The best and only Filipino Lechon spot in Texas – Texas Monthly
I get recommendations for barbecues to visit as often as I give them, which is daily. Few are immediately convincing, and an even smaller number made me change my travel plans for the week. But as I was choosing new glasses a few months ago, the manager of my optometrist’s office asked me if I had heard of a small place that served lechon, a method of preparing whole pork common to Philippines, Puerto Rico and other formerly colonized areas. by Spain. Lechon is a rarity in Texas, but on his phone was photographic evidence of a place called ORC Filipino Asian / American BBQ, a weekend-only spot north of Dallas in Collin County, near the shores of the lake. Lavon. There were pictures of whole pigs on bamboo spits spinning over a fire. The joint was taking a break the coming weekend, but the following Saturday I knew what I was eating for lunch. Or at least I thought I knew.
The lechon is usually ready at 11:30 am. I arrived ninety minutes later to find two bronze pig’s heads resting on a metal grate above the fresh ashes of the hearth. The rest of their bodies had been served. Exhausted owner Allen Cook, who seemed stunned by how quickly he had just eaten two whole pigs, offered to serve me the cheek meat. His wife JosÃ©phine, who is called Jho, took a break from the skewer grill to call me. I sat down at one of the picnic tables and tasted the meager portion. It was promising, and I have planned a return.
Back home, I did some research and found that the reason for my bad timing was largely related to a video by YouTuber Mikey Chen. He’s a food and lifestyle vlogger with over a million subscribers, and he posted a video of ORC (which now has over half a million views) a few days before my visit. A visit from the local ABC affiliate and an article in the Dallas Morning News monitoring. Word was out on ORC. The cooks were inundated for weeks. I waited until the excitement died down to try again and placed a pre-order (accepted Thursday for Saturday lechon or Friday for Sunday) for the two-pound maximum. My son and I left home on a beautiful Saturday morning, well in time for the hour’s trip to ORC. Then I got an apartment on the highway that took a couple of hours to fix. It seemed like fate kept us from learning, but we persevered.
Two hours late at ORC, I approached the chopping block for the lechon. A pad of paper with the names of everyone who had pre-ordered sat on a side table, and I spotted my name, which had not been crossed out. The pork was plentiful that day. Allen said he increased the size of the pigs he cooked from about thirty pounds to sixty, and that he cooked three in anticipation of a busy Saturday. I watched Allen cut various pieces of pork meat and skin and place them in a Styrofoam container. Lechon finally in hand, I stood in a short but very slow line.
There are three food stations at ORC. The former is for the lechon, and the latter is the charcoal grill on which Jho prepares pork, chicken, squid, banana, and whole mackerel kebabs. The middle section is where nearly a dozen large bowls of Filipino food are displayed for purchase. Each dish is cooked in a large pot over a wood fire. (The cooks don’t use gas burners for anything.) Customers from all three sections wait in one line to get their food and pay, which took me about thirty minutes. Cash is best, but you can use a credit card as long as the iPhone it’s swiped into has a good signal. I handed in two twenties for the two pounds of baked pork. Looking back, I should have stood in line to pay before taking possession of the lechon, so it was still warm when I sat down to eat.
It was all forgiven when my son and I dug into the cut of meat. A thin dip, which Jho describes as a salad dressing with herbs, garlic, onion and peppers, accompanies the large pieces of lechon. (There’s also a sauce available on request, but I didn’t have a chance to try it.) The dressing enhances the flavor of the pork and provides a bit of moisture for the leaner portions. My favorite bites were from the rib section. This meat sits directly against the many herbs and seasonings stuffed in pork, and those flavors really seep in. Parts of the skin required vigorous chewing, while the stomach area was golden brown and crisp. It was fun discovering the different favors and textures from bite to bite.
For Allen, cooking lechon is a relatively new skill. He grew up in Washington State outside of Olympia and is of Japanese descent. After joining the Marines, he was stationed in San Diego. It was there that he met Jho, originally from the city of Abuyog in the province of Leyte in the Philippines. They married and moved to Dallas thirteen years ago for Allen’s career in aviation, an area he still works in during the week. I asked him where he learned to cook lechon. “I learned it from my wife,” he said. âI also taught him the right way to season and how to spin the pig with the right movement,â Jho adds. The correct movement is a combination of rocking the pig back and forth and spinning it completely.
There are many styles of lechon, Allen explained, and they differ in the seasonings used. All of these styles, however, consist of a whole pork with the skin stuffed with seasonings and cooked on a spit directly over charcoal. The style produced at ORC is from Jho’s hometown. His father took Allen to the market there so he could taste all the herbs, spices, and lechon, and better breed it in Texas. It took Allen about a year to master baking lechon, and the couple opened ORC at the Old Rooster Creek Flea Market in 2017. Lechon was a once-a-month special at first, but customers didn’t. kept asking for more. The cooks now prepare it every Saturday and Sunday.
Preparation for Saturday service begins on Friday evening. The cooks seven-year-old daughter helps cut herbs and vegetables, all of which are grown by Jho in a garden right behind their food stall. At midnight Allen begins to stuff the pigs and tie them to long sections of bamboo. Bamboo gives the pig flavor, and it does not transfer heat from the fire, so it can twist the bamboo stalk with his bare hands. From the moment the pig is placed on the fire, it takes about six hours to cook, so that’s a lot of flipping by hand.
The laborious process is well worth it for the cooks. This is the only place in Texas where I’ve seen wood-cooked lechon served in a restaurant, and the cooks don’t know of any either. âWe just wanted to bring a little bit of the Philippines and introduce it to people here in Texas,â Jho said. I feel lucky to have been able to learn lechon less than an hour from home thanks to the cooks.
ORC Filipino Asian / American BBQ & Lechon
10424 County Road 1099, Princeton
Hours: Friday 10:30 am-3, Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am-7am
Pit masters: Allen and JosÃ©phine Cook
Method: Wood fire
Opening year: 2017