Restaurant of the Week: Jollibee, Chino

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Jollibee, 4021 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino

The dominant fast-food chain in the Philippines, Jollibee has locations elsewhere in Southeast Asia and in the United States that are often beloved by Filipino immigrants who remember the food from childhood. Its only Inland Valley outlet is in Chino, a city that must be more exotic than we’d dreamed.

I drove down for lunch one recent Saturday and found Jollibee in the outdoor food court of Chino Spectrum Towne Center, by a Starbucks. The interior resembles a slightly louder Pinkberry, with orange molded-plastic chairs and white tables. One wall is filled by a photo mural of children’s faces.

The menu has Filipino takes on hamburgers, fried chicken and spaghetti. I ordered a combo with spaghetti and one piece of chicken with a soda ($6). The dark-meat chicken (the chain calls it ChickenJoy) came with a cup of gravy. The spaghetti had a sweet marinara sauce, a sliced-up hot dog and melted cheese on top.

I can’t say this was delicious, but the food and ambience were pleasantly odd. Interesting to see another culture’s slightly surreal version of American staples. I might go back sometime to try the YumBurger just to see what that’s all about. Service was cheerful but emphatic. Outdoors, there’s seating around a burbling fountain, relaxing on a warm afternoon.

This Jollibee also has a bakery, named Red Ribbon, that makes cakes and small snacks. The restaurant hosts children’s parties that feature an appearance by the Jollibee mascot, a smiling bee who wears — why not? — a blazer and a chef’s hat.

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  • John Clifford

    Gee, too bad I’m so rarely in Chino for breakfast. The spam plate looks so appetizing. (Sorry, that was sarcasm–albeit lame.)

  • Scott in the RC

    There is a Popeye’s across the street that would probably give that Jollibee chicken leg a run for its money. Plus, Popeye’s does offer up some killer red beans and rice, IMHO.

    [I’m suddenly picturing the Jollibee chicken leg getting up and running. But, yeah, Popeye’s is OK. You can’t get a side of spaghetti, though. — DA]

  • Jim

    David, you captured the zeitgeist of Jollibee perfectly…..the one time I ate there, it made me think of Babu Bhatt’s cafe in the classic Seinfeld series, where the amiable Pakistani immigrant tried to appeal to all “American” tastes, but mastered none…..I’m sure that Mexicans must feel the same way at a Taco Bell or Del Taco; the things on the menu have the same names as what they are used to, but the actual items are some sort of strange Americanized variants……

    [“Seinfeld” references are always welcome here. Your comment cracked me up. — DA]

  • Andy

    Back in the 2006, Jollibee wasn’t yet in the states, but I’ve heard so much of the legendary Fillipino chain. By a stroke of luck, I ended up in Manila later that year. The first destination was of course Jollibee. I ordered some fried chicken, rice and some yello soda (which I’m told these days was mello yello). The rice comes in little rounds, wrapped in paper. It was delectable.

    Fastforward a few years later and Jollibee opens in CHH. Finally I can relive that experience from 2006. But now, the rice isn’t wrapped in paper and the chicken tastes different. I’ve been back a few times since then and the chicken well.. just doesn’t do it. I’ve conversed with another foodie who also had Jollibee in the Phillipines… he too thought the food is not of the same quality. Anyways… I’m not too much of a fan of Jollibee.. everything tastes extraordinarily processed, but some Filipino friends love it.

  • Andy

    The sweet sauce on the spaghetti as I’ve been told is Filipino style (my wife loves). I’ve had most of the stuff on the menu and everything is heavily processed. Contrasting the palabok between a restaurant, someone’s home cooking and Jollibee, it’s very very clear the Jollibee is laced with all sorts flavor enhancers and lacks any freshness that can be found in a restaurant or home version. It’s ok for what it is.. but most of the stuff you will find much better at Filipino take out joints. My wife loves Jollibee though =)

    If you’re lucky and vist let’s say the Puente Hills Mall, Plaza Bonita Mall (National City) and I think even the Seafood City in West Covina.. you will be lucky enough to get the trifecta of processed foods, all 3 Jollibee restaurants, Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chow King.

  • Andy

    Your article is interesting as you mention foreign renditions of american food. If you’re ever interested.. I apologize if i”m just shooting my mouth.. I really like food.

    Try Pizza and Chicken Love Letter in Rowland Heights. Korean style pizza.. they aren’t very good… but Mr. Pizza in K-town is absolutely fabulous.

    Perhaps you can compare Guatemala’s Pollo Campero against Churches and Jollibee. They have their pressure fried chicken and is a staple of Guatemala. My Chinese friend who used to live in Guatemala used to describe all the Guatemalans buying boxes of chicken and bringing them back to the states in Airplanes, flooding the airplane with a euphoric chicken smell. I think the closest is in Westlake / MacArthur Park. I ate there but I think their menu has been a bit Americanized.

    And perhaps the most popular of all, Korean style fried chicken at Kyo-Chon (chain in Korea). However, with the closing of the RH store, I think the closest one is in K-town on 6th and Vermont?? The New York store is fabulous and looks like it can rival the Apple store, but the K-town is much smaller. I’ve still yet to try it. Chicken Sunday in Dbar has similar menu but again, still not yet tried. I think these Chicken and Beer places in Korean are called Toe-bangs?? cho-dangs?? Pizza chicken love letter in RH has it too, but it’s not very good there.

    [Andy, even if I don’t make use of your observations, perhaps someone else will, so we appreciate your insights into foreign versions of American classics. — DA]

  • RichP

    What does anyone expect, the best of both countries or the worst? JB would be the McDonalds of the Philippines, except the RP has McDs and a few other US chains. I’ve eaten at one or two in the Manila area, and they aren’t better than McDs in USA.

    DA has reviewed a number of Filipino fast food restaurants, generally giving them better marks than I do. But, that is because I eat real Filipino food more than often enough to know what it tastes like.

    Valerio’s bakes good bread, try the pan de sal, which is the standard roll with a meal. As far as I know, the closest is Amar/Azusa in WCovina. The Fil-Am community I know primarily uses Red Ribbon and Goldilocks for cakes.

    [Rich, thanks as well for your observations. You’re right, I don’t know anything about real Filipino food, so my comments about Jollibee and Manila Sunset (I think those are the only places I’ve been) are as much about the novelty value as the food. — DA]

  • James Rodriguez

    Getting off the NB 15 freeway at Baseline, I saw a sign that said Manila Wok & Grill Filipino Food. I went in to try it and to my surprise, there was a steam tray with spaghetti. I didnt try it though, I thought that if I wanted Italian food I would head east on Baseline/Cherry to Grazzianos. Also too when I lived in West Covina, on Amar/Azusa there was a JolliBee.

  • Babu Bhatt

    Jim, it was that very, very, very bad man Jerry Seinfeld ( picture very large index finger going back and forth like a pendulum ), that confused me on my restaurant decisions and then screwed up the mail situation that got me deported. And you, David! You were right across the street from Lee’s and couldn’t manage to have a Vietnamese sandwich…a bahn mei?…for the out the door price of $3.33? I hear they are fat free!

    [No, that’s the fro-yo. I couldn’t eat a banh mi and a burger both, especially not when I was saving room for cobbler at Flo’s, but I did feel bad about passing by Lee’s. The Chino location even “likes” me on Facebook. — DA]