Some part of me feels like the amount of food you're served in the two-entree combo at the UCF-area Hangry Dobo is intended to keep the college student population from resorting to the nutritional void that is pizza rolls and Hot Pockets. The other part of me feels like it's just damn good food and you're going to want a lot of it.
You'll feel the love as soon as you enter the restaurant, nestled in the Collegiate Way plaza at the corner of University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail. A smiling face and warm welcome await from behind the cafeteria-style steam table, laden with up to 10 rotating Filipino delicacies waiting to be served with rice or pancit — the ubiquitous rice noodles tossed with cabbage, carrot and seasoned with soy sauce.
If you're kano — the shortened version of the Tagalog slang word Amerikano — you'll likely be asked if you've eaten Filipino food before. I'll encourage you to say "no," even if you're familiar-ish with the cuisine, as I am. You'll enjoy hearing the broad survey of each dish, from the garlicky chicken adobo to the crispy deep-fried pork belly known as lechon kawali. A little nervous about trying the pork shoulder stewed with serrano chilies and thickened with pork blood called dinuguan? Just ask for a little taste before committing. Samples are given with pleasure.
The $13 combo is the best way to sample two entrees plus your choice of rice or pancit. Visit with a few friends and you'll get a survey of each offering pretty quickly. Restaurants where I could, theoretically, try the entire menu in one visit are a passion of mine. The combo portion is more than generous (see previous note about potentially malnourished college students) and is pre-emptively served in to-go containers. They know you'll want to tote the remainder home for later.
When I visited the cozy shop — the whole place seats no more than 30 patrons — I opted for the chicken adobo (how could I not?) and the dinuguan with rice, while my dining companion chose the chicken curry and chicken kare-kare, a rich, creamy peanut-based stew coating tender chicken thighs and green beans.
Though the dishes are displayed behind glass in a bare-bones manner, there's an element of ceremony and reverence in the way the staff spoons selections into the Styrofoam container. They take care to ensure there's something delicious in every portion and that the ingredients are evenly represented in each serving: a bit of softened garlic, a few deep-green beans, an al dente carrot slice, a charred chili pepper.
Hangry Dobo's chicken adobo, the Philippines' national dish, is worthy of the high place it occupies in the cuisine. It's lacquered with sweet-tangy brown sauce, studded with minced garlic. The slow-simmering leaves the chicken fall-apart tender, easily broken down with the plastic utensils the restaurant gives its guests. The cane vinegar that perks up Hangry Dobo's dinuguan, or, as it's colloquially called, "chocolate meat," is what will keep you going back for forkful after forkful. If it's available when you visit, don't miss it. You won't catch a hint of that minerality that cooked blood usually imparts. Chili heads should ask for some extra serranos in their dinuguan, which impart a pleasantly vegetal flavor to the stew without adding too much heat.
The chicken curry was a favorite at the table; the sweet coconut-milk sauce, amped up with fish sauce and loads of garlic, enrobed succulent chicken thighs, velvety potatoes, carrots and sweet bell pepper slices. We also devoured the chicken kare-kare with abandon. What magical incantations were used to keep the green beans so pleasantly verdant and crisp-tender and allowed the Japanese eggplant to maintain its texture and shape even in a steam table, I surely don't know, but I was into it. I visited on a weekday, so the special crab curry wasn't on the menu, but I'll be back for it.
For dessert, we couldn't pass up the halo-halo ($8). While the heat index soared to 105 outside, we stayed cool and refreshed by dunking our long-handled spoons into the shaved ice dessert and stirring up the goodies from bottom to top: sweet beans and corn kernels, purple ube sweet potato and diced steamed pumpkin with coconut milk. Heaven. We also enjoyed the dense, fudge-like, amethyst-hued ube cake, which left us wondering if we could ever go back to plain brownies ever again.
College students from UCF, Valencia and Florida Technical College should show their student ID for a 10 percent discount on a meal that's perfect to stretch dollars through the week. And while the dollars and cents of the eating equation makes sense, it's the gracious spirit and care that goes into the food at Hangry Dobo that makes you feel like what you experience there is more than just lunch or dinner. Eating at Hangry Dobo feels like a long, warm, delightful hug.