A self-described “Filipino redneck,” Kiss My Grits owner Mike Guanlao grew up in South Carolina with immigrant parents who were great cooks and thought nothing of filling the table with a mix of Lowcountry specialties and Filipino street food. No surprise, then, that he takes a similar approach with his truck’s menu: Decidedly Southern classics like Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas stewed with vegetables, stone-ground grits, and collard greens) and bright, clean Charleston-style shrimp and grits with bacon, mushrooms, and garlic share space with Filipino chicken adobo and steamed rice. Occasionally, the cuisines meld on a single plate: Earthy collard greens round out the chicken and rice, sweet-tart pork belly adobo is swirled into grits and collards.
Though Guanlao was his parents’ defacto sous chef in his early days, he could never quite get his parents to commit family recipes to paper, so he approximates them in his own way. “As Filipinos go, we all think we’re the best chef in the world,” he laughs, “and we don’t like to measure or give recipes out. It’s more about tasting, getting feedback, and sometimes tailoring to people’s palates.”
Guanlao definitely explores his own identity through his truck. “It’s hard being a Filipino-American growing up here and not knowing the mother tongue because my parents didn’t want me to have the accent,” he says. “They meant well but it’s a big missing part of my culture that I’m always seeking, and cooking Filipino recipes is my way of trying to connect to where I come from.” On the other hand, the former musician seems to fit perfectly into his current environment. “I think I have the old Seattle vibe, a little bit rock and roll and surly,” he says. “I definitely embrace the whole entrepreneurial spirit.”