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Ting’s Filipino Bistro: Authentic, Savory, Simply Delicious!

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For years, Theresa Santos-Spencer dreamed of opening a small Filipino bistro. The story of her life’s journey is much like the Filipino cuisine she creates; it’s fascinating, complex and certainly spicy! Family, gratitude and the relentless pursuit of her dream have fueled the fire burning inside Theresa her entire life. 

Theresa, or Ting, as her father fondly nicknamed her, credits her parents for making her the woman she is today. Her mother taught her to be a strong, independent woman and to balance that strength with love and generosity. Ting describes her grandmother as loving and sweet but a fighter who was a talented opera singer, actress and owned a small eatery where she lived. Her mother and grandmother shared the family’s cherished recipes and taught Ting how to make herself and others happy by cooking delicious food. “There’s always something cooking at my house. Everyone knows, come by anytime and I’ll have something delicious cooking on the stove!” she smiled. As I listen to Ting tell her story, I imagine her home filled with the aroma of love and tradition, and I see the determination, talent and fire passed down from her family.

If you have yet to experienced Filipino cuisine, don’t wait another day! Drive, walk or take the streetcar to 17th and Locust, enter Parlor and follow your nose. The aroma of toasted garlic, spices and warm jasmine rice is heavenly. You’re in for a treat; the balanced blend of sweet, salty and sour may sound complex, but it’s simply delicious.

Start with an order of Lumpia Shanghai, the Filipino Spring Roll. It’s a satisfying crunch followed by the taste and texture of perfectly cooked, seasoned vegetables. For an added kick, dip your Lumpia in the sweet-n-tangy sauce that is served on the side. 

At home, I like to cook on skewers. This helps with even cooking and makes meat and veggies moister and juicier. Ting’s Filipino Bistro has fantastic skewers! Barbecue pork, chicken and salmon are marinated, glazed and divine. All three were great, but if you like salmon, you will love Ting’s barbecue salmon!

When Ting said they were about to bring out Adobo Chicken for our tasting, my heart leaped! My college roommate was born in the Philippines and moved with her family to the United States at an early age. Her grandmother, Grace, gave me my first taste of adobo chicken 30 years ago and my first bite of Ting’s Adobo Chicken was everything I remember. It’s incredibly tender, slightly sweet yet spicy. The secret to Adobo Chicken is time. Ting marinates the chicken for several hours in in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce, then cooks it very slowly, and serves her amazing dish with warm rice and pride in her family’s recipe.

The Adobo Chicken was certainly delicious and brought back sweet memories but the Pancit was my favorite! This savory dish is so satisfying, especially if you like noodles, containing seasoned chicken, vegetables and vermicelli noodles topped with scallions. This is what I’m ordering on my next visit!

At this point I’m so full that I cannot imagine eating another bite. Oh wait, here comes a dessert plate of Turon, bananas wrapped, fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and a trio of mango, green tea and ube ice cream. Ting suggested I dip one of the turon into the ice cream; good call! All three flavors were delightful but the ube was something new, made from sweet potatoes, and I loved it!

I was inspired by the details of Ting’s early life on the east coast and the challenging path leading her to Kansas City. There were plenty of opportunities for Ting to give up on her dream but at each turn or bump in the road she chose to work hard and keep moving forward. There were times when it would have been easy to become bitter but she remained grateful. She was patient and paid attention while working in some of Kansas City’s best restaurants. Employers noticed her desire to be nothing short of excellent at whatever she was doing and were equally impressed with the care taken to maintain relationships. 

Ting set herself apart from others then and now! Opening a restaurant during a pandemic sounded crazy to most people, but Ting had done the work, built the relationships and certainly had the recipes to introduce Kansas City to the finest in Filipino cuisine. This was her time and she knew it! Ting’s dream was to open a small bistro, but, specifically, she wanted her bistro to be on 39th Street. Disappointed but not discouraged when space was not available on 39th, Ting called upon one of those relationships she’d built and in spite of a waiting list, she was offered a space at Parlor. Less than a year later, her hard work, patience and perseverance have paid off. Ting’s second location opened August 1, 2022, in the River Market at 405 Main and three weeks later she opened her third location at 1803 W. 39th Street; dreams do come true! 

Ting Santos-Spencer, just like her cuisine, is a fantastic surprise and certainly warm and spicy. Ting also owns and operates Khalia’s Pizzeria, located in Parlor. And while she’s clearly a successful businesswoman, she’s also a spicy dancer and warm mother to six children. As she talks about her kids and their individual talents and accomplishments, it’s clear that she is passing along the same strength and generosity she learned from her parents and grandmother while teaching them to follow their dreams.

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Written by: Sheryl Hammontree

Art director, illustrator and entrepreneur Sheryl Hammontree is happiest when creating. As a freelancer, she creates visual styling and targeted messaging to strategically solve challenges for clients. As the owner of Thoughtful Threads, she creates expressive apparel to empower people and build a community of kindness. Sheryl heads outside to find energy, inspiration and calm; whether in the garden or on a trail, her soul is fed by creating memories with her husband, Joel, family and friends.