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Filipino 'Carinderia' Wins Prestigious America's Classics Award 2020

Serving sinigang, adobo and other beloved Pinoy dishes for over 30 years, Oriental Mart gets recognition from the prestigious James Beard Awards

Tucked away behind a small grocery inside Seattle's famous Pike Place Market is Oriental Mart, a tiny Filipino restaurant that has been serving Filipino food in all its home cooked goodness for over 30 years. Just last Tuesday, Oriental Mart was named one of six winners of the prestigious America’s Classics Award by the James Beard Foundation.

Begun in 1971 by Milagros Apostol as a grocery store that mainly served Filipinos in the Seattle area, Oriental Mart later expanded into a small restaurant with counter seating where she started serving her family’s native Filipino home cooking. It took a decade for the restaurant to become something of a neighborhood icon. Milagros ran the business with the help of daughters Joy Mori (who handles the retail end), and Leila Rojas, who now helms the kitchen.

When informed about the award, Leila told the Seattle Times in a phone interview that she never imagined such recognition could be given to "just a hole in the wall restaurant." Indeed, Oriental Mart breaks many of the rules — it has just 18 seats, no website and, most confusing for newcomers, no menu. 

Instead of a standard menu, Leila cooks five to seven dishes daily, and these dishes will depend on the available ingredients of the day and her own preferences. This way, she says, she doesn’t get bored and can mix up her cooking repertoire. First timers confused by this system are advised to order the “Do You Trust Me Plate” which has Leila serving up a pork or fish viand on a hot plate, with sidings. It’s hefty enough for two to share. 

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Over the years, Oriental Mart has become famous for such Filipino classics as sinigang na salmon (the Americans call this the salmon tamarind soup), lumpia, and dinuguan (pork blood stew) — the latter being a particular favorite of Fillipino seamen. Neighborhood favorites are the pancit, longanisa and adobo.

The James Beard Foundation has been awarding America’s Classics Award since 1998 to restaurants, usually mom-and-pop types, that “have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.” Oriental Mart is one of just six awardees this year. The awarding ceremony is slated for May 4. 

Oriental Mart, Pike Place Market, 85 Pike Street, Seattle, Washington, or follow them on Instagram.

Lead photos: @orientalmart71