The long line to order food at the Kamayan Fiesta at the corner of Annandale and Washington Streets was surprising for the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Most restaurants slow down after the lunch rush, but the line kept growing and the orders kept flowing, even from those who sat outside at picnic tables, finishing their meals before they went inside to buy more for take-home.
Kamayan prides itself on authentic Filipino food (“Filipino Asian American cuisine,” according to its website), serving individual dishes and family-style meals of breakfast (until 12 p.m.), lunch, and dinner.
“At some American restaurants, it takes two to three hours for customers to order, wait and eat,” said Chef Jhett Duran, an owner, during an interview at a picnic table.
“Right here, customers spend less than an hour. They eat and go and don’t stay long.”
Some stay to order the popular chicken pancit ($8.99 entrée) with cabbage, carrots, green onions, snow peas and rice noodles cooked in soy sauce with the meat, said Ray Ann Duran, Kamayan’s founder, co-owner and the chef’s partner.
I stayed to order it, too, and found it delicious, even when cold the next day after I easily stretched it into two meals.
Ray Ann giggled when I asked for the best sellers: “They are all the best sellers!” she exclaimed.
And, “every single day,” the restaurant runs out of chicken and rice noodles, “especially in Falls Church,” piped in another owner who is the chef’s brother, Leo Duran. (Their first location is in Springfield.)
The chicken adobo dish is an entrée and a traditional Filipino dish with meat braised in soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, and bay leaves.
“The rice noodles are similar to lo mein, but way better tasting,” Leo bragged, but my American taste buds could detect no difference.
“A lot of people come in here trying to find it at the end of the day” when it’s often gone, he added.
The thin or thick rice noodles (“pancit”) are cooked in a variety of ways with seafood, for one variation, and sliced squid, shrimp, mussels, pork rinds, and more ($14.99) or there’s the spaghetti “Filipino style” ($10.99) with sliced hot dogs, ground beef and banana ketchup, which is not what it seems.
Ray Ann explained: Banana ketchup “is a dipping tomato sauce, kind of like a sweet gravy the kids love and we use for fried chicken, pork, and hot dogs.”
Look, ma! No bananas!
When Chef Jhett found out I was not allergic to peanut butter, she fixed me up a scrumptious peanut butter sauce meal, unlike any entrée I have had with savory meat and green beans slathered in a gooey peanut butter sauce. Talk about proteins! Who would have thought?
The Durans change the menu daily and offer 35 to 40 selections on Saturday, their busiest day.
Rice and bottled water accompany meals which start at $7.99 for a selection of one entrée, $9.99 for two (the “chef’s duo”), $12.99 for three (the “chef’s platter”), and the “chef’s quadro” for four ($24.99).
Entrées include the celebrated chicken adobo and five other chicken choices (not all available every day), four pork entrees like the binagoongan cooked in garlic, tomato, shrimp paste, and coconut milk, and Tokwa’t Baboy which is pork and fried tofu in a sauce of soy sauce, onion, vinegar, and chili peppers.
From the large menu, customers may also choose from eight beef and veggies dishes including mongo guisado (mung bean soup sauteed in garlic and onions with bittermelon).
The name of the restaurant, “Kamayan” means eating with your hands, a popular Filipino tradition, Leo explained, “a concept,” and option for anyone eating at the restaurant, but no one was “kamayaning” when I was there.
“We have customers who come from Centreville [Virginia], Herndon, Baltimore, Manassas,” he boasted. Really? From Maryland?
A few minutes later when I stood in line inside to place my order, the customer in front of me exclaimed to the counter staff: “I drove from Maryland for your food!” Across the small room, Leo and I exchanged smiles.
What looked like half a pig, spiced, diced, and ready to go, sat on top of the counter. Pork is a hot seller, the team told me, and I can vouch for the reason: I ate a pork stick ($3.25) which was marinated overnight and then grilled with an excellent topping of homemade bbq sauce which almost melted in my mouth, reminding me of chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream, but disguised at the restaurant as a “side.”
The Durans’ foray in the restaurant business began about 18 months ago when they opened their Springfield eatery, just before covid shut everything down.
“We were really nervous,” Leo said, “because we had to start paying the rent” and their landlord paid no heed to their plight.
They did not qualify for a paycheck protection program loan because the restaurant had been open only a short while, but they worked hard and persisted and, so far, their efforts are paying off.
The Falls Church location has been open about a month in the same spot which the Indian restaurant, Johnsons Café, occupied about six months earlier this year.
Although the Johnsons were concerned about enough parking, Ray Ann said their Falls Church building owner said customers can park at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. “We’re a ‘grab and go,’” Chef Jhett said. It’s quick.
The chef theorized that a low number of area Indian customers may have contributed to Johnsons’ closure, but “many Filipinos live around here, and everybody loves Filipino food,” so much that Kamayan Fiesta is getting ready to open another restaurant in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Ray Ann said.
The selections are a great value for a lot of tasty food, sure to attract those tempting taste buds with new culinary delights while celebrating diversity in our community, too.
The number of guests permitted inside is limited, due to Covid restrictions, and face masks are required for entry.
The Falls Church restaurant is open every day except Monday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.(despite the website’s listing of closing at 6 p.m.) and after the labor crunch eases, the owners plan to hire more workers and open on Mondays, too.