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Maharlika: The Filipino Restaurant That Spiked The Hype In New York City

Filipina-American Nicole Ponseca was working in an advertising firm in New York City when she realized the dearth of Filipino restaurants in the city. Although there are about 3.4 million Filipino Americans living in the United States, she felt the absence of representation when it comes to our food. That realization motivated her to realize her dream of introducing Filipino cuisine to New Yorkers, and to the world at large.

Maharlika’s menu of delicious Filipino food

Thus was born Maharlika Filipino Moderno, a hip eatery tucked away in downtown Manhattan that serves distinctly Filipino comfort food that non-Filipinos can appreciate. Maharlika may stand for royalty in Tagalog, but It is also believed to be the original name of the Philippines before it was colonized by the Spaniards. Opening its doors in August 2011, the restaurant quickly garnered lots of buzz, winning positive reviews from the city’s top food critics, and attracting a primarily non-Filipino crowd.

Maharlika’s interiors – your Pinoy home away from home

While Maharlika’s chef, and Nicole’s business partner and fiancĂ©, Miguel Trinidad is Dominican-American, he says that, despite starting from scratch, the transition from Latin cuisine to Filipino was easy because of the common Spanish colonial influence. Amazed by Filipino flavors, Chef Miguel compares his initiation into Filipino food to a journey that hits you in every point of your mouth and makes you crave for more. Because of the lack of presence of Filipino food in the United States, Chef Miguel believes it is important that when introducing a new dish, you have to specify the ingredients and the condiments that go with it as well. Education is part of the experience, as he takes diners on a journey from process to plate. 

Nicole Ponseca presents the Chicken & Ube Waffles to Sarah Meier and Pia Wurtzbach

Maharlika offers traditional Filipino fare with a twist using fresh ingredients available. They recreate familiar dishes as a way to introduce the cuisine to the very discriminating NYC dining public, making these dishes less exotic and more relatable. For example, Eggs Imelda is their own version of Eggs Benedict. Pandesal, taro root, and shrimp paste take the place of English muffins and spinach. The poached eggs are topped with calamansi hollandaise with a couple of large prawns as a finishing touch. Their take on the classic American Chicken & Waffles involves ube, macapuno syrup, and bagoong butter. All these are enjoyed in an atmosphere that emphasizes great service, as the owners make sure diners have everything they want and need.

Chicken and Ube Waffles

Maharlika builds buzz around Filipino food by easing in somewhat exotic Filipino flavors with the familiar, making each dish truly memorable. And from its humble beginnings, Maharlika now has customers who have to book tables two to three months in advance. Chef Miguel and Nicole also opened another equally successful eatery called Jeepney Filipino Gastropub.

Patrons can also get their drink fix at the bar

By creating Maharlika and Jeepney, Nicole and Chef Miguel helped kick start the conversation on Filipino food in New York, one that is alive and well, with more and more Filipino restaurants opening in the city and across the United States. For those who think Filipino food is only hidden away in Filipino-American communities in the United States, think again. Filipino food is finally getting its much-deserved attention—and the dining public is loving it.

Maharlika, 111 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10003, maharlikanyc.com

Witness this unique and tasty experience on Pia’s Postcards, Episode 1, airing this Sunday at 8:30 PM on Metro Channel.