Filipino restaurant Estrellita opened in late August along Woodward Avenue in Grant Park. Owners Hope Webb and Walter Cortado want to share the flavors of their childhoods and Pampanga, a province northwest of Manilla in the Philippines, through food and family recipes on the menu here.
At just 20 seats and with no bar, Webb and Cortado designed Estrellita as an intimate gathering spot for the neighborhood, where the two, along with Cortado’s sister Blessada Gamble, would mingle with diners and educate them on Estrellita’s dishes. Now she and Cortado are just trying to take opening a new restaurant and the changing circumstances surrounding operating Estrellita during a pandemic in stride.
Food of the Philippines, which comprises over 7,600 islands, incorporates flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques from its Spanish colonizers, and later the United States, into dishes. Named for King Phillip II, Spain ruled over the islands for more than 330 years, followed by 48 years of military occupation by the U.S. The Philippines gained full independence in 1946.
“The region [of the Philippines] where our food comes from is very savory,” Webb says of the variations and nuances found in Filipino cuisine. “With over 7,000 islands and 300 dialects, my adobo is going be different than someone else’s adobo. That’s the beauty of Filipino food. Everyone has their own signature style and way of preparing the food.”
Webb is heartened by the support she and Cortado have experienced within Atlanta’s Filipino community since announcing the restaurant last spring, and the camaraderie the pair have found in chefs and food producers, like Mia Orino and Carlo Gan of pop-up Kamayan ATL, Mike Pimentel of pop-up Adobo ATL, and cottage bakery Three Lola’s Bake Shop.
Once the restaurant obtains its liquor license, Webb and Cortado expect to offer Filipino beer, a small list of wines, sangria, and around five cocktails, which lean into tequila. For now, Estrellita is open for dinner six days a week and for weekend brunch. The pair plan to expand the menu over the coming weeks. Recent additions to the menu include pork adobo and a take on chicharrones using chicken skins served with a vinegar dipping sauce.
“It’s scary and exciting at the same time to be opening a restaurant, let alone a Filipino restaurant, right now in Atlanta. You want to make sure that you’re representing the culture well,” Webb says. “The pandemic has altered our initial vision, which was to invite you into our home where we walk around to tables and teach people about the Filipino culture and food. We can’t wait to be able to finally do that safely when this is all over.”
Pork belly salted and seasoned with bay leaves, then boiled, and finally deep-fried to form a crispy crust, encasing the tender pork belly inside. The meat is cut into bite-sized portions and served with a soy and vinegar sauce.
Fried spring rolls stuffed with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables, like shredded carrots and cabbage, wrapped in a crepe-like pastry referred to as a “lumpia wrapper.”
Cortado blends bihon rice noodles and Canton egg noodles together in the pancit for Estrellita. “This is one of those comfort dishes where you’ll find that everyone kind of makes their own version,” says Cortado. “The two noodles give it really good balance.” Chicken, shrimp, and vegetables, like snow peas and carrots, are added to the noodles and sautéd in a wok, before being garnished with green onions and squeezes of lemon juice.
Thinly sliced beef marinated in a savory soy and lemon mixture, which when pan-fried gives the meat a “nice smoky, charred flavor.” The bistek (or beef steak) is served with fragrant jasmine rice.
“It’s very hot in the Philippines, so halo-halo (mix-mix) is meant to be a refreshing shaved ice treat,” Cortado says. “It’s delicious and basically a mix of a lot of different Filipino dessert flavors.” Estrellita’s version consists of crushed ice and sweet milk, shredded coconut, and tapioca pearls, topped with ube ice cream and leche flan.
580 Woodward Avenue SE, Atlanta. estrellitafilipino.com.