Reading Terminal Market can be quite overwhelming, with the steady flow of foot traffic approaching from all directions and the noisy hum of work and chatter coming from the stalls. But sitting down at the counter of Tambayan feels like coming up for a breath of fresh air amidst the chaos. 

After opening up in Reading Terminal last August, Tambayan offers authentic Filipino food with a few fun twists. I arrived at the restaurant late on a Wednesday afternoon, tired after a long day of classes. But after sitting down at this welcoming eatery, I left full of energy, rejuvenated after a delicious meal with friendly service. My eating companion and I ordered the fried lumpia, an order of ube fries, a sampling of the Filipino barbecue skewers, a slice of ube cake, and ube macarons. 

Photo: Anna Hochman

The lumpia—fried pork spring rolls dipped in a sweet and tangy sauce—were hot and crisp, with a well–flavored filling. The barbecue skewers were perfectly cooked, with juicy and flavorful meat coated in a sweet and sticky sauce. The fries, topped with an almost peppery cheese, were the perfect balance of sweet and savory. 

Photo: Anna Hochman

Aside from the savory starters, both desserts were exquisite. The cake, a roll of two beautiful shades of purple, was light and not too sweet, while the macarons were impeccably baked and had melt–in–your–mouth flavors. 

Kathy Mirano, the restaurant’s owner and chef, has worked in Reading for 21 years, but Tambayan is her first venture working on her own. After the pandemic swept the nation, Mirano’s vision for Tambayan blossomed. At the time, she had been working at Olympia—a gyro stall—as a manager and server. But when COVID hit, Mirano, like many workers, had her hours cut. As a mother of four who was also sending money home to the Philippines, she needed to find a way to generate new income. 

Mirano’s boyfriend (and now business partner) John Karmanski was the first to suggest that she start selling her own food. Mirano initially started online, selling Filipino–inspired baked goods to friends. As an active runner, Mirano had connections across the city in the running community, who were incredibly supportive of the business. “It [made] me realize, ‘oh my god, I have a lot of friends,’” Mirano says. 

One of these friends, a doctor in Jefferson Hospital, suggested that Mirano bring some food for doctors and nurses to try. Mirano, walking to the hospital with massive bags of her baking in tow, soon found out her food was a hit. “The next [thing] I know, I have 40 orders,” Mirano says. Her food took off soon after that, and it became too busy to handle as a purely online business. After working in the market for 21 years, Mirano filed a proposal to start her own restaurant in Reading Terminal. 

According to Mirano, the dishes that she's proudest to serve are her ube products. Growing up without much money in the Philippines—where she and her family would sometimes have to skip meals—ube (a Filipino purple yam) was a common and cheap food. Back then, she would often prepare it very simply—boiling it and dipping it in salt for dinner. But what was once her family’s saving grace has become “the key to [her success],” as ube is now prominently featured as the centerpiece in Mirano’s roll cakes, French macarons, and fries—all of which have a gorgeously deep purple color. 

Photo: Anna Hochman

Mirano couldn’t be happier now that she runs her own restaurant. “It’s hard to work for someone else,” she says. “I worked for [someone else for] 21 years. It doesn’t feel complete.” 

Now, even as she has to work incredibly hard to learn about the complexities of running a business, she finds her life more fulfilling. Serving as a culmination of her life's hard work, running Tambayan is what Mirano has long been waiting for.