Restaurants / Openings

Two James Beard Winners Team Up at Filipino Restaurant In POST Houston Food Hall — Soy Pinoy Ups Its Game

Paul Qui and Tom Cunanan Make For a Chef Dream Team

BY // 05.03.22
photography Kat Ambrose

What do you know about Filipino cuisine? If you’re like me and you initially answered, “Very little,” the flavors of the Philippines at Soy Pinoy, a newly menu revamped restaurant in the POST Houston food hall, is a good place to start. Created by its James Beard award-winning chef and owner Paul Qui, the kiosk-like outpost is situated on the first floor of the former Barbara Jordan Post Office facility.

Qui and his new partner in the venture, chef Tom Cunanan, another James Beard award-winning chef from Washington D.C., are now joining forces to bring their cultural and culinary lineage to a broader audience in Houston and beyond, reimagining the Soy Pinoy menu into something new.

Cunanan is the founding chef of D.C.’s much-acclaimed fine dining restaurant Bad Saint. Shortly after its opening, Bon Appetit magazine ranked Bad Saint No. 2 on its best new restaurant list of 2016. The 39-year-old Cunanan gained fame behind the range at the tiny 24-seat restaurant, one of the hardest seats in that city to secure in the D.C. area. But when the pandemic shuttered Bad Saint, Cunanan had an opportunity to spread his wings and make some changes.

Electing to leave his post at Bad Saint, he reached out via social media to Qui, the winner of the Top Chef reality series (Season Nine), whose career he had closely followed. After connecting digitally, the two searched for ways to collaborate. The team up on the Soy Pinoy menu comes on the heels of Qui and Cunanan’s initial collaboration at Qui’s Miami restaurant PAO by Paul Qui at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2021.

“I feel so proud to be working with Paul because he inspires me to be better at my craft,” Cunanan says. “It’s time for Filipino cuisine to become more recognized, and I hope that through combining our talents, we can help it receive the recognition it deserves. Our country has a colonial history spanning over six centuries, which means Filipino cuisine is a huge melting pot of so many different cultures — whether that be Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, or American.

“Filipino cuisine is unique in its global influence. When you taste Filipino food, you’re truly tasting the world.”

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Nearly doubling the size of its previous menu, Cunanan serves up starters like Filipino-style ground pork-filled egg rolls (lumpia) with banana ketchup, a popular condiment in the Philippines made with vinegar, spices, peppers and very ripe bananas, which add an element of sweetness. (Fun fact, banana ketchup was created during WWII when there was a wartime shortage of tomatoes and an abundance of bananas.)

In addition, you’ll find the familiar fried calamari, but here it’s paired with squid adobo sauce ($12). Adobo is often referred to as the national dish of the Philippines. It is used to marinade and stew meat, seafood, vegetables and fowl in a combination of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.

Beef Kare Kare (Photo by Kat Ambrose)
Beef Kare Kare served at Soy Pinoy. (Photo by Kat Ambrose)

Mains like “the best Lechon” ($18) include four crispy slices of rich pork belly with steamed rice and a cool mango pico tomato salad by its side. (It’s a traditional dish the late chef Anthony Bourdain proclaimed “The best pig ever,” when his CNN television series took him to the Philippines to discover the food in a country with more than 7,000 islands.) “Tom’s spaghetti” ($14) is a sweet pasta dish made here with a meat ragu flavored with banana ketchup and topped with slices of hot dogs and parmesan cheese, one Cunanan grew up requesting his mother cook for him every year on his birthday.

Dine with friends and order the Kamayan ($65), a traditional communal style feast laid out on fresh banana leaves one traditionally eats with their hands. (Not to worry, the generous platter comes with plenty of moist hand wipes.) Priced at $65, the Kamayan includes fried chicken, grilled chicken insalal, Lechon, sisig (a Filipino dish made from parts of a pig’s face and belly), oxtail, lumpia, Achara (a pickled green papaya relish) and mango pico tomato salad. The Dampa style Kamayan, priced at $95, is a seafood platter groaning with a whole fish, fried shrimp, calamari adobo, and tuna and shrimp ceviche.

“I rediscovered my love for Filipino cuisine several years ago during a period in which I had fallen a bit out of love with food,” Qui says. “Learning about my culture and the cuisine of my birth is what helped me fall back in love with what I do, and that journey of self discovery is what led me to eventually open Soy Pinoy.

“I’m thrilled that Tom and I were able to collaborate on this project. I’ve been second guessing the menu at Soy Pinoy, and Tom was instrumental in getting the menu to the place I’ve always envisioned it to be. I can’t wait to introduce everyone to all of the exciting new dishes we’ve come up with together.”

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