Kusina Ni Lorraine

I should never have found this restaurant if it hadn’t been across the road from the Old Navy Store. The Kusina Ni Lorraine was hidden in plain sight in a dingy strip mall on the S. Maryland Parkway halfway between McCarran International Airport and the Plaza Hotel. I only stopped because I needed a few pair of boxer shorts. I hadn’t eaten in several hours so I had been scanning this part of mid-Las Vegas for a suitable place to eat.

I hastily completed my purchase and then waded through traffic to the other side of the street. Up close I began question whether or not this place was maybe a bit too southside authentic even for the likes of me.

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The restaurant was nestled among a thrift store, a beauty supply, a mini-mart and a tattoo parlor. I had asked the checkout clerk at Old Navy how the food was and he told me he’d never eaten there. No adventure there I guess.

The restaurant was attached to a grocery store of the same name and all the grim ’70s aluminum trim didn’t do anything to assuage my concerns.

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The interior was surprisingly spacious and clean and was wonderfully populated with several tables of Filipinos. One look and I knew I found the epicenter for local delicious – made just like mom does it – classic homestyle Filipino cuisine.

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This was only one-third of the buffet:

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I haven’t eaten a second plate of food in several years but I made an exception here.

I wanted to try everything. I took a bit of the fried pork rind. A small scoop of the Cuttlefish in some sort of fish sauce. I had a serving of something called chocolate meat which I learned later was a dish called Dinuguan, a Filipino savory stew of pork offal and/or meat simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili, and vinegar.

I tried the longanisa – a sausage much like the Mexican sausage of the same name but smaller and prepared with different spices. There was plate of sweetened cured pork – like the red Chinese variety but once again different. And I was simply beside myself with joy and happiness when I discovered the lengua (tongue) in some sort of mushroom creme sauce.

And if that wasn’t enough tear-inducing happiness, there was also a big dish of chopped tripe floating gossamer-like in a lovely safflower colored sauce.

It was all so delicious. Lots of flavors I hadn’t experienced in years. There wasn’t a single Filipino restaurant in Washington, DC. So was California my last go at Filipino or the mother country itself?

One of the ladies maintaining the buffet watched the old gringo as he circled the tables smiling and muttering to himself. Her curiosity got the best of her and she came over. Once discovering his manifold interest in the subject of all great Filipino family dishes was true she then proceeded to give him a detailed culinary tour complete with numerous explanations, urging yet even more food on him.

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I even learned from her the reason for all the little cups (shown above) situated on the table along with the two big stacks of clean plates. I guess it becomes apparent when you see the photo but if it isn’t the cups are there to keep the flavors of individual dishes separated. (I first thought they were dessert cups.)

PS – This wonderful buffet was the best single meal I’ve ever eaten in Las Vegas and it cost only a cool 10 bucks. Try the place on your next visit. The restaurant is located at 3507 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada.

PPS – Everyone wants to think you can find everything on the internet these days. Balderdash. Search for best restaurants (best food, hometown favorites, local Asian fare, etc.) and all you’ll get is a bunch of bad Yelp bullshit. This place was obviously not SEO’d or page ranked. But this place is exactly the kind of place real people – real foodie people – want to go to.

PPS – What is it that makes Filipino food, Filipino? Damned if I know. I’ve been to the Philippines many times, spent literally months there back in the ’90s when I was helping Intel build a $1B factory north of the capitol. I ate out a lot. I also ate with locals and I kind of know the food as well as most any other quasi-educated foreigner and all I can say is that Filipino food is kind of a hybrid between a relatively heavy Spanish flavor palette laid onto indigenous ingredients; all with some kind of a subtle Chinese backstory.

Think about it. The broader spices used by the Filipinos is much the same as the Thais – ginger, chili, lemongrass, turmeric, etc. – but the application is obviously different because Thai food generally speaking is light and bright while Filipino food flavors seem somewhat opposite that. I know there are exceptions but these are my general conclusions.

Note: I say Spanish influence for not just the obvious historical reasons but also for some of the specific dishes. Tripe for instance. I can’t ever remember eating tripe in Thailand. Also the longanisa. Very Mexican/Spanish flavors. Dense. And the use of blood in the Dinuguan. And the wide use of pig products in general.

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