PAO Truck launches cafe, Tampa's new mac 'n' cheesery & more

Munching through the latest in restaurant news.

click to enlarge WINGS GONE BURGERS: A second Graffii Junktion is coming to South Tampa. - CHIP WEINER
Chip Weiner
WINGS GONE BURGERS: A second Graffii Junktion is coming to South Tampa.


After establishing his Filipino restaurant-on-wheels more than a year ago, PAO Truck owner and chef Jonjie Sibayan said he knew he wanted to expand his menu. But he needed additional kitchen space.

Sibayan’s new brick-and-mortar, PAO Cafe, allows him to serve up more authentic eats using fresh ingredients, including soups with house-made noodles and steamed buns also made on site. His food truck remains in operation, but the cafe, which opened Aug. 21 at 14837 N. Florida Ave., functions as the only Filipino eatery in Tampa.

Since the Bay area isn’t loaded with spots showcasing Philippine dishes like in New York or California, “Our goal is to educate people on Filipino cuisine,” Sibayan said.

For Sibayan, who was in a Philippine dance troupe at 5 years old and whose grandfather founded the Pilipino American Association of Tampa Bay, PAO is as much about the cooking as it is about the culture.

“[The food] is new to people, so it gives us a broad range to pick and choose from,” he said. “We’re trying to share our culture with the people here.”

PAO still crafts items that its food truck following will recognize, such as its sisig (a medley of scallions, onions and fried pork served with white rice), Chicky Boom (sweet marinated chicken over garlic rice) and burgers with a Filipino twist. The restaurant plans to integrate halo-halo into its dessert offerings, too.

The coziest of comfort foods

Mac ‘n’ cheese fiends, it’s here.

Downtown Tampa’s Max & Chz at 117 S. Hyde Park Ave. serves up 12 kinds of mac to hungry diners who’ve stopped in since its opening a couple weeks ago. The restaurant has diner-style seating and Tampa memorabilia, as well as the owners’ black-and-white family photos, lining its walls.

“The last five days it’s been off the charts,” said Vincent Russo, who co-owns the restaurant with Greg Artale, last Friday.

Max & Chz is geared toward University of Tampa students whose campus is just up the road, but Russo, who’s new to the industry, describes himself as a food nut, especially for mac and cheese.

While only two of the macs are vegetarian (the Classic and Broccoli & Cheddar), other stylings include fixin’s like ground beef, tortilla crumble, ricotta and bacon. Orders may be placed for 7- or 9-inch helpings.

“We’re in learning mode. I just want to make it better,” Russo said. “I’m not afraid of failure.”

Orlando burger bar descends upon Tampa

Graffiti Junktion, a popular burger chain around the greater Orlando region, opened its first Tampa restaurant this week at 11401 N. 56th St.

A second location, at 3114 W. Bay to Bay Blvd. in South Tampa, will launch inside the old Wings Gone Wild space as well.

With interiors adorned with colorful, spray-paint designs, Graffiti restaurants carry a casual vibe. Like the others, the Temple Terrace locale features no-frills fare like city-nicknamed burgers (some stuffed with cheese), sandwiches and snacks suited for pairing with a cold one.

Manager Sandi Smith said her restaurant will focus on hosting the recurring events Graffitis are known for, including bingo and painting nights, in about a month.

According to Smith, a restaurant business veteran, she’s already heard from locals that say there wasn’t a place for them to hang out after work until now. Smith said she’s excited to bring an eatery like Graffiti, which is equipped with a full bar and operates until 3 a.m., to the area.

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