Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beat the Heat Filipino Style: Halo-Halo in Aurora at Sunburst Grill

Being a half-Filipino myself, I admittedly know less than I should about Filipino food. But while my non-Filipino mom raised me on pot roast and potatoes, I have made the journey back to my father's homeland more than once, and all my childhood and adolescent holidays were spent stuffing my little face with homemade Filipino delights, so I do possess at least more than default authority on the cuisine. And in Denver, where I rarely get anything at all like a home-cooked Filipino meal, I have to travel to Aurora.

For many Denver-ites, travelling to the far corners of Aurora for Filipino food may seem akin to making the journey to the Motherland itself: a long arduous journey to the far Southeast into unfamiliar regions full of new cultures and experiences. I do admit that I myself used to be overcome by indolence at the thought of driving anywhere East of I-225 or South of Parker Rd, but Aurora's many ethnic gems remind me again and again that it is a very worthwhile trip to make.

With the Tropical Grill back to a catering-only business and the closing of Manila to Go, Sunburst Grill is now the sole surviving Filipino restaurant in the Denver metro area. It is now going on two years, so it is a little shameful that I have just now made it out to visit them, though it is a good sign for them to survive for that long in such a far-away and isolated location.

There is a lot on the menu at Sunburst, and I plan to return, but I wanted to share at least one classic and wonderful Filipino dish that they do incredibly well here: Halo-Halo. Halo-Halo (pronounced "hollow-hollow") is an amazing dessert concoction that I first tasted down the street from where my dad grew up in Manila.

In the stifling heat and stagnant, sticky air of Manila's crowded streets, Halo-Halo is a refreshing douse of myriad flavors served over a welcome chunk of ice. Over that ice is poured condensed or evaporated milk and then the rest is up to the creativity of its creator. At Sunburst there were no less than eleven different toppings on my Halo-Halo, and presented in a bowl (versus a tall soda glass which is also common), it made for a dazzling and enticing array of color and texture.

The first place the eye is drawn is to the ube ice cream on top. Ube is pretty much a purple yam. It is sweet, earthy and has to be one of my favorite ice cream flavors. Also in the mix was an ube paste and next to that going clockwise were slices of fresh mango. Above that were caramelized bananas then a sticky rice that I think was coconut flavored. At the top of our halo-halo clock were firm red chunks of gelatin, followed by softer yet bigger chunks of green-tinted gelatin. Excellent bites of flan followed, then two types of beans: sweet red beans, and plainer white ones. Even more gelatin cubes followed, though this time they were clear, small and soft.

Halo-halo is fun to eat. The best bet is to mix it up with the cold milk underneath and explore the seemingly infinite flavor combinations. And it is not only the flavors, but the interesting textures of the gummy gelatin, the chewy beans and the crunch of the fresh mango. All these textural varieties, along with having beans as part of dessert, will seem strange to the typical American palate, but I think that even the plainest of palates would enjoy digging into a halo-halo on a hot summer day.

We ate a full meal at Sunburst, but I want to go back and try more before completing my review. I will say that what I had was all quite good. I will also say that like any good Filipino kitchen they had a giant wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall. And to further verify their authenticity, your flatware selection includes a fork and two spoons, as Filipinos are notorious for being able to eat anything with fork and spoon alone. All of these are good signs, of course, but the menu is extensive and I'm going to need some time (and gas money) to work my way through even part of it.

SunBurst Grill on Urbanspoon


  1. i had pork adobo and chicken adobo there.....i've had better before visiting this place and was hoping that it would be wasnt

  2. My family ate here once and never again. The food they served us seemed old that was previously frozen and reheated. Gross! I also ordered chicken tinola and the chicken was still raw although the soup was piping hot. So I told the cook about it but he insisted that the chicken was cooked! I even sliced one piece of the chicken meat in half on my plate and poured soup over it and I made him watch the chicken meat as it changed color each time I poured the soup over it. Plus, the chicken was still rubbery and it was clearly still pink. But he kept on insisting that the chicken is cooked. I told him that I know my chicken and that I have been cooking chicken for over 19 years, and that there is something I don't eat in this world and that is raw chicken. Frustrated with me, he then asked me if I would like him to cook the tinola some more. I said, "Yes, please." He then went back to the kitchen and put my bowl of tinola in the microwave. Our table was just right next to the kitchen so we heard the microwave. He then came back with my tinola and told me that he boiled it again in high heat to fully cook the chicken. I didn't eat and yet they still charged me for it. I can only assume that the soup base is already premade that's been reheated many times judging by the color and texture of the papaya and the taste of the soup and the papaya. I grew up in California and I know great Filipino food. I'm a cook myself and I know my food and their food is not all that. I bet if I inspect their kitchen I'd find many food safety violations!

    1. You're quite the complainer!

  3. I love halo-halo its really so good. Good food brings people together. Finger food is best suited for all occasions, it is light and people love eating it.


  4. those yellow mangoes are not mangoes they are called "langka" pronounced as lhang-kha. and those are not coconut flavored rice, its "macapuno" its close to coconut flesh but only its rare, you can only find 1 macapuno nut in a bunch of coconuts it a coconut tree so it is quite expensive even here in the philippines. and the white jellies are not gelatin its "nata de coco" also made from proccessed coconut water. though there are still many lacking ingredients if the sweets are cooked well and the beans soft to the bite its to die for here in the philippines...

  5. This restaurant is located in an area where if you blink you'd miss it, BUT if you take the time to find it, it's a gem of a place! Nothing fancy, but the food is outstanding to say the least. Love their pork and chicken skewers with rice (AMAZING). I ordered from them personally and for the company I work for and they never disappoint! People rant and rave about the food because it's so good and you get plenty. Give them a try...I guarantee, like me, you'll become a beliver (smile).

  6. I don't think they're that great either. I'm sad Manila to Go is gone. Their adobo and pinakbet and barbequed pork skewers were more delicious than this place's.



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