It's hard to imagine that St. Louis' longest standing Filipino restaurant concept, Manila Cafe, started out with just two tables on Cherokee Street in 1978. Its history spans various incarnations at dining destinations such as annual local festivals, Union Station, South Grand and downtown Kirkwood. Most recently, Manila Bistro (#343-#8 South Kirkwood Road, Kirkwood; 314-966-5288) opened in late August to offer a dine-in experience to supplement Cafe Manila, a seasonal quick-service stand at the Kirkwood Farmers' Market since 1995.
Between lunch and dinner service at the former Quiznos turned Southeast Asian themed restaurant, chef-owner Emilio Bombais tells us his story. Armed with only $50 in his pocket after reluctantly fleeing the Philippines during a period of martial law, he worked his way up from ice cream maker to manager at Famous Barr (back when the department store restaurant's onion soup was all the craze). After five years of learning the finer points of service at Tony's, he decided to go into business for himself in between teaching cooking classes at Dierbergs and St. Louis Community College.
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