NORTH MAYFAIR — Promising "all the food you miss from home," Seafood City, a California-based Filipino supermarket chain, hosted a sneak preview of its first Chicago store Tuesday night.
Scores of lucky guests were treated to a taste of what the general public can expect when the doors officially open at 9 a.m. Wednesday at 5033 N. Elston Ave.
"You walk in, and you have food," said Mildred Smith, Seafood City marketing manager.
The store's main entrance leads directly into a food court occupied by a pair of fast food operations — Grill City and Crispy Town — that will be familiar to Seafood City fans. A third, Noodle Street, is found at only one other Seafood City store, in Hawaii, making Chicago the first stateside location.
The Noodle Street menu. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]
Folks clearly got the memo to come hungry.
Michel Miguel was among those loading up on samples of bagnet (fried pork), okoy (a shrimp and sweet potato fritter) and halo-halo (a dessert concoction of beans, purple yams, shaved ice and a bunch of other ingredients).
"Oh my God, we are so happy," said Miguel, a second-generation Filipino who lives in Mayfair.
Now she and members of her extended family can stop hauling extra luggage on visits to California and Las Vegas just so they can fill them with groceries to bring home from Seafood City, Miguel said.
The pork barbecue alone — less expensive than what they could find in Chicago and seasoned to Filipinos' taste — was worth the effort, she said.
"It's authentic Filipino food," Miguel said. "Where else can you get quail eggs on a stick?" (Note: the eggs are battered and fried before they're skewered.)
A mountain of bagnet greeted guests at Tuesday's preview event.
As much a community center as a grocery store, Seafood City will serve as a hub for Chicago's Filipino population, said Generoso Calonge, consul general of the Philippine Consulate in Chicago.
"It's really an indication that Filipinos have come of age here," Calonge said. "We have a place to gather, we have a place to call our own."
Seafood City had been inundated with requests to open in Chicago, which boasts the fastest-growing Filipino community in the U.S., according to Smith.
On a tour of the store's aisles, Smith pointed to milkfish (the national fish of the Philippines), Pamana brand products, sweet spaghetti sauce, hopia pastries and fish crackers ("Filipinos are snackers," Smith said) as the sort of comfort food customers can expect to find.
Notably missing on Tuesday: Filipino restaurant chains Jollibee and Red Ribbon.
Both "will open soon," Smith assured.
This will be the first Jollibee — known for its chicken joy fried chicken, jolly spaghetti and peach mango pie — within city limits. A location opened in Skokie over the summer.
The equally popular Red Ribbon is beloved for its cakes and empanadas.
Valerio's Tropical Bakeshop, where Filipinos can pick up their pan de sal breakfast rolls and more, will open within weeks.
Though Seafood City's shelves and freezer cases are stocked with Filipino specialties, Smith emphasized, "We are inclusive."
Non-Filipinos are more than welcome, she said.
"Everybody's a foodie," said Smith. "Everybody loves to taste the food of other cultures."
After the grand opening, Seafood City will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Crispy Town lives up to its name — check out these chicken skins.
Halo-halo is impossible to describe — just try it.
Valerio's Tropical Bakeshop, which will open soon inside Seafood City, offered samples of its ube-filled rolls.
Milkfish is the national fish of the Philippines. Seafood City will clean and fry fish for free.
Filipinos were excited to sample Seafood City's quail eggs, which are battered, fried and skewered.
The produce selection caters to Filipino tastes, stocked with items like patola, a distant cousin of the cucumber.
Filipinos are snackers, according to Mildred Smith, Seafood City marketing manager.
Seafood City will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.