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Flavors of the Philippines in the Coastal Bend fueled by trials and triumphs

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Posted at 5:22 PM, May 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-31 18:22:20-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Corpus Christi has a variety of flavors inspired by countries in Asia, including Filipino cuisine.

The Little Manila Lumpia House caters to taste buds in search of traditional food from the Philippines. The restaurant, located on 2124 Waldron Rd., opened a second location on 7426 South Staples St. due to popular demand.

While the menu features an assortment of appetizers, main courses, and desserts, lumpia is the most popular item on the menu. The Filipino spring roll is individually hand-wrapped and deep-fried, making it a fan favorite for customers like Paris Aguilar.

She's from Brownsville, but when she goes to Corpus Christi and has a craving for lumpia, she knows where to go.

"I love lumpia," she said. "One of my good friends is Filipina and she makes lumpia and glass noodles all the time."

Aguilar said she enjoys all of the unique spices the restaurant uses.

She also said what makes lunch even more special is the woman in the kitchen who provides an authentic taste of the Philippines.

"I don't want it any other way than from someone who grew up and has a familial tie to it." she said. "The portion is huge, it was delicious and huge, and I'll be taking it home for leftovers."

Elena Decio is the current owner of both Lumpia House locations, where she can frequently be found cooking up some orders in the back of the restaurant.

"We're just struggling to find employees, but it's okay." Decio said. "We're doing the best we could."

The business owner works overtime, but her dedication to adding her own personal touch is fueled by her early life in the Philippines. Decio said she faced many trials and tribulations growing up.

"I had a rough life. I don't grow up with my real mom and dad. But I survived. My grandparents teached me a good way." she said.

It was difficult for her to express the details of her past as she was overwhelmed with emotions. She was able to explain that she was raised by her grandparents. Later in her youth, she was able to meet her parents and other family members.

Decio recalled a celebration with food during that special event.

"My grandparents, they don't teach me to hate. Whatever your past, you have to throw behind you and it's a new day." she said.

One thing Decio coveted when she was young was education opportunities.

"I ask my family, I wanted to go to school, but they don't put me in school because I'm the oldest, and the oldest, they have to work," she said.

However, her experience shaped who she is today. In 1984, she started a new life in Texas. She said moving to America provided many opportunities for herself and her family. Decio has four kids and grandchildren, many of them live in Corpus Christi.

"I don't want to be away from my family," she said

Living in the Coastal Bend also gave her the opportunity to become an entrepreneur. Decio started off helping the original Lumpia House owners on her free time and surprised them with her skills in the kitchen.

Sharing her secret recipe, Decio pointed at her chest and said, "You have to be positive all the time. You're cooking happy singing. It's always on your heart, on your mind, everything you have to do is good."

When she eventually took over the restaurant, Decio was able to open the second location on Corpus Christi's South Side.

Decio said she loves sharing her culture with food. Her goal is to make sure customers feel like they're at home, even with foreign cuisine on their plate.

She said that's what makes people feel welcomed and it keeps them coming back for more. She described the relationship she builds with customers and staff as family oriented. Her nickname at the restaurant is "mom" or mama."

Elena Decio plans to keep the restaurant running and said she hopes her children will continue its operations when she can't anymore so Corpus Christi can always have a piece of her life, experiences and culture through the restaurants.