This Filipino eatery in Sparks is a culinary adventure. Here's a guide on what to order

Manila Hong Kong Store & Kitchen owners Ron and Mylene Leron stand inside the kitchen area of their store on Oct. 14, 2021.
Evan Haddad
Reno Gazette Journal

When people think of 1984, some may think of Ronald Reagan, sci-fi dystopias and the Soviet Union. 

Alicia Clement thought it was the year to give Reno a Filipino grocery store. 

In 1984, Clement, a Filipino immigrant, opened Manila Hong Kong, a tiny store on Booth Street that held a piece of the world whose food she loved and whose land she missed. Reno's Filipino community was so small at the time that she had to make weekly trips to Filipino stores in San Francisco and haul back goods using a small van. 

Clement enlisted the help of her six children as the business grew. Her three girls — Rebecca, Rose and Ruth — delivered groceries door-to-door. Her eldest child, Ron, became the San Francisco van driver.

Now, nearly 40 years and a generation later, Ron Leron and his wife Mylene own the business, recently celebrating the grand opening of Manila Hong Kong's latest store, at 2233 Oddie Blvd. in Sparks.

Manila Hong Kong Store & Kitchen at 2233 Oddie Blvd., in Sparks, Nevada, Oct. 14, 2021.

Manila Hong Kong aims to be something like a Filipino version of Trader Joe's: clean, inviting and unpretentious. 

The shop features a mix of American, Filipino and other Asian products, such as teas, noodles and baked goods. Mylene Leron hopes the eclectic mix of products, along with the modern décor, will draw in customers as diverse as the city itself.

"We want it to feel homey," Mylene Leron said. "We want to attract not just the Filipino community but other cultures, too."

East meets West

Manila Hong Kong's restaurant features a rotation of traditional homestyle Filipino dishes for in-house dining or takeaway. For $350, you can also order a 35-pound roasted pig for those festive occasions when a spit-roasted animal is in order.

This cake roll is a popular item available at Manila Hong Kong Store & Kitchen.

RGJ business reporter Jason Hidalgo, who moved to Reno from the Philippines in 1992 and whose mother regularly visits the store, offered a bit of insight on the food:

"Filipino cuisine is a combination of Asian and Spanish influences, which at times results in an interesting mix of East-meets-West," he said. "When it comes to Filipino restaurant food, there are usually two approaches: One is to go the fancier fusion route to make it more palatable to Western tastes; the other is the home-cooking route, which leans more toward what Filipinos make at home. Manila Hong Kong tends to make the latter."

Here's what to order

Like with any new cuisine, ordering a good Filipino meal may seem intimidating. It doesn't have to be.

Here is a delicious list of Filipino favorites, courtesy of Hidalgo, that you'll want to try on your visit to Manila Hong Kong. Make sure to read to the end to get a recommendation for a scrumptious dessert you wish you'd heard about sooner.

Lumpia — This Filipino-style egg roll is a common staple at parties and uses seasoned ground meat with soy sauce, along with chopped onion, scallions and carrots. The most common lumpia uses pork, which is what Manila Hong Kong serves, but it can also feature chicken, beef or even ground shrimp with meat for special occasions. Manila Hong Kong serves its lumpia with sweet-and-sour sauce on the side, though some Filipinos prefer a spicy seasoned vinegar. The restaurant has it, if that's what you want.

Sinigang — This is a traditional meat stew whose signature ingredient, unripe green tamarind, gives the dish a slightly sour flavor. Other ingredients include eggplant, okra, yam and long green peppers.

Sinigang is a sour Filipino stew that's flavored with tamarind and consists of meat and vegetables.

Pansit —  Another go-to dish, this rice noodle stir-fry is typically cooked with chopped cabbage and julienned carrots, and seasoned with several aromatics. Popular meat options are pork and chicken. 

Filipino adobo —  Meghan Markle loves this dish and for good reason. Alongside lumpia and pansit, adobo completes the trinity of Filipino foods most friendly to non-Filipino palates. The dish's dominant notes are soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and pepper with a hint of bay leaf. Chicken is arguably the most popular version, although pork can be used as well.

Lechon kawali is a deep-fried pork belly that's typically served with a brown "lechon" sauce or spicy vinegar.

Lechon kawali —  “Lechon” describes a way to prepare pork, while “kawali” is Filipino for pan. In short, lechon kawali is deep-fried pork belly that's typically served with a brown lechon sauce or spicy vinegar for dipping. Manila Hong Kong's version features extra crispy skin with a layer of fat that melts in your mouth. If you like barbecue, you'll like this flavor and texture.

Longganisa —  A garlicky, Filipino sausage that’s made with annatto, a condiment that transforms the frying oil into a bright orange. Every region has its version, which can range from salty to sweet. Manila Hong Kong serves it sweet. The dish is typically served with fried rice and a side of seasoned vinegar.

Longganisa is a garlicky Filipino-style sausage with multiple variations by region. This shows the sweet version.

Halo-Halo —  Meaning "mix-mix" in Tagalog, Halo-Halo is a creamy dessert drink loaded with shaved ice, fresh fruits, jellies, and chickpeas. A staple of Filipino desserts, Halo-Halo can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. 

Manila Hong Kong serves it with a dollop of ube ice-cream on top, which quickly goes asunder to color the drink a pale, milky purple. Jackfruit ice cream is another popular option. Despite the dessert's beautiful presentation, Filipino custom dictates that it be thoroughly mixed before eating.

Halo-Halo quenches and delights one's thirst. The texture is cold, crunchy, chewy and somewhat sweet, all at once. Similar to ice cream trucks stationed on hot city streets in America, Halo-Halo street stalls have ingredients lined up in containers, which thirsty Filipinos select to include in their dessert.

Whether it's dinner or lunch, you're going to want to finish your meal at Manila Hong Kong with one of these — and come back for another. 

Follow Evan Haddad for timely, relevant and compelling reporting on food, drinks and city life in Reno. Please consider supporting his work by subscribing to RGJ for news about Northern Nevada that you won't find anywhere else.