From the pop-up kitchen in his La Cañada Flintridge garage to his new 21-seater spot along Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Lord Maynard Llera has come a long way in his quest to create his own spin on Filipino cuisine.
Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Lord Maynard Llera, who goes by Maynard but is fondly called Kuya Lord by friends and family (hence the name of the restaurant), talked to us about his venture that is taking the LA food scene by storm.
Born and raised in Quezon Province, Llera migrated to the US in 2004 to study culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Prior to opening Kuya Lord, Llera has already racked up some culinary experience. His most recent stint was with The H.wood Group in West Hollywood where he developed their culinary program for various restaurants. It was when he left in 2019 that he started playing around with his own take on Filipino cuisine.
According to Llera, it has been his plan to open up his own restaurant since 2016. “However, other companies or restaurants tried to hire me and that plan was delayed,” he says. So when he finally left The H.wood Group, he started exploring his own concept. “I started doing small pop-ups in breweries and wine bars in different cities in LA, doing my Filipino street food concept. While doing that, I was looking for the perfect spot for my restaurant, until the pandemic hit in 2020.”
“That’s what makes my food different from other Filipino restaurants. I cook with authentic Filipino flavors, but I use classical training and techniques to further enhance and reinvent traditional FIlipino dishes,” says Lord Maynard Llera.
Like most businesses around the world, the pandemic put his pop-up to a screeching halt. To make use of his time however, he converted his garage into a full-on kitchen to start R&D for his new restaurant. At first, he had no plans of turning it into the pop-up that was reviewed by the LA Times. “But when friends and relatives learned I was cooking in the garage, they began asking if I could sell my dishes and they wanted to pick them up from our house (since all restaurants at that time were closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown),” he says.
Word spread around and his concept, Kuya Lord, was born.
His inspirations and the LA food scene
His main inspirations are the dishes he grew up with in Lucena City but for Kuya Lord, he applies all the culinary techniques he learned throughout his career. “That’s what makes my food different from other Filipino restaurants. I cook with authentic Filipino flavors, but I use classical training and techniques to further enhance and reinvent traditional FIlipino dishes.”
For frequent diners of Filipino cuisine, Kuya Lord’s menu provides a sense of familiarity with the usual offerings of silogs, pancit, lechon, and chop suey. Their bestsellers include the lucenachon (roasted pork belly), lechon kawali, tapa, tocino, and sweet longganisa. Llera also offers a slightly different catering menu, which includes the oxtail kare-kare that James Beard Award-winning LA Times restaurant critic Bill Addison raved about. If he was to pick his favorites though, Llera mentions his tocilog and chicken barbecue, a Memorial Day weekend special item he describes as similar to the famous The Aristocrat dish.
“There are a lot of vibrant and exciting restaurants in LA, and we are glad that Filipino food is having its own spotlight or much-deserved moment.”
“There are a lot of vibrant and exciting restaurants in LA, and we are glad that Filipino food is having its own spotlight or much-deserved moment.” As for finding a place in this landscape, Llera says he always sticks to traditional, authentic flavors—just adapted by his own technique. “It’s never fusion,” he adds.
The plans for Kuya Lord
When asked about his plans for Kuya Lord, Llera simply replies, “To multiply this current concept that we have.” This is expectedly the next big step for Kuya Lord, which really got on its feet via social media and recommendations from friends, family, and the community.
“We didn’t have any PR or marketing, until now,” he modestly admits.
Asked on what advice he would like to impart to budding restaurateurs who want to follow in his footsteps: “Just be true to themselves and don’t try too hard. We need to follow our roots and not make things too complicated.”
Indeed, Llera has stood by this philosophy, staying true to his pop-up beginnings. Farley Elliot of Eater sums it up best: “The same lechon, the same chicken, the same Maynard, now just on Melrose.”