In 2015, Rockville resident Javier Fernandez left his chef job at Met Bethesda restaurant (now closed) and started Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, a pop-up in his sister’s Rockville bakery, Gwenie’s Desserts (now known as Gwenie’s Pastries). His goal was to serve Filipino cuisine, the food of his heritage, concentrating on lechon—pork belly stuffed with pork tenderloin, then rolled and roasted, producing a crispy skin. Lechon is a specialty of Cebu, the Philippine island where Fernandez’s family is from. (Kuya means “big brother,” and Ja is short for Fernandez’s nickname, Jaja.)
This May, Fernandez, 34, accomplished his larger goal—to open a brick-and-mortar, fast-casual version of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly—when his restaurant debuted in Rockville’s White Flint Plaza shopping center, behind the old White Flint mall. The inviting counter-service eatery, outfitted in red and white subway tiles, is small, seating 14, and is usually very busy. (The restaurant closes from 3 to 5 p.m. daily to replenish for dinner service.) A vibrant black and white mural filling one wall states, “kaon na ta,” which means “let’s eat” in Cebuan dialect. Another wall features shelves stocked with items from Gwenie’s Pastries such as cassava cake, red bean bread and biko, a Filipino cake made with glutinous rice and coconut milk.
Filipino specialties abound, including lumpia (long, thin, flaky egg rolls, $5.59), sisig (a hash of pig ears, snout and belly, peppers, onions and crispy pork skin, $7.99), adobo (braised sweet and sour chicken, $11.99) and pancit (noodles stir-fried with chicken, shrimp and vegetables, $12.59). Among the dishes we love: house-made spicy pork longanisa sausage with fried rice and a sunny-side-up egg ($11.59); grilled pork belly skewers ($2 per skewer); and the signature lechon belly seasoned with lemon grass, which is so popular there is a 2-pound per person limit ($11.99 per pound). But the sleeper here is laing ($6.99), a large side dish of creamed spinach and kale with coconut milk, pork belly, shrimp paste and Thai chilies—it’s absolutely irresistible. Kuya Ja’s is a foodie’s dream come true as well as Fernandez’s.
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, 5268-H Nicholson Lane, Rockville, 240-669-4383, kuyajas.com
Comings & Goings
Arlington dim sum restaurant China Garden, which was slated to move to the former REI space on Rockville Pike, will instead open by Chinese New Year 2019 on Woodglen Drive in North Bethesda, the former location of Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar. Owner Chris Zhu says the restaurant’s new name will be China Garden Han Gong.
Gourmet burger chain BurgerFi announced plans to open an outpost at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda. The new eatery is expected to open this winter.
Four restaurants owned by brothers Alonso and Alvaro Roche in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle went out of business in August. On Aug. 4, Bold Bite, a fast-casual eatery on Norfolk Avenue, closed. Then on Aug. 11, 202 Donuts & Coffee, 202 Next Door and TacoArepa, all located on Fairmont Avenue, were shuttered.
American City Diner in Chevy Chase, D.C., shuttered after 30 years. Jeffrey Gildenhorn, who opened the diner in 1988, died last year and his family decided to close the restaurant in July.
Armand’s Chicago Pizzeria in Silver Spring closed in July after 29 years.