Restaurant Review: Feasting on Filipino Flavors at Be More Pacific
Former food truck combines Southeast Asian tastes for a fun and approachable experience
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., March 29, 2019
Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Tue.-Fri., 4pm-10pm; Sat., 11am-10pm; Sunday brunch: 11am-3pm
I've been languishing under what I call flavor fatigue – boredom with every ingredient, sudden-onset cooking malaise, and back-and-forth dining out destination dialogue. I've just really been sick of food and in need of some kind of restaurant recalibration. Thanks to Be More Pacific, I found a path through the haze.
My experience with Filipino cuisine – an intricate mélange of Chinese, Spanish, and Indian flavors that morphs across the Southeast Asian archipelago of 7,000 islands – is pretty much limited to home-cooked meals at friends' homes throughout my life. A best friend in junior high was one of several siblings in a warm and bustling multigenerational Filipino family. My first taste of lumpia was at their house, and it remains a vivid memory of love at first bite. After her mother realized I was the preteen responsible for dramatically dwindling the shared pile of small pork and vegetable egg rolls – I was shoving them into my mouth, one after another, like a wood chipper – she quietly beamed, and brought out the reserves. I've probably been chasing that flavor and feeling ever since.
Be More Pacific started as a food truck in 2011, opened by first-generation Filipinos from Houston, and opened the brick-and-mortar at MoPac in 2017. I've tasted the food – especially their killer adobo – several times, by way of either the trailer or bites at events, but I hadn't sat down for a full meal yet. Shame on me. On a Wednesday night, which is all-night happy hour and wing night (one of several weekly specials du jour, like Sunday brunch and Kamayan Experience Night), some friends joined me for what amounted to a self-inflicted feast.
The restaurant doesn't exactly grab the attention of passersby – it's on the second story of a strip near MoPac and Anderson Lane, and the sign sits lower than those of its bookend businesses, Suzi's and Mattress Firm. Park in the lot, walk into the transpo-vibe entryway anchored by a concrete wall of "I love you too much" graffitied in Tagalog, and then take the elevator or staircase up to the actual eatery. The decor is minimal, with medium dark wooden booths and small-tops, cinder block walls painted Kelly green, and an occasional Warhol-esque painting, like the Campbell's can of sinigang soup.
As the designated point person, I immediately ordered the Shanghai (pork and shrimp) lumpia to buy time and was thrilled when they arrived. They're tiny, about two inches long and dime-sized in diameter, served by the half or dozen with a sweet (pineapple-free) chili sauce, and perfectly fried. As I've come to realize about Filipino fare, every dish, no matter how familiar or staple, is prepared differently by every cook. Every family has their own adobo recipe, lumpia filling, and pancit style, and that seems to represent not only the legit melting pot that is the Philippines, but the idea that tasting other people's rendition of comfort classics is another way to bond with fellow diners and the culture itself. On my second visit, I had the Gio's lumpia, which are much larger, served in pairs, and stuffed with krab and cream cheese – they're decadent, but a bit rich paired with the creamy mayo dip.
BMP is known for their spin on classic flavors, an ethos reflected all over the frequently updated menu, and they introduced what might be the most dangerous stoner food: longganisa tots. Yep, high or not, you cannot go wrong with tater tots mixed with house-made longganisa (aka pork sausage) crumbles, smothered in white queso and topped with scallions and banana sauce (akin to ketchup but much better). Not ordering another bowl, on both visits, was truly an act of self-restraint. By the way, the chicken wings are fatties, tossed in a choice of three sauces: spicy coconut curry lime, sweet chili, or, my favorite, a tamarind parmesan dry rub.
Next up was the martini glass of kilawin – a Filipino ceviche of yellowfin tuna, jicama, ginger, red onion, garlic, and serrano peppers, all cured in vinegar – something I found strangely addictive despite the searing heat from the tiny green slices. It's a healthy portion, and one I could envision being a lunch entrée, but again, holy forehead sweat, Batman, I was glad for my cocktail of Palawan punch, a pinkish tequila drink with ancho chile liqueur, agave, and citrus. As with a few things on the BMP menu, including the cucumber salad, I could have done without the extra twinge of sweetness in the cocktail. We tried the kare kare, a popular Filipino dish that has roots in the British colonization – Indian spices needed for the Brits' beloved curry were rare or nonexistent so they improvised, resulting in this sort of ode to the more well-known dish. BMP serves theirs with tender beef brisket, bok choy, Chinese long bean, and eggplant in the brown gravylike peanut sauce, with a side of homemade shrimp paste and steamed white rice. It's thick and hearty and the portion is easily shared, but it could have benefited from an uptick in brightness. Same goes for the lumpiang sariwa – a delicate crepe filled with shrimp, tofu, heart of palm, and other julienned veggies, topped with a sweet soy peanut sauce – which I very much enjoyed but found myself craving that, well, balanced kapow from ingredients like sour tamarind utilized in other parts of the menu.
Friday night offered a seasonal crawfish special, and the mudbugs were fresh and plump and even slipperier than usual as they're served in a creamy coconut-base broth. It's worth noting that on both visits, the service was laid-back but efficient, and both servers patiently answered a litany of questions. Friday night's guide was particularly forgiving when more than one of the claws shot right out of my hand in her general direction. Playfully called the S.C.C.L.B.F.R., it's a classic curry fried rice dish with either chicken or tofu, dry-tossed with bacon and spicy coconut curry lime, topped with an over-easy egg. In other words, this is comfort food 101, a dish just about every meat eater can agree on. My salmon sinigang soup was light and healthy, the fish was cooked to pink perfection, but the broth, and the long beans in particular, were missing one element of Filipino cuisine I've grown to love – the vinegary, bitter, sour profile. Still, there's something so – I'm not sure – caring, huggable, gentle in that bowl that I'd return just for the warm fuzzies. It's an overall theme at BMP really.
A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain, forever one of my heroes, proclaimed sisig would "win the hearts and minds of the world," and Andrew Zimmern said Filipino food was the next big thing. With such an amalgamation of flavors and textures and influences, Be More Pacific certainly doesn't represent the cuisine as a whole – nor could any single restaurant – but it does offer a fun and approachable experience for those entirely unfamiliar with the cuisine, and for those nostalgic for their own cherished dishes, just like Mrs. Feliciano's lumpia.
Be More Pacific7858 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Tue.-Fri., 11am-2:30pm, 4-10pm; Sat., 11am-10pm; Sun., 10am-2:30pm; Mon., closed