Forget the eggnog, the Christmas ham, and the hot buttered rum. For many Filipino families, no Christmas Eve dinner can be complete without one crucial, crispy-skinned centerpiece: a whole roast pig. “It’s like the turkey for Thanksgiving here,” Dennis Villafranca, of Jeepney Guy, says of the tradition. “In the Philippines, it’s lechon. It’s what you have on Christmas Eve.”
What happens to the Noche Buena lechon, then, when a full Bay Area lockdown has ruled out all big family gatherings other the ones held within your own immediate household? Which is to say, who is audacious enough to roast a whole pig just to feed a family of four — and, if no one is, does Christmas even count?
Fortunately, Jeepney Guy is uniquely poised to help Bay Area pork lovers solve this particular problem: The mobile food business is selling its signature dish — pork belly lechon — in both whole and half portions, for $110 and $60 respectively, for Christmas Eve pickup in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. The smaller size, meant to feed four to six people, is perfect for the kind of small family dinners that most folks will be having this year, Villafranca says.
Traditionally, of course, lechon is made by slow-roasting a whole pig over charcoal or a wood fire. But Villafranca’s calling card going back almost 10 years has always been his boneless, pork belly-only version of the dish, which was inspired, in part, by Italian porchetta. For Christmas Eve, he’s offering two options for the lechon. The first is to snag it hot and crispy, right out of the oven. But for people cooking Christmas Eve dinner, the second option might be even more appealing: Jeepney Guy is also selling fully cooked, cooled, and vacuum-sealed lechon that’s ready to be reheated at home.
The lechon reheats beautifully in the oven, Villafranca promises, with the skin crisping right back up — even better if you have an air fryer or a convection oven. It also comes with Villafranca’s homemade “Filipino gravy,” a sweet and tangy condiment made with the lechon drippings that helps cut into the heaviness of the meat.
Like so many other pop-ups and mobile food businesses, Jeepney Guy has struggled during the pandemic, with the corporate catering and Off the Grid appearances that had been central to the business suddenly pulled off the table. Mostly, he’s been selling a little bit of takeout on the weekends out of a friend’s restaurant in San Leandro. But the lechon pop-up kicks off what Villafranca hopes will be a much more promising new year: Starting in January, he hopes to set up his rotisserie ovens inside Crawstation — the restaurant that’s hosting his Christmas lechon sale — every day, at least during lunch service, as an extended pop-up.
He also hopes that 2021 will be the year he realizes the dream he’s had since he first started Jeepney Guy: A jeepney — or (often kitschily decorated) jeep — is the most iconic mode of public transportation in the Philippines, and Villafranca’s original plan was to launch an actual jeepney food truck. He already has the vehicle. It’s just a matter of getting it set up so he start can slinging crispy-skinned pork belly on the road.
“I guess for me [the truck] is part of completing the story of what Jeepney Guy is all about,” Villafranca says.
Jeepney Guy’s Christmas menu, including the lechon, is available for preorder via this online form. Pickup will be at Crawstation, at 1336 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset, on December 24 between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.