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.
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