Debut author Mia P. Manansala starts a cozy foodie AAPI mystery series with Arsenic and Adobo. Set in small town Shady Palms, main character Lila Macapagal works for her auntie, Tita Rosie. Lila left Shady Palms to attend college in nearby Chicago, but recently returned for a variety of reasons. Mostly, work at Tita Rosie’s Kitchen keeps her busy. She’s also happy to be around her bestie, who works nearby as a barista. But the local newspaper’s food critic, Derek, is her ex-boyfriend. And he has it in for Tita Rosie’s restaurant. Until he passes out and dies there during lunch.

Of course, Lila investigates the death, partly due to general small-town nosiness. Mostly, though, she must save the family restaurant’s reputation. No matter the crisis, she never stops thinking and talking about food. Beware—this book will make you hungry for Filipino food and sweet treats! 

Along the way, we meet Lila’s other aunties, the humorously named best friends her mother left behind when she died. And Lila’s cranky, gambling grandmother, addressed by the Filipino honorific Lola. We also meet other Shady Palms restaurant owners, businesspeople, and one very suspicious police detective. The cast is varied, and Lila spreads her investigation pretty wide, which makes it tough to guess who the villain is.

My conclusions

This was a quick and enjoyable audiobook, and I’m glad I had pronunciation help with the Tagalog words, the primary language of the Philippines. My main reason for choosing it was to explore the Filipino American culture, since my husband is half Filipino but didn’t grow up with that part of his family. Manansala delivered on my wish! And the only downside to the audiobook is that I couldn’t see the recipes she includes at the end of the book.

On the other hand, Lila and her twenty-something pals frustrated me sometimes. They spend a lot of time complaining about life, when it looks like they have plenty of familial support and caring. I tired of the semi-whiney attitudes quickly. However, Manansala adds more aspects to Lila’s character and back story. For example, she’s not just a Filipina or a second-generation Asian American trope. She’s got hopes and dreams for her life. And makes mistakes that haunt her, too.

Depending on what I’m reading at the time, I might dive into the second book from Manansala when it comes out. In the meantime, I recommend this one if you like cozy mysteries with strong ties to food and immigrant cultures.

Pair with a memoir about life in restaurants like Finding Freedom from Erin French or 32 Yolks from Eric Ripert.