At Tambayan, chef Kathy Mirano offers “an authentic taste of home” from her native province of Batangas, Philippines. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

When Kathy Mirano moved to Philadelphia from the Philippines in the early ‘90s, one of the first things she noticed was the lack of restaurants offering her native cuisine.

The topic came up regularly throughout the 21 years she worked as a server at Olympia Gyro in the Reading Terminal Market. The question, Mirano told Billy Penn, resonated each time it was asked, in “my heart and my mind.”

Thirty years after her arrival to Philly, the situation is improving, thanks in part to Mirano’s Tambayan, which has been giving Filipino food lovers a “place to hang out” — as the name translates — at Reading Terminal Market since summer 2021.

With sales steadily increasing, and Mirano finding herself unable to find space for a growing number of requests for group reservations and private events, she and boyfriend and business partner John Karamanski decided to seek out a second location either on East Passyunk or Fishtown, targeting a launch in winter 2024.

Regardless of where it lands, the second location’s menu will follow Mirano’s template: non-fusion and no frills, offering instead “an authentic taste of home” from her native province of Batangas that she said can’t be found elsewhere in the city.

“It’s not just serving food,” Mirano said. “It’s serving my culture.”

For the 48-year-old restaurateur, it’s the continuing realization of two dreams. The first is honoring the memory of her father, the inspiration behind her own cooking, whose framed image is proudly displayed on Tambayan’s counter.

Chef-owner Kathy Mirano watches over the customers filling Tambayan’s Reading Terminal Market counter. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Growing up “very poor,” Mirano said, gave her something to aspire to. Working alongside her father from the age of nine, at either the family farm where he “always cooked for everyone” or the food cart he operated, provided her with the skills, techniques, and passion for cooking on which she built Tambayan’s menu. It also gave her a deep knowledge of the flavors and variety of Filipino street food, which she’s long dreamed of sharing with a broader range of palates.

“That’s my goal,” Mirano said. “To introduce Filipino food to a different culture, in a way that people can embrace it.”

Traditionally, Filipino cuisine blends sweet and sour — “the way I grew up, I never had spicy food,” Mirano said. Staples like rice, ube (purple sweet yams) and pancit (noodles) all figure heavily throughout Tambayan’s menu of beef, pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes.

“It’s so different,” Mirano said of Tambayan’s offerings. “People can enjoy and sit down and talk about what kind of food this is.”

To help get the conversation going, Mirano singled out a few items on her menu as a starter glossary, good to know for anyone interested in getting more familiar with Filipino food.


Tapsilog at Tambayan. The dish is traditionally breakfast, but is also often eaten at other times of day. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

An “all-in-one” of tapa (beef), sinangag (fried rice), and itlog (fried egg) makes for “the number one breakfast in my country,” Mirano said — but the hearty combination can still be enjoyed any time of day, and works wonders as a hangover cure, this reporter was told. 

Silog itself refers to the popular base of fried rice and egg, and tapa can extend to include pork and venison. In Tambayan’s case it’s beef, marinated for two to three days in Mirano’s own recipe. 

Variations like longsilog (sweet Filipino sausage) and tocilog (fried sweet red pork) are also available. It’s “something we grew up with” back home, said Mirano, and one of the menu’s most-requested items.


Pancit at Tambayan. The rice noodles are cooked in broth, not oil. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Not lo mein, Mirano stressed, with the crucial differences being that these noodles are made from rice as opposed to flour, and cooked in what she noted was healthier chicken broth instead of oil. 

Another popular Filipino street food, this simple yet satisfying stir fry is served at Tambayan with chicken, pork, or shrimp alongside vegetables. It’s “good carbs,” Mirano said, and “good for the legs.” On that last, she would know; Mirano is an avid marathon runner, and her Reading Terminal stand has a collection of medals on display.

Fresh lumpia

Fresh lumpia at Tambayan. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Egg rolls with a lightly flaky wrapping are made from scratch and filled with a mixture of vegetables that’s interchangeable, since it’s really all about the sauce. 

“If you don’t know how to make the sauce, it’s not fresh lumpia,” Mirano said of the gravy-like, lightly sweet combination of fish sauce, flour, water, and “some of my imported ingredients that I can’t tell you.”

At Tambayan, it comes generously served over two enchilada sized rolls, covered in peanut flakes and scallions, alongside white rice. Fried lumpia — smaller, more familiar egg rolls filled with vegetables or ground pork — are also on the menu, served with their own equally essential housemade sauce similar to a sweet and sour. 


Pandesal at Tambayan have a spot of molten cheese in the middle. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Like a dinner roll, Mirano explained, but different because “there’s flavor in there.” The name comes from Spanish for salt bread but, like much Filipino cuisine, the taste leans more towards the sweeter side. 

Traditionally dunked in coffee, these pillowy rolls can also be consumed with a bowl of pancit or just on their own, but are best enjoyed straight out of the oven, when the breadcrumbs on top are slightly toasted and the ball of sharp white cheese at the core fully melted. 

Besides the traditional roll, Tambayan offers varieties baked with ube and pandan, the fragrant, naturally sweet herb ubiquitous to Southeast Asian cuisine. Anyone seeking to pick up a roll or dozen should head to RTM early: the daily-baked batches often sell out.


Dinuguan, a traditional stewed pork blood dish, at Tambayan. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

“Stewed in blood” is what the name translates to, specifically, pig’s blood, congealed and served traditionally over pig intestines but in Tambayan’s case, over chunks of pork butt.

Mirano admitted the concept may seem off-putting to some — including Tambayan’s young server who scowled while serving it — but the flavors are rich and rewarding, like a denser, earthier beef rendang, with apparently wondrous effects. 

“I eat this two days before a marathon,” Mirano said, “and I run 26 miles with no problem.”  It’s also another solid cure for hangovers, a claim we couldn’t verify having unfortunately failed to prepare in advance, but it did serve to power through a busy workday with aplomb.


Halo halo at Tambayan. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Traditionally served in a large enough container for its many ingredients, this vibrant concoction is a “mix-mix” as the name translates, of coconut milk, evaporated milk, and crushed ice along with corn, jackfruit, granola, sweet fried plantains, and ube jam. It all comes topped with a scoop of Mirano’s housemade ube ice cream. Essentially the Philippines’ national dessert, it’s also a perfect summer treat.

45 N. 12th St. | 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily | Full menu available here.

Ali Mohsen is Billy Penn's food and drink reporter.