If you’re a fan of Filipino cuisine, then you likely already know that it’s not easy to find the kind of dishes you crave in Whatcom County. That changed a little over a year ago, when That’s What I Like! Island Grill began offering Filipino-American dishes from their food truck, which is located at 3236 Northwest Avenue, and open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.—or until they sell out of ingredients.
As Roy Nicol, one of the owners, talks about his background, you understand how the successful food truck has brought authentic flavors from the far side of the Pacific Ocean to his hometown of Bellingham. “My wife Lorna was born and raised in the Philippines,” he says. “My mother’s half-Nooksack and my father was half-Alaskan Native, so I’m Filipino on both sides of my family, and I was born here.”
That’s What I Like! has a made a large splash in a short time, considering they can still count the age of their business in months. “I am a career DJ by nature. I’ve been a doing it for as long as I can remember, and when the pandemic happened in 2019 a lot of my gigs got canceled, so I had to switch gears and change lanes,” Nicol says. “Lorna had been considering opening up a food truck, and the pandemic really pushed us. But it’s her passion, amazing cooking skills, hard work and dedication that made it work. And my son, Andrew, who’s been with us since ground zero. Thankfully I’m still on the commercial radio, Saturday nights at 9 p.m., on KUBE 93, based out of Seattle.”
One major factor in their success is that nearly everything is made to order. Your dish might take a bit longer to arrive than at another food truck, but the result is worth the wait. “Everything is home cooked when you order it,” Nicol says. “For the most part, we have about a 15-minute ticket time, because we’re actually making the food as you order it, so you know it’s fresh.”
Their willingness to be flexible certainly hasn’t hurt their reputation with customers, either. “If it’s not on the menu and it’s in our wheelhouse—you know, if you’re not coming at us with Italian food or anything like that—if you’re coming at us with Filipino-American like pork, chicken or shrimp fried rice, we’re on it,” says Nicol. “Right now, we have Spam fried rice on our menu, but we’re able to adapt and accommodate you if you’re craving something else. As far as having a secret weapon, I think it’s being able to adapt. Plus, there aren’t many places around here that can cook you lumpia.”
A light pastry wrapper filled with a variety of ingredients, lumpia can be found all over Asia, and is especially popular in Indonesia and the Philippines. There are sweet and savory versions, and they’re commonly seen at social gatherings and celebrations.
“A lot of customers come just for the lumpia, and there are some that ask me which is my favorite. Here’s a secret that’s not on the menu, but if you’ve been here before, then you know: We can hook you up with the lumpia sampler,” Nicol says. The sampler includes four pieces of Shanghai, two pieces of beef and two pieces of chicken lumpia for $10. “If people ask me, instead of having to wrestle around with which is my favorite, I just say it’s the sampler—you get some of everything.”
Nicol also has some news that only recently broke out on social media: the food truck is expanding into a brick-and-mortar location at the end of July, all in response to the tremendous feedback on its food. That’s What I Like! Island Grill will remain at the same address, moving into the old Northside Restaurant building.
“We’ve got a lounge, we’ve got a dining room, we’ve got a patio,” Nicol says. “We’re going to be expanding the menu, bringing in new menu items, and we’ll also offer a full lounge.” The official opening is scheduled for Saturday, August 2.
In addition to providing quality food, Nicol offers up his thanks to area residents. “I just want them to know that we’re thankful for all of the support they’ve given us, all the encouragement,” he says. “People have been coming up and saying, ‘You guys should open a restaurant,’ and it’s been really hard keeping the secret. I just want everyone to know that we’re super grateful for the word-of-mouth advertising that they’re doing for us, and we can’t thank them enough.”