There’s a tiny restaurant on West Flamingo Road that’s been puzzling me. A few months ago, I noticed a sign had gone up for a place called The Soccer Café. It piqued my curiosity about exactly what type of food might be served there. When I eventually looked it up online and learned it was a Bulgarian restaurant, I immediately paid it a visit, only to find it had already closed.
A few weeks later, I spotted a new sign. Blame it on my poor eyesight, the font used on the sign or the fact that I usually pass it at 40 mph, but I was convinced it said Café de Cuba. So when I paid the space a second visit, expecting Cuban food, I got another surprise: The restaurant is actually Café de Cebu, and it specializes in Filipino cuisine. All of the confusion was worth it, however — it turned out to be the best, most accessible Filipino restaurant I’ve found in Las Vegas.
Café de Cebu is named after a province in the Philippines made up of 168 islands. (Its capital, Cebu City, is the oldest city in the Philippines.) It’s a small restaurant, with only seven tables. There’s a window into the kitchen and a counter where people place takeout orders, with waitress service for those dining in. It looks like countless little ethnic joints across the valley. What sets it apart is a cute outdoor patio off to the side. In addition to providing for dining al fresco, it also houses a large broiler that the chefs use to make the house specialty: lechon belly de Cebu.
Lechon, or suckling pig, is considered a delicacy in the Philippines. Here, as in Cebu, the chef takes a large piece of belly and slow roasts it until the skin is crispy and the meat is juicy. He then cuts it up and serves it with a mixture of red and green onions and a touch of lemongrass. A half-pound portion will set you back $8, with a pound going for $15.
Keep in mind, this little piggy isn’t neatly cut into pretty slices so you can eat only the portion you like. It’s hacked into a magnificent hodgepodge of skin that crunches when you bite into its deliciously gelatinous fat and wonderfully moist meat. It might scare away finicky eaters, but anyone who truly appreciates pig will love it.
While the lechon is clearly the way to go here, I’ve tried several other dishes from the single-page food menu, and enjoyed most of them. The ngo-yong ($4) is a trio of Filipino egg rolls filled with ground pork and vegetables. While they’re good, they’re a bit too greasy for my taste. For an appetizer, I much prefer krispy kang-kong ($4): Filipino water spinach fried in a tempura-like batter and served with garlic mayo for dipping. An order of cheese sticks, tiny egg rolls filled with chili peppers and cheese ($3), was also very good. And don’t overlook the complimentary shrimp toast, which crackles slightly when dipped in vinegar (ask for the imported stuff they keep behind the counter).
Of the entrees I’ve sampled, I was a bit disappointed with the liempo (grilled pork belly slices with papaya pickles and tomato onion relish, $8-$11). While it was tasty, the meat was too tough for my preference. I prefer the bam-i ($7-$10), a simple but delicious stir-fry of two types of noodles (canton and vermicelli) available with chicken or pork or, on certain days, shrimp.
While the menu is small, there are still plenty of dishes I’m dying to try. The humba (sweet pork stew with boiled eggs, $6-$10) made my mouth water when the diners next to me ordered it, and I’ve always loved fried bangus (milkfish, $11) when I’ve tried it elsewhere. I’m also intrigued by the steam-fried rice topped with “dimsum style” meat ($6-$7.50).
Those, sadly, will have to wait for another day. But I can assure you that day won’t be long in coming, now that I finally know what this place is.
CAFÉ DE CEBU 6680 W. Flamingo Road, 538-7588. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.