Oxtail, peanut butter tripe and pigs’ feet… these are just some of the ingredients that can be used to make the traditional Filipino dish of kare-kare. The team at Barya, a pop-up restaurant that focuses on modern Filipino food, has taken all the flavors and complexities of this stew and reduced them into a seemingly simple brown sauce.

However, that which appears to be a simple side for dipping is in truth an umami bomb—jam-packed with layers of flavor that will haunt your palette. This is decidedly not your mother’s cooking, though it started off that way.

Chef Rod Reyes kicked off his culinary career holding what he called “taste-test parties.” Here he would serve his versions of “American” food—fried chicken with rice and beans, braised short ribs with polenta—all of it very good, but none very original or soul satisfying, especially for him. It was when he started experimenting with his mother’s very traditional recipes that the idea for Barya came to him.

The pop-up restaurant originally started at Hometown Heroes, a sports bar in South San Francisco, but now bounces between San Jose and San Francisco. I discovered their food while sipping some delicious craft beer at Camino Brewing taproom in downtown San Jose.

My mouth began to water as I scanned the menu. The first thing I sampled was the oxtail lumpia ($8). For those not in the know, lumpia is essentially a deep-fried spring roll. When done right, the roll’s wrapper should be ultra thin and super crisp. My best friend is Filipino, and his mother’s lumpia are legendary in parts of Fremont and Union City, so I thought I knew a thing or two about this dish.

I was wrong.

The juxtaposition between the Barya lumpia’s crisp exterior and its soft, savory oxtail insides was a revelation. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I sampled the kare-kare dipping sauce. Adding rich to rich can sometimes create a bland, muddy flavor, but not here.

The peanut sauce coaxed a complexity and sweetness out of the oxtail, bringing the entire dish together. I could have eaten three or four orders of these, but I had the rest of the menu to explore.

The next small bite I sampled was the mushroom liempo ($8). Essentially, it is a grilled king trumpet mushroom with a Filipino barbecue glaze. The mushroom itself was cooked perfectly, recalling both the flavor and texture of a juicy steak. The sauce was sweet, with some high notes of acid that cut through the mushroom’s savory tones. Again, I could have easily eaten a dozen of these.

Next I tried the beef salpicao ($10) a skewer of beef ribs with a soy-garlic sauce. It was good, but lacked some acid—or perhaps a bit of ginger—to perk the dish up. It was sweet and rich and meaty, but it didn’t really stand out to me.

The final snack, however, really blew my mind.

I chose the Sisig ($12), a staple of Filipino cuisine comprising various bits of pork face and neck cooked three times over and served on a sizzling plate. Barya have substituted face for pork jowl, a succulent if often underused cut that has a similar fat-to-meat ratio as bacon. It is cooked until it is tender, then grilled with soy sauce and calamansi, a citrus fruit that is ubiquitous in Filipino cuisine. Served over rice, the result is over-the-top rich—in the best way possible. Fatty bits of pork melt in your mouth, into the rice mingling with the soy and into each and every sweet-citrusy bite of calamansi. Each forkful is so packed with flavor, that you have to take a deep breath after every few bites.

Unlike the confusing fusion so many restaurateurs put forward in a hackneyed attempt to create something novel, Barya’s dishes are straight-up smart cooking. Yes this is modern—or “new,” if you will—but one can still taste all of the flavors in which these dishes are rooted.

Barya Pop-Up Kitchen