In the heart of Alachua County, there is a restaurant that stands out as a shining beacon of Filipino culture and cuisine. Filipino Flavors is more than just a place to enjoy delicious meals; it is a testament to the power of pursuing one's dreams and preserving cultural heritage through food.
A Childhood in the Philippines
The story of Filipino Flavors begins with its founder, 32-year-old Mary Ann Mercado, who spent her childhood in Laguna, Philippines. Surrounded by the diverse culinary scene in her hometown, Mercado's love for food was nurtured by helping her mother in the kitchen. However, fate would soon lead her family to eventually trade the tropical Philippines for the Florida flats.
Culinary Aspirations and Ambitions
While Mercado's parents had dreams of her becoming a nurse like her sisters, she was determined to forge her own path. At the age of 23, she enrolled in culinary school at the Center for Culinary Arts in Makati, Philippines. After three years of intensive training, she returned to Gainesville, Florida with a clear vision of creating something that would be uniquely her own.
A Dream Takes Shape
Mercado's journey to establish the first Filipino restaurant in Alachua County wasn't without its challenges. Unsure if the community was ready for her culinary creations, fate intervened when Magnolia Park sought food vendors and Mercado took the opportunity to share her culture. Nervous yet excited, she set up her tent and tables, not knowing what to expect. To her surprise and delight, Alachua's community of Filipinos showed up, forming the longest line among all vendors. Filipino Flavors had found its welcoming home.
"My line was actually the longest out of all the vendors," Mercado said, "I was just so shocked, like, wow, where had they been hiding?"
From Food Truck to Perfection
After a year of serving up authentic Filipino dishes, Mercado saved enough money to upgrade to a food truck. Her dedication to perfection and staying true to tradition in each recipe became her driving force. Eventually, in December 2021, Filipino Flavors settled into its permanent location on West Newberry Road, becoming a cherished culinary destination.
Preserving Tradition Through Flavor
Mercado's commitment to her culinary roots is evident in every dish she serves. With recipes passed down through generations of her family, each bite at Filipino Flavors is a journey to the Philippines, bursting with authentic flavors and heartfelt love. The menu includes authentic dishes like savory chicken adobo and mouthwatering lechon. However, one of Mercado's biggest passions is baking. In fact, one of her dreams is to eventually open up a Filipino bakery. One of the biggest hits are her Ube cookies and cakes.
A Warm Invitation to Discover Filipino Flavors
Beyond serving delectable meals, Mercado sees her restaurant as a platform to introduce Filipino culture to the wider community. Her warm and enthusiastic approach welcomes curious newcomers to try Filipino food for the first time, hoping they'll fall in love with it just as she did.
So, if you find yourself in Alachua County, make sure to pay a visit to Filipino Flavors, where the essence of the Philippines awaits in every savory bite.
With recipes passed down through generations of her family, each bite at Filipino Flavors is a journey to the Philippines, bursting with authentic flavors and heartfelt love.