Manila Bakery & Café serves a variety of Filipino favorites, some fusion dishes and an assortment of attractive and tasty baked goods. They also cater and bake specialty cakes. If you’re new to Filipino food, definitely check out their mean lunch buffet served on Saturdays.
Manila Bakery & Café Keeps Diners on Their Toes
My wife and I arrived at Manila Bakery & Café (MBC) on a Saturday at about 12:30 p.m. We were excited to give their buffet a try. The line was nearly out the door. There are about 30-40 seats available. The cost of the buffet is $12.99 for adults and cheaper for children. Diners pay at the front counter and then enter the buffet line.
Seating is first come, first served. It looked as though when the seating maxed out, the crew operating the restaurant gave diners the choice to fill up a to-go container or wait for seating to become available. That was my observation, but I didn’t explicitly ask about the restaurant’s policy.
A fellow diner waiting in line saw my eyes grow wide as I approached the food. She asked if I knew what any of the dishes were. I correctly identified the chicken adobo and the pancit bihon, but I was stumped on the other dishes. My score of 2 / 6 was enough to garner a bit of street cred from the Filipina woman chatting with me. She was curious where I first discovered Filipino food. I shared that my maternal grandmother is from Tacloban in the Philippines. My new acquaintance shared that she is originally from Manila, and that she really digs the food at MBC.
Upon sitting down, my wife and I were excited to see some attractive condiments at each table. The spread included fish sauce, spicy vinegar, soy sauce, Jufran (name brand banana ketchup), Tobasco and diluted Sriracha.
Filipino cuisine is quite diverse, but there are some constants including vinegar, citrus, soy sauce and the most important – steamed white rice. My new acquaintance from Manila summarized Filipino food best when she said, “Rice is life.”
Serendipity Gave Rise to Filipino Excellence
When the lunch rush settled down, I got the opportunity to speak with Todd Shirey, aka Kuya Puti. Todd is the restaurant’s Assistant Manager. My first question was about his nickname, Kuya Puti. He explained that Kuya signifies an elder male and Puti signifies white. In other words, Todd is the restaurant’s resident older white guy. Despite my Caucasian appearance, I’m more than a third Filipino. I found a kinship with Todd as we talked about our mixed-culture families.
I asked him about the restaurant’s origin. He explained that he and his wife, Lorry, started a Filipino barbecue food truck in Las Vegas called Bubba Q’d. Lorry’s exceptional cooking and the couple’s enterprising spirit granted them early success. It wasn’t all easy sailing, though. Dialing in the menu offerings, the food quantity, the staff quantity and battling truck issues kept the Shireys very busy. I shared that I could relate to some of those struggles as I used to work on a food truck, too.
On one fortuitous outing, Todd and Lorry served the founder of Insomniac, the organizer of the Electric Daisy Carnival. The Electric Daisy Carnival is an electronic dance music festival that occurs yearly in Las Vegas. The Insomniac founder was so impressed with the food at Bubba Q’d that she invited the truck to serve in the VIP area of EDC in 2018. The Shireys gladly accepted.
While serving at EDC last year, the Shirey’s met Ryan Weeks – a festival-goer. The young entrepreneur was looking to start a Filipino restaurant in the Reno / Sparks area and was looking for partners who could deliver some culinary and operational expertise. The Shirey’s were already considering a move to this area, so the three decided to team up.
The three settled on the former space occupied by Dee’s Bakery & Café.
Ryan became the General Partner for MBC while Todd became Assistant Manager and Lorry became Operations Manager / Chef. The crew was also pleased to welcome Leo Hernandez to the team. Hernandez was a baking phenom at Dee’s.
Variety Is the Rice of Life
The buffet included six dishes and white rice. First up was the chicken adobo, a dish that includes tender, fatty chicken marinated and cooked with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf and whole black peppercorns. Lorry also included bamboo shoots. The flavor and texture were fantastic. Some splashes of the spicy vinegar atop this dish really hit the spot.
Next up was the sinigang na buto, aka sour pork-bone soup. According to a bit of research “buto-buto” means pork neck bones. My grandma Rosie also advised that the dish can be made with pig’s feet. I failed to ask which cuts were used for the batch at the buffet. The dish also typically includes eggplant, radish, okra, potatoes, green chilis, tamarind, onion, garlic and tomatoes. At MBC, I spotted meaty pork bones, green beans and tomatoes. The soup was a little sour, a little funky, warm and satisfying.
We had the beef caldereta next. The tomato-y beef stew included green bell pepper, large wedges of potato, green olives, black olives and tender chunks of beef. I’ve never had green olives in a stew, and I loved them! The balance of briny and savory flavors was wonderful.
Next was the pinakbet. This dish included green beans, eggplant, bitter melon
Next up was the pancit bihon. Diners may have heard of pancit canton and pancit bihon. The canton variety uses egg noodles and the bihon variety uses translucent rice noodles. At MBC, the rice noodles were cooked just right, and some cabbage and carrots added a nice crunch. Here, too, I enjoyed some splashes of the chili-infused vinegar.
The last item we tried was the fried chicken. Lorry and her kitchen team battered bite-sized pieces of chicken and fried them to a beautiful, crisp brown. The chicken didn’t resemble popcorn chicken as some might guess. Instead, the pieces looked more like Indian pakoras (fritters). MBC’s chicken subtly reminded me of Lay’s salted potato chips. I’m not sure if Lorry used potato starch for the batter or something else. Her fried chicken is the bomb!
I later asked my grandma Rosie if she often ate fried chicken in the Philippines. She said, “Of course!” I asked her why she never made it for me or my mom growing up, and she said it’s so simple and she wasn’t sure if we’d like it. The knowledge that I missed out on decades of Filipino fried chicken was devastating. Rest assured, I’ll be returning to MBC for this truly divine dish.
On my way out of the restaurant I snagged a small tray of their leche flan for $3. Leche flan is Rosie’s favorite. Next time I’ll buy three trays. It was blissfully good! I can’t wait to return to try their other baked goods and a la carte menu.
Manila Bakery & Café Details
Manila Bakery & Café is located at 970 S. McCarran Blvd., Suite 102, Sparks, NV 89431 inside McCarran Square. They serve their regular menu Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. They serve their buffet on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are closed on Sundays. Call 775-351-2253 for your take-out order or catering inquiry. Visit them online at manilabakerycafe.com.
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his wife.