I know I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but can I judge a restaurant by its sign? If realtors talk all the time about "curb appeal," can restaurant reviewers talk about sign appeal? Town Fiesta, a new Filipino restaurant and bakery, has convinced me that I can. "Town" is done up in solid red, but "Fiesta" is just that -- a potluck party where each letter brings a different color. The food on the inside matches the sign perfectly -- colorful, happening, and a pleasant departure from the ordinary.
Owners Raquel Ilog and Christina de la Cruz made a good choice when they opted for the multicolored sign. Nestled into the southeastern corner of a sprawling strip mall at Academy and Chelton, Town Fiesta could be hard to find if not for its Technicolor beacon. Once inside, make your way to the cafeteria-style counter and place your order. Take your tasty treats home or sit at one of the many tables for four and enjoy Filipino variety shows on the big-screen television.
Choosing what to eat proves more difficult then deciding where to put it down. Town Fiesta offers eight different hot entrees every day. Grab a schedule, and begin your tour. Although a few dishes cater to those new to Filipino food, most are authentic, homemade recipes. A cluster of islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines participated in inter-island cultural exchanges for centuries before becoming embroiled in a series of European and Asian colonization projects. Filipino cuisine bears the influence of this unique history, showcasing tropical, Asian and Spanish components.
If you stop by on Tuesday, order the hamonado to enjoy the full spectrum of this mixture. Roasted pork, itself evocative of Spanish and Caribbean dishes, gets braised with sweet green cabbage and pineapple in a light brown sauce. The sweet and smoky flavors blend nicely with the earthy cabbage. You can have this, or any other dish, with rice and vegetables for a song, at $4.09. Town Fiesta also makes it easy to experiment, offering your choice of three specials with rice for only $2 more.
Some dishes show a more decidedly Spanish influence. My favorites in this category are the adobo and the steak. Garlic, citrus juice, and chilies are the basis for the adobo, one of the few items available daily, which thickens into a savory sauce while chunks of chicken and pork stew inside it. Thin strips of flavorful grilled steak comes with tasty caramelized onions and a syrupy brown gravy that has just the right amount of salt to make the whole dish come together.
Among the more indigenous dishes is a winning traditional soup called sinigang. This bowl surely ranks among the best in Colorado Springs. Its complex broth has a sweet stock-base that gets a sour kick from a healthy dose of vinegar and spice, and chunks of radish lend a magnificent finishing tang. Joining in the fun are tender bits of pork and whole okra. I can't think of a better way to enjoy a warm spring afternoon than sipping a bowl of sinigang on the patio at home.
Adventurous eaters might want to try some of Town Fiesta's most authentic items. I sampled whole fried mackerel, which were crispy on the outside with firm, flaky meat on the inside. The salty morsels pulled easily from the bone and brought a briny breath of the Pacific to my mouth. This might not be for everyone, but I liked it. I was less impressed with kare-kare dagat, a braised dish with a light and thin peanut sauce to which shrimp paste adds depth and gusto. But the beauty of Town Fiesta is that with over 30 different dishes available each week, you are bound to find several that will keep you coming back.
Don't forget to sample Town Fiesta's sweet side too. They offer an array of indigenous baked goods that taste as good as they look. I'm already addicted to their siopao, a sticky steamed bun filled with savory pork. They make their own sauce to go with it, and at $1.25 apiece this habit won't cost you your job, your marriage or your house. My wife really liked their banana fritters, which were sweet inside and had a shiny sugar glaze on the outside. They have about 10 other dessert and bakery items every day, including cassava cake, pandesal and turon.
I'll be heading back to Town Fiesta soon, to try more of their daily specials and to get my siopao fix. So plan a party for your taste buds, and get over there yourself. The food is ready when you want it; there are plenty of dishes to choose from and lots of room for your kids to roam around. Best of all, you'll leave happy without spending too much money. Viva Town Fiesta!
Town Fiesta Filipino Caf and Bakery
1861 S. Academy Blvd.
Open Tuesday Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.