I like small, nondescript shopping centers. Why? Because you find the best little restaurants tucked away in them.
Such is the case with Ma’s Kitchen, a Dominican and Peruvian restaurant in Warminster, in the same shopping center as Thunderbird Lanes on Street Road. You could easily pass it. But don’t. Stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and treat yourself to home cooking from the Caribbean and South America.
Dominican and Peruvian? That’s what happens when two people fall in love. Mercedes and Julio Nuñez met in New York, after both had emigrated from their home countries, Mercedes from the Dominican Republic, and Julio from Peru. They moved to Warminster 20 years ago for a better life. In October 2014, they opened Ma’s Kitchen (named after Mercedes), with Julio in the kitchen and Mercedes charming the customers out front. Their children, Delilah, Julio and Kat all help out in the restaurant too.
So many restaurants use the term “homemade” very loosely in their menu descriptions. But what is it that characterizes “home cooking?” To me, it’s comforting, warm food that makes you feel good. And you know it when you taste it, even if it’s not the cuisine you grew up with. That’s what Julio and Mercedes serve at Ma’s Kitchen – tasty, filling, warming food that makes you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s home kitchen.
What’s for dinner? Whenever I want to learn more about a cuisine, I pick the “sampler” appetizer, the one with a little of this and a little of that. At Ma’s, a good place to start is the Muestra Dominicana which includes a beef empanada, a papa rellena and yucca frita with cheese sauce. The empanada was lightly fried, soft to the bite but with a bit of crunch too. The papa rellena was delightful – a deep-fried, soft, mashed potato croquette with ground beef tucked inside. The yucca fries were accompanied by a spicy cheese sauce, a good complement to the fries, since yucca (Cassava) can be a little bland.
If you want to experience Peruvian cuisine, you must have ceviche. It is pretty much the national dish of Peru. At Ma’s, the ceviche is fresh Tilapia marinated in lemon juice and peppers. The fish is “cooked” in the marinade, and served with big Peruvian corn kernels and thin slices of red onion. Other appetizers include the classic Tortilla Soup, Dominican Chicken Soup, Lentil Soup, Mixed Green Salad and an Avocado Salad.
When it comes to the entrees, it’s a tough choice. Julio, Mercedes and Julio’s son, was our guide. Should we have the Pernil (roasted pork shoulder)? The Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian dish with sautéed steak strips? Or go for the Dominican Seafood Fiesta – a seafood mix sautéed with fresh tomatoes and onions?
In the end, we chose the Bistec Encebollado, thin steak, pan-seared with sautéed onions, and a Dominican dish called Mofongo, served with pork or shrimp. Mofongo begins with green plantains, deep-fried and mashed with garlic, then formed into a bowl. Inside the bowl was moist, juicy pork, with red beans and a simple red sauce (from the tortilla soup) on top. Julio Senior uses pork shoulder, slow roasted in the oven overnight.
Let’s talk breakfast. Most people don’t think of eating Latino food for breakfast. But they are really missing out on something wonderful. When I saw that Ma’s was doing breakfast too, I knew we had to come back.
In the morning, the menu is decidedly more Dominican. You’ll see Mangu (mashed green plantains), Dominican salami and queso frito (Dominican fried cheese).
I ordered the Huevos a Lo Campesino with the eggs over easy. What arrived were two perfectly cooked eggs with a Dominican salami tomato-based “stew” on top. The salami was cut in chunks and lightly fried. Surrounding the eggs were fried sweet plantains, queso frito and three tostones. The cheese was sliced thin and fried, and the tostones — small, tasty corn patties — were perfect for wiping the plate clean.
Mark got the Tostones Sandwich dish — Dominican salami and queso frito, sandwiched between two tostones (3 mini sandwiches).
This is not your typical breakfast. (But if you do want a typical breakfast, they also have “Breakfast Americano” – eggs, pancakes, etc.). And much to my delight, Mercedes made me a lovely café con leche (bottomless…I got two refills!). If my grandmother had known how to make café con leche, this is what it would have tasted like.
Ma’s is also open for lunch and has great Cubanos (Cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, pickles, Swiss cheese and garlic butter, which comes with plantain chips), as well as Sandwich de Pollo a la Parilla (grilled chicken), Sandwich de Bistec (steak sandwich) and a Sandwich de Aguacate (avocado with tomato, Swiss cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette). Look for their lunch specials too, like a ¼ rotisserie chicken with rice and beans or Yucca Frita ($6/8), or Roasted Pork served with sweet plantains, tostones or rice and beans ($8).
The restaurant’s décor is, well, basic. That’s the downside of shopping centers. Booths, drop ceiling, etc. so don’t expect anything fancy. But the warmth of the Nuñez family and the good food more than make up for it. Don’t pass it by.
1535 West Street Road
Warminster, PA 18974
HOURS: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 9 pm; Sunday 10 am – 8 pm
Starters/Soups/Salads: $2.50 – $10.50
Lunch/Sandwiches: $4 – $9.50
Dinner Entrees: $15 – $25
Take-out; Delivery within 2 mile radius ($15 min)
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