LA bakery brings a taste of the Philippines to Angelenos

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Brandon Sarmiento

The front of Hopia Like It in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on April 10, 2022.

Brandon Sarmiento, Assistant Culture Editor

Sweet, flaky and oozing with flavor, hopia is a cake-like pastry that has baked itself into a fan favorite within the realm of Filipino cuisine. Similar to lumpia, a spring roll typically filled with pork and mixed vegetables, hopia has garnered popularity as a Filipino comfort food staple.

Since 2015, Hopia Like It has served the Los Angeles community with a mix of authentic recipes and unique renditions of Filipino cuisine. Standing out the most from their menu is their freshly-baked hopia, hence the bakery’s name.

Their diverse array of flavors ranges from the classic mung bean and ube hopia to the more experimental fillings of Nutella and apple cinnamon. Regardless of what type of hopia is munched on, Hopia Like It serves patrons an edible bite of nostalgia, particularly for those who grew up in the Philippines.

“We hear from our customers all the time that they’re just happy to have a recipe that does remind them of home,” said James Mercado, Hopia Like It’s creative director. “They’ve tried other recipes that might be elsewhere, but it isn’t until they try our hopia that they’re like, ‘You know what, this actually reminds me of the Philippines.’”

Hopia Like It seeks to introduce authentic Filipino food to anyone curious to try it out, especially younger generations of Filipinos who may not have grown up eating the food of their culture.

Considering that an estimated 48% of Americans have never tried Filipino food, according to a study on ethnic cuisines conducted by YouGov, establishments like Hopia Like It may help expose more people to the wonders of Filipino food.

Even people outside of Los Angeles can get their fix of hopia and try other Filipino pastries with the bakery’s online ordering options.

“I think that’s one of the spaces that we really wanted to tap into is at least being able to provide a place online, and even in-store, for Filipinos and non-Filipinos to learn about our culture,” Mercado said.

Trays of hopia on display at Hopia Like It in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on April 20, 2022. (Brandon Sarmiento)

In addition to their specialty pastry, Hopia Like It offers a variety of popular Filipino dishes, including pancit malabon (stir-fried noodles), lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly) and lumpia.

Before becoming Hopia Like It, the bakery took on a different form as a Panorama City restaurant when Kalesa Grill opened up in 1998. Owned and operated by James’ parents, Anette and Gerry Mercado, Kalesa Grill had its humble beginnings as a home away from home for Filipinos to eat foods that would usually be available only in the Philippines. With half of California’s Filipino American population residing in Los Angeles, an estimated 506,000, the San Fernando Valley’s presence of Hopia Like It has helped bake up an accessible taste of Filipino sweets.

“When [my parents] started it out, it was because they really felt like there was a lack of proper representation of Filipino food. There were other Filipino restaurants in the area, but they kind of felt like they had their own spin to it that they’d be able to capitalize on,” Mercado said.

Kalesa Grill later evolved into Bistro Kalesa, a fine dining restaurant that carved itself out as a community venue where patrons could sing their hearts out on karaoke night and people could enjoy live performances of Filipino artists.

“I was only like 9 [or] 10 years old, but I do remember seeing a lot of events coming through and just the Filipino culture was crazy because for me growing up American, it was like, the Filipinos are coming through, but I don’t know who these artists necessarily are,” Mercado said.

While he was too young to recognize who the musicians were, he sensed that the restaurant and its events held a degree of significance for the San Fernando Valley’s Filipino community.

“Seeing everyone come through showed how popular or at least how important it was to have these Filipino artists come to the restaurant and just represent themselves there,” Mercado said.

A dozen of ube and red bean hopia from Hopia Like It in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., on April 10, 2022. (Brandon Sarmiento)

Bistro Kalesa eventually shut its doors in 2007. However, the business was resurrected in 2015 — this time as the original Kalesa Grill. The difference is that a bakery was implemented as an extension to the restaurant as Anette developed a passion for baking pastries, such as hopia.

After seeing success as a companion bakery that shared space with Kalesa Grill, Hopia Like It added another location when its first stand-alone establishment opened up in Granada Hills in 2018.

“Granada Hills is still getting used to a Filipino bakery being there. But we’re starting to get a lot more traffic that isn’t Filipino and it’s starting to grow a little bit more into just outside of that Filipino community for sure,” Mercado said.