Entertainment Restaurants Bars

Worth a trip: Lumpia Shanghai at Isla Pilipina

Worth a trip: Lumpia Shanghai at Isla Pilipina
2501 W. Lawrence Ave. Unit D 773-271-2988

It's not so much a restaurant as it is a movement. When Ray Espiritu took over the Lincoln Square restaurant Isla Pilipina from his parents six years ago, it was very traditional, serving mostly expat Filipinos. Fresh out of art school, Espiritu didn't just want to serve food; he wanted to elevate Filipino cuisine and culture in Chicago. He wanted to help the community and create something that was an extension of his personality. "Any business is a form of art," he said. "There's a vibration from our audience. We feed off that and want to serve them well."

Espiritu took what was a drab storefront sandwiched in between a Little Caesars and a tiny liquor store and brightened it up with seafoam green paint, installed shiny new wood floors and comfy banquettes and put up scads of local art. Espiritu hand-illustrated the menu with stylized doodles, including a picture of a Filipino mom who I always imagine is scolding me to eat my vegetables.

While some Filipino spots let their food molder away in steam tables, Espiritu insisted on serving made-to-order dishes such as pancit ($7), stir-fried noodles mixed with vegetables and often meat, and brontosaurus-sized crispy pata ($15), deep-fried pork shanks with a richness that's nicely foiled by a vinegar-tinged dipping sauce. He and his chef Mario Nunez incorporated ingredients from local farms in to the restaurant's fare.

Visit most nights and Isla buzzes with the energy of a hot late-night Chinatown restaurant. But, instead of young Chinese students from UIC sopping up liquor from a Friday night drinking binge, there are a diverse group of young Filipinos, intrepid foodies and Lincoln Square families dining together.

The cornerstone of the Isla menu is the lumpia Shanghai. Pork, from a small farm in Indiana, and minced vegetables are wrapped in an eggroll-like wrapper (Isla imports these from the Philippines) and deep-fried until they emerge as mahogany-colored oil-dappled crispy cigar-shaped dumplings. They're somehow more addictive than a traditional Chinese eggroll, and though you'll be tempted to get the small order (10 for $3), go for the large (20 for $5). You'll eat them all.

Isla makes catering portions of these beauties as well. "They should replace vegetable trays and ranch dip," said Espiritu. "They should have them at Super Bowl parties." The restaurant makes 3,000 lumpia a day to keep up with demand. A couple years ago when I went to pick up a tray of 200 of the tasty rolls for a holiday shindig, Espiritu handed over the batch and said, "Here's your order of a million lumpia." All I could think was, "I wish he wasn't joking." I guarantee if he had given me that many, they would not have gone to waste.

Michael Nagrant is a RedEye special contributor. Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    During an early morning jog along Lake Michigan with his wife and children Tuesday, John Corba spotted a man struggling in the water nearly 30 yards from the shore.

  • Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann watched the world change from behind his drum kit, shoveling coal in the wildly tribal rhythm section as the Dead went from San Francisco underground curio to ground-breaking indie outfit, then progenitor of the improvisation-based rock...

  • Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    The cliché that colors every good rock star story is “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll." For the Grateful Dead, the trailblazing rock band known for its improvisational style, revelatory live shows and dedicated fanbase, there was that and so much more.

  • 10 best movies of 2015 so far

    10 best movies of 2015 so far

    The year’s half over! How did that happen? No idea. With six months of a good year of movies in the books, let’s see how the Top 10 list is looking, with a quote from each respective review. Note: There are a few I’ve seen that I really like that haven’t yet opened in Chicago, and those aren’t...

  • If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    Nearly 5 million more Americans would qualify for overtime pay under new rules proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration, a long-anticipated move expected to affect a broad swath of salaried employees from store managers to social workers to restaurant shift supervisors.

  • Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Unlike previous summers, UniStaff is experiencing a spike in job applicants at its Little Village location, a trend the branch manager says is tied to the city's minimum wage increase to $10 per hour beginning Wednesday.

Comments
Loading