In a nondescript strip mall on Central Avenue in Yonkers, Hapag Filipino Cuisine is a bright spot. It’s quite literally the brightest storefront in the row — sitting next to a tiny Chinese-food takeout, its green sign and large window look particularly inviting — and its food is comfortable, authentic, and uncomplicated. With oversized wooden communal tables set beside just a few two-tops and what can best be described as a short fence separating the clean dining room from the service station, Hapag is not fancy, but the service is friendly; the food is boldly flavorful; and the experience is simply easy.
Shortly after sitting, you’ll more than likely be greeted by one of a few servers, most of whom do not wear a uniform, as if you’re a friend who’s come to try his food. (On one of my visits, one particularly kind server sat down backward next to us, on the picnic-table-style bench, leaning his elbow on the table, and patiently explained every one of the menu items, translating them into English or detailing what to expect without our even having to ask.) Calamansi juice, he’ll say, is a very popular lemonade-like drink in the Philippines; he’ll most likely undersell how sweet it is, but he’s right that it’s satisfying and refreshing, even on chilly winter days.
And the calamansi juice is in good company with its strong flavor. The adobong manok, chicken adobo stewed in vinegar and soy sauce among other things, is almost overseasoned, but the white rice that comes with it absorbs just enough to temper it; the sautéed shrimp — one of the only menu items curiously written in English — sits in a garlicky sauce that is both addicting and surprisingly complex, though be warned that the shrimp require peeling and de-heading. A nod to the cuisine’s Chinese influence, the perfectly golden lumpia (pork spring rolls) are just greasy enough, while the pancit, made of noodles tossed with chicken and vegetables, is surprisingly light. The totang talong, a traditional Filipino eggplant dish, is moist and serves its purpose as a vegetarian dish that stands up to the rest, and while the beef soup with a thin broth, called bulalo nilagang baka, doesn’t pack a punch like the rest of the dishes do, it does balance the otherwise strong tastes of the meal nicely.
There are some slightly less successful dishes, as well. The grilled-beef skewers are fine though not memorable, and the grilled liempo is a bit gummy; the sisig, a pork scramble served on a sizzling plate with a raw egg on top that cooks as you mix the dish together, smells delicious but the texture misses the mark. From the beverage menu, the bubble teas, in flavors like matcha and strawberry, teeter on cloyingly sweet, reminiscent of cotton candy.
Of the dessert options, the helpful servers only highlighted two when I inquired: the leche flan and the authentically Filipino halo-halo. The latter, a rainbow-sundae-like treat that translates to English as “mix-mix” or “assorted,” delivers on the promise of its name. It’s a massive portion of sweet ice creams, custard, jellied fruits, sweet beans, and crushed ice to stir in, and it’s as entertaining to eat as it sounds, with a different flavor and texture popping up in each bite.
From start to finish, the food at Hapag encourages camaraderie: As is common with Pinoy food, most of the dishes are designed to be shared family style, served with large spoons for portioning. And while it’s clear that less attention is paid to the presentation of each dish or coursing out the meal with any real sense of separating appetizers and entrées than is to how the food tastes, the unfussiness of the whole thing is well suited for a neighborhood restaurant. The overall experience is pleasant, whether for a quick lunch or relaxed dinner out — know what to expect and come hungry, and Hapag won’t disappoint.
Hapag Filipino Cuisine
1789 Central Ave., Yonkers
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Daisy Melamed Sanders is a freelance fashion, food, and lifestyle writer based just across the border in Fairfield County.