Tita Celia’s is the place to go if you’re visiting the Los Angeles area and don’t mind a drive to eat at one of the best authentic Filipino food restaurants in Southern California.
Los Angeles is home to a few hundred ethnic restaurants including the mom-and-pop cafeteria-style Filipino take-outs or eat-ins. But many Filipino food fans drive 40 some minutes south of Los Angeles to Carson City to eat at Tita Celia’s restaurant.
The place is located in a small shopping strip on Carson Street – the main drag where at least a dozen more Filipino restaurants have also set up shop.
But despite hefty competition Celia Guinto, A.K.A. Tita Celia, says she wouldn’t be in business more than 14 years if her food didn’t please the appetites of both native Filipinos and non-natives looking to try a taste of the islands. So good is her cuisine that the restaurant attracts people as far as San Diego and the San Fernando Valley.
Guinto markets her Tita Celia’s restaurant as “The Pride of Bulacan in Carson.” The Bulacan province is located north of Manila in the Philippines. It was among the first provinces to revolt against Spain. The area, for the most part, is industrialized but it also claims major crops such as rice and vegetables – items Guinto has generously included in her recipes.
On Christmas day, Guinto and her small cooking staff set up extra tables in the restaurant’s dining area both for seating and extra menu items. Tita Celia’s atmosphere is in the traditional casual and self-seated style of most Filipino restaurants in America. Entrees are set behind a glass-enclosed counter. Customers tell the server what they want on their plates then slide their trays down to the end of the line to pay for their food.
Filipino decorations of wood spoons and baskets hang on the wall and paper lanterns hang from the ceiling. Ethnic straw mats wallpaper the wall behind the counter. The restaurant’s television shows the latest and most popular music videos from the Philippines. Guinto says the tailored-down accommodations help her business.
“I’m very proud,’ Guinto says. “You can come if you’re rich. You can come if you’re poor. If you have $4.00 you can eat.”
You definitely get more for your buck here. Try the savory and perfectly seasoned Pansit, a well-known Filipino rice noodle, vegetable and meat dish for $3.50. Serving sizes are large. Customers have a choice of chicken, beef or shrimp.
The even more popular Lumpia, beef-stuffed egg rolls, are deep fried to a golden brown. Share them or take some home at only $25.00 for a hundred.
Guinto also makes the more traditional dishes like Sinigang Baboy, a stewed tamarind-seasoned blend of cabbage, pork and green beans that tastes wonderful when paired with steaming white rice. You might also want to try the Adobo, chicken boiled in garlic and other spices. Dish and rice combinations start at only $2.50 a plate.
You don’t want to leave Tita Celia’s without trying deserts like Turon, plantains wrapped in rice paper and fried until the brown sugar caramelizes. The Karioka will keep you coming for more. The small rice cakes are cooked with coconut flakes and sugar and are a wonderful combination of a crisp outside and melt-in-your-mouth inside.
“I can tell you how to make the food but it won’t taste the same. The way I cook depends on my instinct,” Guinto says. “Sometimes I turn up the fire and sometimes I turn it down.”
The native Filipina first fired up the stove when she was eight years old and living in Bulacan. She also helped run a few family restaurants there. Guinto moved to California in 1984 with her husband, Regino, who owns a motor shop in Carson. Guinto worked for a few years as an aide for the elderly in Beverly Hills before she opened up her restaurant at its present location.
“You can say cooking is in my blood,” Guinto says. She has three grown children who have pursued careers outside of the restaurant. Guinto depends on her nephew, Bert Francisco, to learn the business. She also says she’s proud of keeping such a small staff to help her operate booming sales. “That’s because I’m times three,” Guinto says. “I work. I don’t just sit here and accept money.”
Want to eat at Tita Celia’s? The restaurant is located at 241 W. Carson St. Carson City, CA 90745
Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Call the restaurant at 310-834-6289
Want to try other Philippine restaurants in Los Angeles or Carson?
Fiesta Fast Foods
5532 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 255-5352 (fax)
Ilonggo Delicacies La Paz
4627 Santa Monica Blvd, Unit C, Los Angeles, CA 90029
Nanay Gloria Bake Shop & Restaurant
2432 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026
860 E Carson St, Ste 105, Carson, CA 90745