In Houston, it's not easy to find a Filipino restaurant that's not a buffet. Ayie's Traditional Filipino-American Food is here to remedy that. If you are missing your Manila mama's home cooking, there's a mama in the kitchen named Analyn Demeterio, better known as Ayie, who will recreate your childhood memories or make new ones for folks who are new to Filipino food, like myself. Ayie hails from Olongapo City in the Philippines.
Ayie's restaurant originally opened in 2017, but it closed in order to relocate. It reopened October 1, 2018 in a former Chinese restaurant on Grant Road in Cypress. It's a family affair at Ayie's with daughter Shana Stevenson helping in the kitchen as sous chef while sister Sheila helps run the front of house. Stevenson and her business partner Dan Whitcher also own Bedrock Tavern just down the road. Stevenson would bring in Ayie's home cooking to the bar and she and Whitcher convinced her mother to set up her own restaurant to fill a void for Filipino home cooking.
My daughter and I decided to try Ayie's for lunch this past week.The interior of the restaurant is cozy, almost like someone's living room. There are only six tables and a couple of booths. Light streams in through the gauzy curtains and random ephemera decorates the walls. We were the only table besides the owners and family who were enjoying their own repast when we arrived.
We sat at a booth with a table that was covered with pages from the book, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Jose Rizal, a sort of national hero in the Philippines. The novel exposed corruption in the Spanish colonial government and the Catholic Church. Rizal was executed in 1896, ten years after the book was first published. It is now required reading for high school students in the Philippines.
Shana asked us if we had eaten Filipino food before and we said no. We asked a few questions and ordered our drinks and an appetizer of the chicken lollipops, or drummettes, to start. There are traditional appetizers like lumpiang (pork egg rolls) and siopao ( steamed pork buns) as well.
Ayie's serves Maine Root sodas and my daughter ordered the lemon-lime version. I had the iced tea. Both were delivered in over-sized mason jars. The tea tasted different from traditional iced tea, more herbal.
My daughter loves noodles, so she ordered the beef mami while I chose the daing na bangus, a dish of marinated milk fish belly served with sauteed Japanese eggplant and garlic rice, topped with a sunny side-up egg.
The chicken drummettes were perfectly fried and well-seasoned, with lots of black pepper. The menu stated that it was served with a spicy dipping sauce, but it turned out to be banana ketchup, which didn't have much of a zing. I was hoping for something a bit spicier, but the chicken stood on its own without any sauce.
My daughter's beef soup came out first, in a large covered tureen. Our server brought us a couple of small bowls, which was perfect for me to sample her soup while awaiting my own meal. The egg noodles were on the al dente side and the broth was quite garlicky. The beef, with a thin cap of fat was very tender. I am not usually a fan of meat fat, but my daughter loves it. This fat melted in your mouth, so I didn't really mind it.
After a few minutes, my dish came out and it was a very photogenic presentation. Shana asked if I wanted soy sauce or vinegar for dipping. She told me that vinegar was more traditional, so I decided to try it.
The milkfish, or bangus, is so named, I discovered, because when it is marinating, it turns the vinegar white. I couldn't really taste much as far as a marinade, but the fish was crispy and light. The skin was delicious.
I love vinegar, but dipping the fish in it didn't really add to the flavor for me. I liked it on its own. The garlic rice was well cooked and the crispy bits of garlic were sweet. It's very difficult to get garlic crispy without burning it, but Ayie's succeeds.
I thought the beef mami was a little heavy-handed with the garlic, however, and my daughter actually preferred my rice to her noodles. The sauteed eggplant was a pleasant accompaniment and it makes an appearance on a number of dishes at Ayie's. The soup was enough for two people, so we took the leftovers home and my daughter enjoyed it the next day.
While we were eating, a regular customer came in and talked with some of the staff about being from the Philippines. He said he realized he had been displaying his Filipino flag the wrong way, with the red side on top, which indicates a state of war. It's difficult to not eavesdrop when you're one of three customers in a small restaurant. And you learn interesting stuff.
My original plan was to split the Halo-Halo dessert with my daughter, because the photos online were so tempting, but we were too full. The layered dessert includes sweetened beans, shaved ice, evaporated milk, banana, jackfruit and coconut, topped with ube, flan and purple yam ice cream. That is marked for my second look at Ayie's.
And there will be subsequent visits. The family atmosphere and the warm welcome combined with down-home cooking, albeit from another country, makes for an enjoyable experience. And there are always new things to try like pata (fried pig's trotters) or sizzling pork sisig. Ayie's food is cooked to order, so vegetarians can be accommodated, too. It also means that dishes may take a little longer or not come out at the same time, but you know it's being cooked with care.
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So, forget the buffets. There's traditional Filipino food north of the 610 Loop. Make the drive.
Ayie's Traditional Filipino-American Food
11702 Grant Road
Cypress, Texas 77429