Tables covered in ceramic bowls and plates, various sizes and hues, some holding a stewed meat, maybe a dry-rubbed pork shank, or a butterflied and fried whole pompano, with bright vegetables and rice on the side.
Sunday supper at Lasa feels like an instant party.
Or maybe it’s more like home.
That’s the goal, anyway. Owned by brothers Chad and Chase Valencia — the chef and master of the front-of-the-house, respectively — Lasa is Filipino at heart, with all the trappings of a seasonal, on-trend California restaurant. Tucked inside the Far East Plaza in Chinatown, its interior features palm green walls inspired by the forest and hillsides around the Philippines. Dark brown tables feel communal by nature, whether you’re with two or 20 people. It’s a setting that beckons a casual feast.
“Lasa is, and was, our effort of trying to pursue Filipino food, or at least our version of it,” says Chad Valencia. “As Filipino Americans, and Angelenos specifically, we want to figure out what makes sense here in L.A., what people are into. We’re always seeing what different experiences we can offer within our four walls.”
Recently, that has meant going from cerebral to celebratory, moving from small plates and coursed-out tasting menus to shared large-format centerpieces. During the holidays, they turned the whole place into a family-style get together with a kamayan feast — in Tagalog, kamayan means “by hand” — with whole fried fish, kare-kare kabobs, inasal (richly flavored grilled chicken), mushroom sisig, and lechon all laid out on tables covered in banana leaves. True to its name, there were no utensils. People joyously dug in with their hands.
The Valencias felt a shift. They wanted Lasa to have a more casual vibe, to serve accessible everyday Filipino food versus elevated California cuisine with Pinoy touches. They soon added a regular Sunday Supper that mimics the holiday celebration (albeit with utensils), with options like whole pompano, a roasted chicken, crispy pata, a fried pork shank, and a slew of sides, all meant to be shared.
For Resy’s Off Menu Week (Feb. 24-Mar. 1), Chad is introducing stewed lamb neck, which is based on a traditional tomato-braised goat dish that made its way from Spain to the Philippines. The two served it at one of their earliest pop-ups and now want to revisit it. The robust lamb kaldereta is surrounded by confit potatoes, roasted carrots, charred shishito peppers, a mustard green salad to balance the richness, and steamed rice to soak up the drippings.
“For a while, it felt like we were skipping a step, like not trying to introduce Filipino food first and then trying our version,” Chad says. “So now it’s more about Filipino American comfort food, less hardcore.”
The idea of serving big plates of food isn’t new to the Valencias. After all, it’s how the brothers ate with their own family growing up around Los Angeles. Their mom would cook whole fried tilapia and tomato salad with salted duck eggs. But outside of the confines of home, Chad says he wasn’t quick to share his Filipino food heritage.
“There was still this generational sense of shame that comes with people who came here to assimilate,” he recalls. “Our parents came here to do that one thing. They weren’t trying to be overt about their culture. But I didn’t want friends coming over and smelling fish head soup.”
That all changed when he started working in restaurants. He was a line cook at Corina Weibel’s perfect Atwater Village neighborhood restaurant, Canelé. There he learned all about seasonality, how to work with produce, what to look for at the markets, which farmers to talk to and buy from. While Canelé featured dishes with influences from Italy and France, Chad gravitated to those with Spanish flavors because he recognized so many from Filipino cuisine. This led him to Contigo in San Francisco to work with chef Brett Emerson.
“He was doing Catalan food with seasonal produce and Californian food with Spanish flavors,” Chad says. “That’s how I wanted to serve Filipino food, in that philosophy. An ambitious neighborhood restaurant, seasonal ingredients with our flavors. It all made sense to me.”
When Chad returned to L.A., he and his brother both worked at Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl. Soon they started their Lasa pop-ups, which captured the attention of esteemed eaters like Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain. Chad credits both with helping introduce Filipino cuisine to Los Angeles and beyond, and he feels a personal responsibility to continue leading people to all it has to offer.
“Their validity and voices were so huge and heard. It’s up to us now to really push it,” Chad says. “We’re going to make sure that we make food that tastes good and that the experience is memorable and fun. That can mean a lot of different things. Even if it’s us adapting to what Angelenos want, what they’re looking for, we always want to be true to ourselves first.”