A Taste of the Philippines in McCauley
RJ Tasty Bites is another hidden gem in Chinatown.
RJ Tasty Bites
9711 107 Avenue NW
While a great many of McCauley’s restaurants are visible on our famous Chinatown strip along 97th Street, there’s also more excellent food hiding just out of sight.
RJ Tasty Bites is a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall tucked inside a doorway just half a block to the west, kitty-corner from Lucky 97 or south across the avenue from Lee Garden Korean. At 9711 107th Avenue, it’s easy to get to by walking or bus, as well as having street parking right at the door.
Julia (the “J” in RJ) immediately welcomed us inside, with no reservations needed.When I mentioned that my spouse and I lived in the area and hadn’t noticed the restaurant before, she told us that they were attracted to the neighbourhood because of cost and location. Buying a restaurant space in McCauley beat other areas of Edmonton, while the central location made their delivery and take-out business so much easier than from other neighbourhoods.
Julia and “R” (her husband) had run a popular restaurant in the Philippines before settling in Edmonton, so they are able to offer an extensive menu of Filipino cuisine. Their clean and bright space is fairly simple with just a couple of larger tables for families and a few smaller tables for one or two. There was a brisk delivery and take-out business happening, definitely evidence of R’s cooking reputation in the Filipino community, which had spread through years of catering parties and weddings.
Combining Asian cuisine with Spanish empire influences, Filipino foods centre around combinations of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), and salty (alat). Popular dishes include adobo (vinegar and soy sauce-based stews), caldereta (meat stewed in tomato sauce and liver paste), mechado (larded beef in soy and tomato sauce), kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce), pinakbet (veggies like kabocha squash, eggplant, beans, okra, bitter melon, and tomato as a stew, flavoured with shrimp paste), sinigang (meat or seafood with vegetables in sour broth), pancit (noodles), and lumpia (deep-fried spring rolls).
We ordered the Beef Adobo, which we learned is a super-popular item. It was already sold out by the time we’d arrived! So Julia suggested the pork version. While it was cooking, we decided to try the lumpia (spring rolls) appetizer, which arrived in a small basket. The rolls were tight, golden, small and crispy and not at all greasy, awakening the appetite for more. The Pork Adobo came nicely seasoned and plenty meaty, with well-cooked chunks to dig the fork into. We also shared a Chicken Mami, shredded chicken pieces in a big bowl of noodle soup, served with green onions, roasted garlic, bok choy, napa cabbage and boiled egg. This soup (or the Pork Siomai and Beef Pares version) would make a great one-person meal, bringing to mind a Japanese ramen or Vietnamese pho.
Counterpoint is a feature in Filipino cuisine which normally comes in a pairing of something sweet with something salty or sour. For example, Puto, mildly sweet rice cakes almost like miniature cupcakes we were offered for dessert, each featured a surprise – a tiny decorative strip of salty and fatty processed cheese. It was a surprisingly tasty combination!
Stomachs filling from the hearty food, we noticed that RJ’s also served bubble tea as well as calamansi juice, sago, and summer coolers for drinks. Wanting to see what a Filipino bubble tea was like, we each ordered one, and were happy to find they were absolutely loaded with bubbles and jelly – tasty bites indeed!
The two of us enjoyed the tasty and very substantial meal, with two containers left over for the next day’s lunches, for about $50. And there’s so much on the menu that we couldn’t yet try, like the Silog rice meals and the Beef Pares. We’ll be back.
Alan lives in McCauley. He is the Chair of the paper’s Board of Directors.