Let’s begin by saying, shame on me. When Pleasure Palate founder Abby Abanes first mentioned Magic Wok in the summer of 2009, my only points of reference for Filipino cuisine were the unspectacular storefronts in Hollywood and Eagle Rock that touted heavily sauced food and left my stomach feeling leaden. Still, Filipino food is a point of pride for Abanes, and invites to her group dinners would have normally been enough to lure me to Artesia to try her favorite restaurant, but there always seemed to be a conflict. Finally, an assignment to write about out-of-the way restaurants led to lunch with Midtown Lunch founder Zach Brooks, who brought surprise guest Citizen Taco, and based on our meal, it’s clear that my misconceptions were unwarranted.
Artesia is a hotbed for Indian cuisine, but just off Pioneer Boulevard, other international cuisines co-star. Magic Wok opened in a strip mall in 1981. Chef Rudolfo “Rudy” Abuyen hails from Samar Island on the eastern end of the archipelago. His wife Marivic runs the front of the house.
Magic Wok lists 79 different savory offerings on their menu, many of them involving pork, which is the go-to protein in the Philippines. Sisig features cubes of vinegar-washed hog meat that sported crisp skins and nearly creamy cores. The dual textures and acid pop won table-wide raves.
Adobo is a Filipino standby, so we felt obligated to order Magic Wok’s version. They coated big chunks of pork in a surprisingly mild vinegar based sauce that left us longing for more acidity. The pork was also a tad tough, so we switched our focus to more magical dishes.
Magic Wok offers several different variations of the stir-fried noodle dish known as pancit, including flour noodles, glass noodles and the version we ordered, featuring rice noodles. The dark-meat chicken was surprisingly juicy, and the seemingly straightforward noodle dish also hosted crunchy cabbage, carrots and scallions. A squeeze of lemon added a nice tang.
By far the most devastating dish was the crispy fried pata (pig’s trotter), with crunchy skin that was nearly devoid of fat after taking a hot bath in bubbling oil. Underneath the chicharrones, we found a sticky layer of collagen and close to the bone, tender chunks of rich pork meat.
The crisp-sheathed egg roll cylinders called lumpia were also standouts, filled with ground pork and vegetables. The golden shells touted great snap. Our waitress suggested dipping them in a bright red sweet and sour dipping sauce, which tempered the dish’s richness.
They also provided a tiny plastic dish of vinegar, which paired well with the sisig, and a “pata” sauce that reminded Mr. Brooks of Italian dressing. Maybe so. It did have a similar flavor and consistency.
The three of us left Magic Wok after laying waste to an obscene amount of food while spending only about $10 apiece. The ridiculous value and bold flavors more than justified our long drives from other quadrants in L.A. County and guaranteed further exploration.