First generation Filipino cook brings unique cuisine to Syracuse
Wes Knoll | Contributing Photographer
UPDATED: Oct. 11 at 8:15 p.m.
The sheer amount of takeout restaurants in Syracuse can be overwhelming. Although the options seem limitless, it ends up being a lot of the same thing. On GrubHub alone, there are over 10 places that deliver Chinese food, and more than double as many places have pizza. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: who doesn’t like lo mein or a cheesy slice? But there isn’t much room for variety during your Friday night dinner in front of the TV.
In a city so attached to American comfort food and quick-and-easy takeout, it was about time for something different to come to Syracuse. Oompa Loompyas is the only Filipino restaurant in the city. Located at the corner of North Crouse Ave and Burnet Ave, this little gray shop has been bursting with tantalizing aromas and flavors since this past May.
With varying dishes including the pork adobo bowl, putok putok shrimp and loompyas — it is understandable that some people may be hesitant to branch out from Marshall Street to try Syracuse’s newest cuisine.But do not fear — the food of the Philippines is an exciting fusion of traditional Filipino ingredients mixed with cuisines such as Spanish, Japanese, Indian and American.
Wes Knoll | Contributing Photographer
The adobo bowl consists of flavorful slow-cooked, tender pork served over jasmine rice, while the putok putok shrimp is simply battered shrimp topped with a spicy sauce. The loompyas — traditionally spelled “lumpias” — are a Filipino take on the eggroll and are Oompa Loompyas’s signature dish. You can get them filled with beef, crab and shrimp, spinach and artichoke, banana or even a New York favorite — Buffalo chicken. They also offer some more familiar options such as a variety of Filipino inspired sliders, burgers and buffalo jalapeno poppers.
Owner Azella Alvarez is a first generation Filipino immigrant. She was born in New Jersey to immigrant parents and raised in California where her family opened up a Filipino bakery. She eventually moved out to Central New York to get married, settled in the Syracuse area and started working desk jobs.
Alvarez began cooking lumpias at home and would bring them into work for her coworkers. They were such a hit that her coworkers and friends told her that she should sell them. After being laid off, she realized cooking could become a serious business opportunity.
This drove Alvarez to start a successful catering company, which she turned into a brick and mortar restaurant this past spring. Initially on the search for a food truck, this location fell into her lap and allowed her to expand her options and services.
To get the full experience, I decided to order a combination platter. At only $8.99, I was astounded at the amount of food I got. I chose chop suey — stir fried vegetables — as my entrée, one of each variety of loompyas and pancit — noodles with a sweet garlicy sauce and a few veggies mixed in. I also got an order of putok putok shrimp for good measure.
Everything from Oompa Loompyas tastes like it was made with care, created by someone who has been cooking and eating this food their entire lives. Unlike many take-out restaurants, whose food tastes as though it has been mass produced or been sitting in a hot pot all day, everything from Oompa Loompyas tastes like it was made by the Filipino grandmother you wish you had. The flavors were sweet, savory and complex. Although I got a variety of different dishes, they all complimented each other so well, and as a fan of tangy, saucy foods I was in heaven.
With the admittedly small menu of variations that she serves, Alvarez is trying to offer just enough to break the surface of the market and get people interested in Filipino food. She eventually wants to go deeper into the cuisine and offer more dishes that reflect the traditional food she grew up on. For now though, she is eager to expose the city — especially SU students — to the versatile and delicious world of Filipino food.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, Oompa Loompyas is only a short ride from campus and is available on GrubHub. Spice up your week and try something a little different like the Lechon Burger, topped with crispy pork and slaw — you will not be disappointed.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the status of Oompa Loompyas was misstated. Oompa Loompyas is not the first Filipino restaurant in Syracuse. The Daily Orange regrets this error.
Published on October 9, 2016 at 8:11 pm