Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: Slow-cooked pork belly is the star at this Rockville storefront, but it’s far from the only attraction.
Of the many advancements on the dining scene in recent years, the rise of Filipino restaurants has been among the most exciting, a trend famously jump-started by Bad Saint in the District three years ago and nurtured since by upstarts including Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly in Rockville. The name of the suburban storefront tells you what to order: slow-cooked pork that gets its savor from lemon grass, pineapple and garlic; its sound effects from mahogany skin that breaks apart like glass. Add to the beast some pickled papaya slaw and rice with toasted garlic, and you can believe co-owner Javier Fernandez when he says customers come from as far away as New York. The only thing I question is where the fans sit. Twenty-three seats translate to lines at both lunch and dinner, and lechon is by no means the sole attraction. The piping hot lumpia are the best around, chicken adobo pulses with soy sauce, garlic and vinegar; and desserts, from the chef’s sister’s nearby bakery, run to colorful shaved ice, cupcakes and rich custards. Some of the combinations may test your sense of adventure; sisig is a stir-fry of pigs ears, headcheese, Thai chile, garlic and cane vinegar — funky, fiery and fabulous, you should know. Starting this month, Fernandez is rolling out a reservation-only dinner on Tuesday nights, at which diners will eat the chef’s food off tables covered in banana leaves, with their hands. Break out the moist towelettes and open wide.