The newest entry into the city's burgeoning Filipino food scene might not outwardly look very Filipino to the naked eye. But for Justin Dauz, chef and owner of the food cart pop-up Balong, it’s true to his life, growing up in the Bay Area eating his grandma’s cooking and drive-thru McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, and cutting his teeth as a chef working brunch in Los Angeles. Opened in September 2022, his pop-up is called Balong, the Ilocano word for little boy—something his grandma used to say when she called him to eat.
“'I’m a Filipino boy who grew up in San Jose, California. So no one could tell me that isn't inherently Filipino,” says Dauz.
Every Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dauz operates his breakfast pop-up out of Baon Kainan, the Filipino food cart outside of Concourse Coffee (807 NE Couch St). At the center of the menu is the sausage breakfast sandwich, a simple but perfectly executed number that consists of a fried egg, scratch-made sun-dried tomato and garlic aioli, thoroughly gooey Tillamook cheddar, a house-made pork sausage patty with chile and fresh sage, and freshly baked pan de sal—a light, slightly sweet, fluffy Filipino roll. The sausage is the star, coarsely ground and with an assertive peppery kick, but the amalgamation of melty cheese, thick aioli, and oozing egg is what takes it to lip-smacking decadence. There’s a vegetarian version available, too, and you can also sub out the pan de sal for a biscuit—both variations we’re excited to try.
You should side your sandwich with an order of the potato pavé, a sort of classed-up gratin that’s made with simple ingredients, but considerable prep. Dauz thinly slices potatoes, salts them, and layers them with clarified butter. The result: a shimmery, golden brown, crackly layer on the bottom, with velvety and tender potatoes on the top. Dip it in house-made crema, livened up by rice vinegar and chives.
Also on the menu: Nanay’s toast, a straightforward dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, chives, and shallots on bread. It’s a throwback to a tomato and scrambled egg over rice dish that Dauz’s grandmother used to make for him. “It's the most simple thing, but it's the most memorable thing in my life,” Dauz says. “I asked for it three times a week.”
Along with grandma’s cooking, Dauz gets his breakfast chops from years of working at Los Angeles’s famed Eggslut back in its days as a food truck, home of the coddled egg lauded by Ruth Reichl back in 2012. Though he dreaded prepping a similar potato dish back then, now making everything from scratch is a point of pride.
“I could look at this product and be like, ‘I did it from start to finish,’” Dauz says. “It’s something that sparks joy for me.”
For Dauz, Balong is a happy return to the restaurant industry on his own terms. After 10 years of cooking professionally, including in Los Angeles Filipino restaurants Lasa and Go Get Em Tiger, Dauz was thinking of leaving restaurant life entirely. A move to Portland in 2020, prompted by a stint helping out at one of Carlo Lamagna’s Twisted Filipino pop-ups in Los Angeles and a desire for a change of pace, helped him focus on what he loved most about cooking. In the future, Dauz plans to add dishes like silog—garlic fried rice with a fried egg, sided by the protein of your choice—and Filipino stews. And while it might be tough for your average person to make it to Balong on Mondays and Tuesdays (though it’s worth planning your lunch break around), they’re traditionally days off for restaurant industry employees, who make up a major part of Dauz’s audience.
“I want to build this community from the ground up—but also meet the people who have Mondays and Tuesday off, and deserve a great sandwich on Mondays and Tuesdays,” says Dauz.
Balong, @eat.balong, Mondays and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Baon Kainan at Concourse Coffee (807 NE Couch St) with occasional additional times and locations.