has recently trumped Josephine’s Restaurant as my Filipino restaurant of choice.  Last weekend, my husband and I made the trip over to Cucina Manila to see just what was so extraordinary about this place.

Let’s start with the menudo, the pork stew that was once my favourite at Josephine’s and whose degradation I have been lamenting ever since.

Cucina Manila: menudo

While the quality was indeed better than the recipe currently being dished out at Josephine’s, it still doesn’t compare to my mom’s recipe, nor the one that I’ve secretly loved more than my mother’s by former Josephine’s chef, Mang Rene.

Cucina Manila: monggo

The other dishes we ordered were decent at best.  Both of us were let down that we had travelled all this way for food that we could have made better at home.  We also weren’t thrilled that there was no posted menu to speak of.  It quite intimidated my husband, who felt very conscious of his lack of Filipino vocabulary and his unfamilarity with the dishes that were on display.

Cucina Manila: turon

Hoping that our dining experience was just an off day, I took home an order of daing and kutsina to try out over the next few days.

Cucina Manila: daing

Daing is butterflied milkfish that’s been marinated in vinegar and garlic and fried till crispy.  It’s one of my favourite Filipino breakfast dishes, but cooking something this pungent at home would induce the wrath of all of our neighbours (not to mention my husband).  The daing from Cucina Manila did a good job of satisfying my breakfast craving, and was probably the best tasting item out of the ones we had sampled.

Cucina Manila: kutsinta

The kutsinta was passable.  It was by no means as good as the stuff my aunts have served us at the monthly Filipino potlucks we attend, but it was better than anything I could have made myself.

Would we come back and see if we’d like other dishes at Cucina Manila?  Probably not.  Perhaps I’m so used to how my family makes certain dishes that the style of cooking at Cucina Manila is simply not to my taste.  Perhaps my husband’s discomfort at feeling out of place and unwelcome as a non-Filipino was an impression I’ll have a hard time overcoming.  At any rate, Josephine’s and Sandy’s are much closer to our downtown abode and will likely continue to be our go-to places until I complete my tour of the other Filipino restaurants in the Lower Mainland.

Want to convince me otherwise?  Leave me a comment and let’s see if I can be persuaded to try Cucina Manila once more.

Cucina Manila
5179 Joyce Street | Vancouver
(604) 435-4508

Cucina Manila on Urbanspoon

Other blog reviews of Cucina Manila:

Filipino Restaurant Series to date:

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    Crepe heaven is found at La Bretagne Creperie

    This is Blogathon post #34 of 48 in support of the David Suzuki Foundation

    La Bretagne Creperie is place I go to satisfy my frequent cravings for crepes and galettes.

    La Bretagne Creperie: peche melba?

    It’s leagues better than the other franchises that are spattered across downtown Vancouver. Enjoy your meal while sipping on apple cider and listening to Isabelle sing French ditties while she cooks.

    La Bretagne Creperie
    795 Jervis Street | Downtown Vancouver
    (604) 688-5989

    La Bretagne Creperie on Urbanspoon

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    Filipino Restaurant Series: Josephine’s

    Filipino food mosaic

    Filipino cuisine is the ultimate in comfort food. I may be a little biased, having been born in Manila and then raised by a mother who is an amazing cook…but I have many non-Filipino friends that can attest to the yumminess of Filipino home cooking (my husband included). You just have to be very open to pork in all its glorious forms.

    The problem with my love of Filipino food is that I don’t know how to cook all the dishes that I enjoy. Living downtown and preferring not to drive also compounds the sourcing of unusual ingredients like kangkong and sampalok. Cue Josephine’s Restaurant, which for years and years has been my #1 place to patronize when my Pinoy cravings needed to be assuaged.

    filipino champagne lunch

    Photo by Curtis Carlson Photography. Lunch before my wedding “catered” by Josephine’s.

    Lately, I’ve been harbouring traitorous feelings about Josephine’s. It is owned by family friends and former chef Mang Rene, of the original Broadway restaurant gem that was Mang Rene’s, was well loved by our family. With these ties, it is with extreme disappointment that I report the dreadful decline in the quality of the dishes that Josephine’s has been putting out.

    The saddest change is in their menudo. Their menudo used to be so tantalizing that my husband and I never felt the need to make it at home. We’d simply order it to go from Josephine’s and enjoy the aroma of stewed tomatoes and pork throughout the car ride home. One could even venture to say that it was better than my mother’s (shhh). These days, the menudo is bland, watery, not as vibrant in colour. Key ingredients have changed. There used to be lots of raisin, tomato, potato, and sausage (okay, hot dog…). Now it’s more or less a monotonous sea of pork.

    Bad menudo: the catalyst for change. I’m leaving the warm, once-delicious embrace of Josephine’s to flirt shamelessly with the other Filipino restaurants in the city. I’ll be sure to keep you all informed of my quest to find an authentic Filipino eatery to commit to. If I find one that’s really a keeper, we may go ring shopping and begin choosing baby names.

    What do you think of Josephine’s?

    If you have been to Josephine’s lately and care to disagree, please please comment! I want to know what is still good. Is the palabok still worthy? Has anything else suffered the same fate as my dear menudo? Give me the scoop!

    Josephine’s Filipino Restaurant
    2650 Main St | Vancouver
    (604) 876-8785

    Josephine's on Urbanspoon

    Filipino Restaurant Series to date: