LAReview

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Kuya Lord review image
8.7

Kuya Lord

$$$$

5003 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Among the many fast-casual restaurants in LA, Kuya Lord seems like another great spot to put in your rotation. You could easily stop in for a quick chicken rice bowl and be out the door in under eight minutes. And while we’re not going to deter you from doing that, you should also plan to stop and stay awhile—there’s a lot more going on at this Filipino restaurant in East Hollywood than meets the eye. 

Because while Kuya Lord does have the efficiency of a counter service restaurant, it also offers incredible food, and the soothing, personal atmosphere of a family-run restaurant.

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Kuya Lord originally started as a pop-up. The chef sold takeout trays out of his private residence during the pandemic, a time when DMing strangers and showing up at their house for dinner wasn’t out of the ordinary. These days, it’s operating out of a tiny cafe space at the corner of Melrose and Western, but the food is just as spectacular as when we named it one of our most memorable meals of 2020. With a front counter, some scattered tables, and news clippings framed on the wall, the space is straightforward, but not without warmth. The chef periodically comes out of the kitchen to hang with the diners, sharing stories about growing up in Lecena, Quazon, or explaining how the noodle special reminds him of a specific moment from his childhood in the Philippines. This alone transforms the space from a sparse dining room into a place of comfort, like you’re eating at a friend’s house who happens to own a cash register. 

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

As for the menu, it’s essentially broken down into two sections: individual rice bowls and “Kuya Trays,” large shareable platters that come with garlic rice, pancit, and salad. From there, you choose a protein, which could be anything from wood-smoked chicken, prawns drenched in garlic sauce, to grilled tofu and mushrooms. Each protein is also available a la carte, which gives you a route to trying a bunch of different items without having to order six rice bowls. At dinner, look out for the specials, a small set of changing dishes like beef soup, or a version of pancit made with thin noodles instead of the thick ones on the regular menu. Got all that? It can be a little tricky to parse, so give yourself a minute to soak it all in—and become comfortable with the fact that, whether you’re alone or with friends, you’re definitely going to order too much food.

Our usual pick is the tray with sweet sausage and short rib. At $43, it might not seem priced for a casual lunch, but it’s also built to feed 2-3 grown adults. And believe us, it does. Other proteins like the crunchy, fatty lucenachon and smoky yellowtail collar are so good, we prefer to order them separately just so we can appreciate the flavors on their own. And you know we’re not leaving without a mini calamansi pie at the end. All of which is to say: if it’s your first trip to Kuya Lord, bring family and friends. There’s simply too much delicious stuff to try and flavors to explore all alone. From there, hone in on your favorites, and use return trips for quick solo lunches and weeknight dinners. And yes, we predict there will be many of those in your future.

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Food Rundown

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Kuya Tray

There are dozens of ways to order at Kuya Lord, but the pick-your-protein tray is the best way to sample the many highlights in one sitting. This massive platter comes with sticky garlic java rice, pickled papaya, tomato salad, and thick, chewy pancit you’ll be thinking about for a long time. For the protein, we love the hearty longtapsilog, a combination of savory or sweet pork sausage, grilled beef short ribs, and two fried eggs stacked over the rice.

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Lucenachon

If there’s a house specialty at Kuya Lord, it’s this crescent-shaped rolled pork belly—a dish you need to order every time you visit. The meat is moist and salty, and the right amount of fatty without being too rich. What takes this dish to the next level, though, is the crispy skin, which is so crunchy you can barely hear the person across from you talk when you take a bite.

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Prawns

Our favorite way to eat these saucy, garlicky prawns is atop one of the individual rice bowls: the thick, rich crab sauce slowly smothers the java rice, creating a garlic explosion that will stay on your lips until the next day. Be warned though, this dish can get messy. As you twist off the prawn heads, sauce will fly, so either make yourself a napkin bib or have a Tide stick handy.

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Hiramasa Collar

Kuya Lord’s yellowtail collar has been on the menu since its early pop-up days and it's still one of our favorites. The fish has been grilled over almond wood, giving it a unique flavor, and is served with red chili oil for heat and soymansi, a salty-sour mixture of soy and calamansi juice.

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Laing Vol-Au-Vent

Kuya Lord’s menu essentially stays the same during lunch, but at dinner you can always expect a few nightly specials. That could mean goto, a decadent beef soup, or pancit habhab, a thin-noodle stir-fry that originates from the chef’s hometown. Our favorite thus far is the laing vol-au-vent, a thick, circular puff pastry shell filled to the brim with stew-like braised taro leaves in coconut milk. It’s sweet, nutty, buttery, and a soothing complement to the more intense flavors of other dishes.

Kuya Lord review image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Calamansi Pie

Even if you weren’t able to get through half of your Kuya Tray, find a way to make room for this dessert. It’s essentially a riff on key lime pie made with calamansi and topped with pandan whipped cream, which lends a strong, floral vanilla flavor. Unlike most dishes here, it’s quite small and just enough for two to share.

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