The schedule starts early at Kuya Lord, the new Filipino restaurant-turned-restaurant on Melrose. The doors are now open five days a week, but before the lock turns, there are Melrose Hill fans and neighbors lining up on the sidewalk, peeking in to watch Maynard Llera and his crew. They came, most of them at least, to sample Llera’s lechon kawali, crispy pork served over noodles, or as a standalone side.
The wait — both for Llera’s first standalone restaurant project, after years of working for others in Los Angeles, and for the customers he now serves — seems to be worth it. Kuya Lord is already making a splash as the neighborhood’s new hot spot for lunch or take home for dinner. The small space is buzzing with activity most of the day, with customers seated at repurposed communal wooden tables or under hanging boxes stuffed with Kuya Lord-branded products and sauces. The entirety of the kitchen is in plain view from the center of the room, with Llera (signature bandana installed atop her head) taking orders and advising a young staff on cuts, finishes, and the details of her Filipino menu.
Fans who have returned in the last week, first as part of an invite-only preview weekend and now for the restaurant’s soft opening period, have known Llera from the time he ran Kuya Lord as a pop-up. The name was gaining traction in 2019 with one-off cooks at places like Tabula Rasa in East Hollywood, but the pandemic has taken the underground restaurant to new heights — and Llera’s La Cañada Flintridge garage. There, Llera and his wife and partner Gigi packed chunky take-out parties on thin metal trays lined with banana leaves, a nod to the traditional Filipino kamayan parties found throughout the Southeast Asian country where Llera was born and lived until 2004 in the province. from Quezon. O Los Angeles Times ended up calling, offering a hearty review of Lord Kuya’s feast, as well as asian newspaper, positively Filipinoand others.
It should come as no surprise that such personal, heartfelt, technically competent meals were possible under Llera’s supervision. The chef spent years working in Los Angeles at restaurants like Bestia, and before starting Kuya Lord full-time he was the corporate chef for the entire H.Wood Group. The attention and funding of her pop-ups allowed Llera to rent this new space next to the popular Ggiata diner, and allowed her fans to find Kuya Lord’s cuisine five days a week, without having to book a time in advance.
Now the restaurant is here, offering lunch until dinner from 11:30am until sold out. The menu is still being tweaked and expanded, but so far has mostly relied on bowls of noodles and rice set with this lechon, as well as chicken, grilled tofu, and whatever else the kitchen is preparing. Kamayan feasts aren’t entirely back (although Llera knows their color, substance, and size are what propelled him here), but a scaled-down version is available for two from the inner wall’s drop-down menu. The specials rotate, things are going in and out, but that’s the nature of an ongoing restaurant like Kuya Lord. Over time, the details will stabilize, leaving room to grow into things like a beer and wine license, weekend parties, and large buffet trays once again.
For now, expect the lechon and these noodles (and Llera’s desserts like a Filipino calamansi pie) to have customers lining up early at 5003 Melrose Avenue. They are a draw to themselves and made possible because of the pandemic and the tireless vision of one Filipino family to create something for themselves and their community.
To the Lord It’s open Wednesday through Sunday at 5003 Melrose Avenue, holding hours from 11:30 am until it sells out daily (usually around 8 pm).