CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Nipa Hut, a restaurant nestled on the corner of Central and 8th Avenues, offers a variety of Filipino dishes for the Cheyenne community to try and acts as a second home for owners Gerracio “Jhun” and Merelyn Vinluan.
Made from nipa leaves and bamboo, a “nipa hut” is a type of Filipino house built near a garden or out in the fields as a place for friends and family to rest and eat a meal.
The owners are originally from Binalonan, a municipality in the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines.
A derived U.S. citizen, Jhun moved to Guam before he turned 18 in order to retain his citizenship. His childhood sweetheart and wife, Merelyn, came shortly afterward with their eldest son, Michael.
Merelyn’s aunt, who lived in Cheyenne at the time, invited the Vinluans to settle down in the city in 1994.
“I didn’t even think twice coming here,” Jhun said, “but I didn’t know there was such snow; I didn’t know you needed a jacket.”
Jhun joined the Wyoming Army National Guard and Merelyn started cooking Filipino dishes for fun for their family friends and neighbors.
After receiving enthusiastic responses, the couple wanted to see if selling food was something viable they could do. The two opened a Nipa Hut food truck in 2013 and drove around Cheyenne serving homemade dishes like lumpia and adobo.
“We were kind of scared before,” Jhun said. “Who’s going to buy those types of things? But once they found out [the food] is fresh and we make our own sauces, they liked it.”
Jhun recalled meeting surprised customers from all over the country who came to Cheyenne via Interstate 80.
“They look up where to eat and see us and they’re like, ‘Wow! A Filipino place [in Wyoming]?” he said.
The Vinluans also operated a small Nipa Hut restaurant at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base until 2019, when they opened the Central Avenue location. The food truck continued to run in the summertime, but closed in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michael said Jhun and Merelyn haven’t been back to the Philippines in 20 years. Nipa Hut brings them “a little bit of home and what they miss from the past before they immigrated.”
“I think it’s nice for them to still be around their culture,” he said. “I think they’ve really enjoyed sharing the food that they grew up eating with all their friends and people around town.”
For first-time visitors, Jhun recommends trying their adobo, a chicken or pork dish slow-cooked in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic, onions, sugar and vinegar; or their lumpia, a beef egg roll with celery, carrots, garlic, onions and cilantro.
For spice lovers, he suggests ordering Sisig, a boiled meat mixed with mayonnaise, onions, ginger, hot peppers, vinegar and lemon juice.
Another must-try dish is cassava cake, a sweet, pudding-like cake made from grated yucca root, coconut milk, eggs, condensed milk and sugar.
Nipa Hut is located at 4014 Central Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday–Saturday.
The full menu can be viewed at https://nipahutwy.com/.