Los Angeles-based Filipino chef Charles Olalia has decided to reopen Rice Bar on Mar. 17, one of the pioneers of the Filipino food movement in the US, after its closure in 2019.
Olalia had to close Rice Bar because his lease ended while he was managing his other restaurant Ma’am Sir. When Los Angeles was placed on lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, he knew that Ma’am Sir’s dine-in services had to be halted—but there was still so much food left.
He tried to give the remaining food to his staff but they told him to keep it. It then dawned on Olalia that this is the perfect opportunity to bring Rice Bar back and offer Filipino rice bowl dishes for delivery. Olalia has been operating Rice Bar’s resurgence on his own, cooking signature Filipino food like longganisa and chicken tinola. He also made some of Ma’am Sir’s menu available (as including the whole menu would be too much for him) such as its signature big fried chicken platter.
Like any other chef who feels disoriented when they’re not in the kitchen, it felt natural for Olalia to run the 275-square-foot space of the once seven-seater Rice Bar alone. Slowly, he was able to bring back some of Ma’am Sir’s employees and will continue to do so as Rice Bar continues to operate. For Olalia, this type of comfort food is what Los Angeles needs, even before the current global health crisis. Ma’am Sir is situated near hospitals and he would always have nurses as customers. He is now sorting out ways on how he can possibly send food to hospitals.
The classically trained Olalia has a fine dining background in restaurants such as Patina where he was an executive chef. But he was always inclined to explore his Filipino heritage and translate that into cooking. When he opened Ma’am Sir with Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi of Café Birdie and Horse Thief, the Filipino restaurant became an L.A. hit.
Referencing the greeting that encapsulates Filipino hospitality, Ma’am Sir, has garnered recognitions including Los Angeles’ Times 101 Best Restaurants We Love, GQ’s Best New Restaurants in America 2019, and Eater’s 38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants.
In November 2019, Olalia was part of the Department of Tourism’s Chefs’ Tour where he explored the Philippines together with Filipino-American chefs Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint Washington DC and Grant “Lanai” Tabura of the Hawaiian food show “Cooking Hawaiian Style.” The 14-day trip was designed to introduce Philippine gastronomy to the world through international Filipino chefs. The Chef’s Tour was part of DOT’s Eats More Fun in the Philippines campaign.