“Lumpia is the cousin of the egg roll, amigo of the rolled taco,” states the business card of Lia’s Lumpia, which is run by owner and chef Spencer Hunter, and is a family affair, with his mom Benelia and others helping out in the business. While Hunter isn’t a formally trained chef, he grew up with a mom and grandma who were amazing cooks and learned in their kitchens from an early age. As an eco-tourism major in college, an internship took him to Panama where he found himself cooking in the middle of a rainforest with no electricity and the barest essentials. He has continue to travel extensively and likes to mix cultures in the kitchen. His culinary skills were honed, in part, under the tutelage of renowned Chef Brian Malarkey, and he’s also worked for Waters Catering, hotels, golf courses, and more. When he got the idea to start his own catering concept, he embraced his half-black, half-Filipino cultures to create Filipino soul food. His fusion dishes, like mac and cheese lumpia, have been a hit at large themed festivals like the SoCal Taco Fest.
Lia’s Lumpia first came to my attention when they were finalists on Season 11 of “The Great Food Truck Race: Holiday Hustle.” It was their first time running a food truck and they thought, “If we can sell lumpia in the snow of New England, we can most certainly sell it in San Diego.” Thus, their food truck was born, and they were able to pivot during the pandemic when large scale events came to a halt by offering food at breweries. Additionally, they have worked with the Padres and also secured a contract at Snapdragon Stadium.
When Hunter learned about an available location in Barrio Logan from his friend at Ciccia Osteria next door, he jumped at the chance to set up a restaurant, and he has just opened the doors on March 8. Inviting outdoor patios with fire pits, both in the front and back, offer seating, with additional room for 12 inside. “I like Barrio Logan, because I feel it has a sense of place,” he comments.
My husband and I love Filipino food, but we invited our Filipino friend Gemma to join us at Lia’s to offer a truly authentic opinion. Of course lumpia is the star of the menu, with traditional beef and pork, chicken adobo, pork belly, fried pickle, vegan curry, SPAM musubi, and the creative mac and cheese lumpia. To mix it up, we tried the chicken adobo lumpia, which was filled to the brim with savory chicken. Next came the mac and cheese lumpia for which Gemma commented that she would have never thought to wrap mac and cheese in a lumpia wrapper. It was served with BBQ mayo sauce and we all declared that it was “yummy.” Tacos are also on the menu, which are not typically Filipino, but meld with the fusion vibe. They were my husband Flavio’s favorite – served as three corn tortilla street tacos, brimming with sweet soy sauce vinegar chicken, rice, tomatoes, cucumbers, adobo mayo, cilantro, crispy garlic, and green onions.
Also offered are pork belly sisig tacos and several types of bone-in chicken wings. My personal favorite was the delicious calamansi and black pepper chicken wings. The bright calamansi flavor, which can best be described as a cross between a lemon, lime, and tangerine, is used a lot in Filipino cooking. We also enjoyed the vegetarian pancit, which is Bihon (rice vermicelli) and canton (egg) noodles, combined with mixed vegetables, baby bok choy, Napa cabbage, Asian marinade, calamansi, crispy garlic, and green onions. Steamed jasmine rice is also on the menu.
We didn’t save room for the scrumptious sounding desserts, but we wished we could’ve tried the Turon, which is fried saba banana, candied jackfruit, brown sugar, with or without a Ube drizzle, or the mini Malasadas, which consist of fried sweet dough, and cinnamon sugar with a Ube drizzle.
Drink selections include beer, wine, tea, coffee, and sodas. Spencer said that they will also be expanding the menu to include rice bowls, fresh spring rolls and more. An event space in the back will soon be available to rent out for parties, small weddings, and other affairs.
A San Diego native, Hunter’s grandparents are from Manila and landed in San Diego while serving in the Navy. His lola, which translates to grandma in the Filipino Tagalog dialect, had the first Filipino restaurant here, San Loy Lumpia, where they even made their own lumpia wrappers that they sold to various markets. “I have sweet chili running through my veins,” he laughs.
When you go there, go hungry, and bring family and friends so you share and try more of the interesting delicacies in the welcoming environment. You can also take food to-go or have an event catered.
Conveniently located just OTB (over the bridge) in Barrio Logan, at 2219 Logan Avenue, Lia’s Lumpias is open Wednesdays through Sundays.