It was five years ago when chefs Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca first teamed up to open what would become the acclaimed Filipino restaurant Bad Saint. The 24-seater dining spot in Washington D.C. put Pinoy cuisine on the map and even won for Tom the prestigious James Beard award in 2019.
This year, the winning tandem reunited with what some might consider a loftier goal in mind—follow in the footsteps of Jollibee in making Filipino fast food a global icon. How will they do it? Via Pogiboy.
As with many Pinoy young men, Pogiboy was a nickname given to Tom and Paolo when they were kids. It reminds them of happy childhood memories, which include going to drive-thrus, playing, and eating a lot. “We’re like a big fan of junk food,” Tom told ABS-CBN News in an interview last March. “Filipino food to me has a lot of nostalgia and that name just kind of stuck to us, so we decided to call it Pogiboy.”
There’s indeed nostalgia in every bite at Pogiboy, says one Filipino diner. Think sweet, spicy and savory fiesta spaghetti, sinigang-flavored fried chicken, crabby aligue mac and cheese, tocino-longanisa burger, and palabok waffle fries. Think of it as a “leveled-up” version of regular fast food.
Tom admitted to Bon Appetit that he drew some inspiration from iconic Pinoy brands. Pogiboy’s fiesta spaghetti, for instance, is an ode to his favorite Pinoy fast food Jollibee. He shared with DC Eater that when he visited the Philippines back in 2019, local chefs made him try the best of Filipino cuisine but he would still stop by Jollibee every single day. Tom’s version of the fiesta spaghetti, however, has sweet hotdog Bolognese and gouda cheese.
Like Jollibee, Pogiboy also serves fried chicken. But theirs has a sinigang flavor to it. They have palabok, too—but on a pork and beef sausage sandwich (think Jolly Hotdog), and waffle fries.
Their To “Chino” burger, on the other hand, is an homage to the Los Angeles resto Ma’am Sir, which closed in 2020. “We can’t claim this as our own,” he told Bon Appetit. “Our friend Charles Olalia had a longanisa sandwich on his menu.” Pogiboy’s To “Chino” burger patty has an equal mix of tocino, pork belly cured in annatto and garlic, and longganisa, spiced with atchara, grilled pineapple, and sandwiched in savory potato buns. Their “secret sauce” is—surprise!—Jufran banana ketchup but blended with Duke’s mayo, gochugaru, cornichons, house-made chile vinegar, and—another surprise!— Maggi Magic Sarap seasoning. The version of this burger on ube buns is included on Washington Post's list of “Six great burgers that you can feel good about eating”—perfect for people who don't want beef on their diet.
Also inspired by nostalgia is their Eugene burger, named after one of Tom’s brothers who passed away November last year. The last meal they shared, Tom told DC Eater, was a pit beef sandwich from Annapolis. Pogiboy’s version of the Baltimore pit beef, meanwhile, is top round beef with bistek sauce (soy sauce and calamansi), burnt onion and horseradish, sliced raw onion and American cheese.
Pogiboy’s Blooming Sam-“Pogi”-Ta is inspired by Outback Steakhouse’s Blooming Onion which, according to chefs Tom and Paolo, remind them of the Philippines’ sampaguita, considered by many as our national flower. Pogiboy's take on the appetizer, however, has chili-crab fat mayo and scallion spice.
Even the blue and yellow Pogiboy cartoon on their logo is a playful nod to Tom’s childhood. It reminds him of the mascot of Bob’s Big Boy, his and his six siblings’ happy place while they were growing up in suburban Maryland.
Turns out Pogiboy isn’t just a nickname but a treasure trove of cherished memories.