Luz's Place is the gritty kind of diner where cigarette smoke-scented men drink beer early in the morning and stare vacantly at Fox News on the TV behind the counter. When they stand up, they're apt to stumble: Back toward the kitchen, there's a handwritten sign on the women's bathroom door warning "Women only! No men! If Luz see you, $10 fine."
Where: 1936 Remount Road, North Charleston
When: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday
More info: 554-8181; luzsplace.com
Mostly, though, Luz Monroy isn't policing down-on-their-luck patrons. She's too busy hand-rolling lumpia and frying eggs.
"My wife asked for a restaurant, so I bought her a building," explains Cecilio Monroy, Luz's husband of 47 years. "When you have a wife, whatever she wants, she gets. She does everything: Cooking, cleaning up, waitressing, purchasing food."
The Monroys in 1978 immigrated from the Philippines, then under Ferdinand Marcos' absolute rule. "We came here for stability of government, and for my children to have education," says Monroy, who worked as a chemist. After retiring, he agreed to support his wife's restaurant ownership ambitions: Luz's Place opened in 1999.
Because Monroy didn't want to take any chances on financial success, Luz's also sells lottery tickets, cashes checks and houses an ATM. "I believe in American businesses diversifying," he says. "My approach is safety, then quality."
Luz Monroy learned to cook in her native Pampanga, considered the Philippines' culinary capital, but rounded out her repertoire in the kitchen of a Holiday Inn. She also worked at The Oriental Cuisine locally.
Most visitors to Luz's Place bypass Monroy's pancit, milkfish and impressively sour sinigang for grilled cheese, burgers and omelets. "It's about 90 percent American," Monroy estimates.
Asked which of his wife's dishes he likes best, Cecilio Monroy sides with his customers.
"Well, I like redneck grits, corned beef hash and eggs any time of day," he says.
What to eat
In their award-winning cookbook "Memories of a Philippine Kitchen," Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan write that they've learned the correct answer - no - to the frequent customer question of "Is your adobo as good as my mother's adobo?"
So your mother may make a better adobo than Monroy, but if that's true, you're very lucky. Monroy's balanced adobo, with a whisper of sweetness and smack of garlic, is terrifically tangy and soulful. Served with garlic fried rice and an expertly fried egg, it's a contender for the list of Charleston's greatest folk dishes.