From plant-based sisig to bola bola: Filipina chef Reina Montenegro brings vegan comfort food to Brisbane, CA

Chef Reina features plant-based renditions of traditional Filipino dishes like sisig. | Photo by Mogli Maureal

CHEF Reina Montenegro is ready to continue her reign as the queen of vegan Filipino comfort food.

Montenegro — a restaurateur who formerly operated three Nick’s locations in the San Francisco Peninsula — has opened a brick-and-mortar under her own brand, Chef Reina, along Visitacion Avenue in Brisbane, California.

Chef Reina, featuring vegan Filipino comfort food by Reina Montenegro, is now open along Visitacion Avenue in Brisbane, California. | Photo by PapaLoDown Agency

At the new storefront, which held its grand opening on April 8, customers can order Montenegro’s famed plant-based renditions of Filipino dishes, from sisig using tofu and mushrooms to chick’n adobo.

As recovery from the pandemic continues (coupled with lessons Montenegro learned from her previous businesses that shuttered last fall), Chef Reina offers takeout for now that can be enjoyed at a nearby park or at home.

“Out of all the restaurants I’ve opened, we’ve had the most successful opening by far. Mind you, it’s during the pandemic and it’s only takeout,” Montenegro told the Asian Journal. “By being a Filipina and serving this kind of food, we are able to continue this impact and my culinary activism that shows care for the community and its health through food.”

Montenegro receives a resolution honoring her culinary activism from San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa during the grand opening of Chef Reina on April 8. | Photo by PapaLoDown Agency

Montenegro, who immigrated to San Francisco from the Philippines in 1997, has made it her mission to show that Filipino dishes that traditionally have meat can be “veganized” without sacrificing flavor and texture, and can leave diners feeling nourished.

Other menu items include her takes on silogs, kaldereta, lechon kawali, and loco moco.

In addition to the prepared foods, customers can purchase care packages: bulk vegan “meat” by the pound to cook at home. Prices range from $18-20.

Montenegro is planning to have the frozen vegan meats available for national shipping in the coming months.

With this broader reach, she hopes to continue to challenge misconceptions about veganism and invite others about how creative and non-restrictive the lifestyle can be.

Luncheon meat silog using OmniPork will be available at Chef Reina starting April 22. | Photo by Mogli Maureal

On Earth Day, April 22, Chef Reina will be one of nine restaurants across the U.S. launching dishes made with OmniPork, an innovation from Hong Kong-based food technology company OmniFoods that mimics the taste and texture of pork with a proprietary blend of plant-based protein from non-GMO soy, peas, shiitake mushrooms and rice.

“Chef Reina has been enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of OmniPork in the U.S. I’m just thrilled that her restaurant opening coincided with our U.S. launch,” said David Yeung, founder of Green Monday and OmniFoods in a statement. “Her culinary creativity and passion will most certainly bring a whole new plant-based experience to vegans and meat-eaters alike.”

The partnership, Montenegro said, comes after her failed attempts over the years to veganize Spam, the canned luncheon meat that is a staple in many Filipino households.

“I’ve been trying to replicate Spam for so long, like for six years, and it was just fail after fail. I was just wasting my time. So when I saw that Green Monday, which is the founder of OmniPork, had it, I said, ‘We need to get it here to the U.S.,’” Montenegro said.

Luncheon meat Musubi using OmniPork | Photo by Mogli Maureal

The OmniPork menu at Chef Reina will include luncheon meat silog (served with rice and a vegan egg), luncheon meat fried rice, luncheon meat musubi (meat sandwiched either in between or on top of a block of rice wrapped together with seaweed), lumpia shanghai (egg rolls), misua soup (a soup with thin wheat flour noodles and ground meat), longganisa (sweet Filipino-style sausages), and sweet & sour bola bola (meatballs).

At Chef Reina, Montenegro will also use the space to host virtual events, including cooking demonstrations, product reviews, and collaborations with guest chefs.

“I want to be able to share vegan food and my recipes, and also stories of entrepreneurship. You can be an immigrant, you can be a woman of color, you can be a single mom and still be a successful businesswoman,” she said.

Chef Reina is located at 33 Visitacion Avenue in Brisbane, CA 94005 and is open from Monday to Saturday.

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is the Managing Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach her at christina@asianjournalinc.com.

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