If you are ever going to share a meal with local celebrities Stephanie and Alexander Portugal — better known as the dynamic duo that runs the food blog Hungry in Whittier (@hungryinwhittier on Instagram) — make sure there’s good lighting. At least, that’s what I learned when I joined them for tacos at a locally-owned restaurant JC’s Kitchen in Uptown Whittier. Stephanie is smaller than I expected her to be. After following her Instagram account for almost four years, she seems larger-than-life on the internet. She stands over us, snapping pictures of the food and gushing about how cute the tapas-style plate is; it is pretty cute with it’s six different bite-sized offerings of tacos. After getting the shot, she settled down in her chair and dug in.
“I started Hungry in Whittier because I’ve lived here my whole life, and I really love food. I started noticing my personal Instagram was turning into a food page, so I decided I wanted to start something separate,” Stephanie said. The Portugals started the official Hungry in Whittier account in June of 2015 — just a month after getting married — and have run it consistently ever since. “I followed an account called Hungry in LA for a really long time, and I was inspired by it, so I decided to take that name and run with it.” Now the account has 37, 000 followers and 2,000 posts.
In the nearly-five years of running their account, the Portugals have become connoisseurs of the Whittier food scene, and they have a recommendation for everything. Best bar? The Cellar for her, and The Guildhall for him. Best budget meal? Marco Polo Pizza. Best burger? After some intense deliberation, Norm’s Famous Charbroiled Burgers.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of people ask us if the followers are real, and they are. It’s very organic,” said Alexander. The account has grown and evolved over the last few years. When it began, the Portugals’ identity was not public information. They kept it a secret for almost a year, before they decided to start planning an anniversary party to celebrate the account’s rapid growth and warm community reception. The first time they ever posted about themselves, it was just a photo of Mrs. Portugal’s hand. “I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll just make it really fun, like a game,”’ Mr. Portugal said. “The funny thing was, she got recognized right away. One of our really good friends recognized her hand and texted her to ask if she was Hungry in Whittier. Little by little, we just started revealing it to everybody else.”
The account is still mostly photos of mouthwatering food, but every once in a while there will be a post linking to their personal and professional pages. “It’s also become a platform to our other businesses. People feel like they know us, and that’s really cool.” When they are not running their ultra-popular accounts, the Portugals are entrepreneurs. Stephanie is a photographer, mostly specializing in weddings and engagements. Alexander is a realtor, though he used to own a shop in Uptown called Alexander Robert Trade Company.
As soon as we step into JC’s Kitchen, the owner — JC himself — greets them like old friends and quickly ushers them to our table. JC did not know we were coming, but he recognized the Portugals from their previous visits and was excited to tell them about his new menu items and their brand-new liquor license. He even treats us to a complimentary churro bowl, one of the most photogenic desserts known to man.
Although the Portugals never expect free food, restaurants often offer. Mrs. Portugal says she is even asked how much a visit and subsequent post would cost, akin to an Instagram influencer who does sponsored content. Hungry in Whittier does not charge for posts, and only share their experience at a restaurant if it is a positive one. “There is already a Yelp. I don’t want to be Yelp,” said Stephanie. The blog is a place for them to promote small businesses and spotlight good food. “I really do try to focus on highlighting our mom-and-pop shops here because there are so many of them and that’s what our bread and butter is. I love that about Whittier; it is such a big part of the city.”
When they get invited to places, the restaurants will sometimes insist on comping the meal, which Stephanie says they accept out of politeness and respect for the business owners. “We just want to be gracious about it, and, if we enjoy it, then we bring them more business.” It might seem intuitive, but Stephanie says it is the number one misconception about their account. “We want to support the businesses, it is not about getting free food.” On the other hand, I decided by the end of the experience at JC’s Kitchen that I will no longer be taking stories that do not provide me with free churro bowls. If anyone is interested in providing, reach out to the Quaker Campus, but, until then, I guess I’ll just be hungry in Whittier.