New Nostalgia Is on the Menu at Seattle’s Hottest Filipino Restaurant
Garlic, pork, and a feeling of home are all served at Melissa Miranda’s Musang. Here’s how to bring that magic formula into your kitchen.
When you walk into Musang, in Seattle’s Beacon Hill, the first thing you smell is the sweet and nutty aroma of gently fried garlic. It shows up in any number of the dishes chef Melissa Miranda serves at this spot that’s among the best Filipino restaurants in the country. It’s in the adobo sauce that often accompanies whatever protein’s on special, the fried eggplant with fermented black beans, and the glossy pancit, and it is the critical ingredient in the garlic fried rice. To Miranda, and many of the diners who come to Musang, this is the aroma of home.
“To me and so many Filipinos, it’s the first thing you’d smell on a Saturday morning as a kid,” she says. “You’d be sleeping and wake up to that smell and know garlic fried rice would be waiting for you with a fried egg. It felt extra special because you knew it took a little love and effort.”
Nostalgia is the feeling you get when you eat at Musang, situated in a homey space that feels like a good friend’s living room.
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“It’s about going back to childhood memories of the food that my dad, mom, and grandparents cooked. The dishes that helped form our community and that we ate when we celebrated together,” Miranda says. She’s trying to re-create the surprise and delight of that first bite of adobo or crispy pork chicharron, and does so in a way that not only respects the cuisine’s tropical origins but also plants it firmly in the present of the Pacific Northwest.
“I’m trying to create my interpretation of those moments, but also make new moments,” Miranda says. So on the menu there’s crispy fried pork belly sauced with a tangy garlicky adobo, but also a dish of plump local oysters on the half shell dressed with smoked garlic oil.
Musang was Melissa’s father’s nickname back in the 1970s after he moved from the Philippines to Beacon Hill, when the neighborhood was home to a large Filipino population. The affable and outgoing young man drove a Mustang. The T had fallen off the car’s logo, leaving behind the word “Musang,” which means wild cat in Tagalog. Fast forward to 2015 when Miranda drove around Beacon Hill and wondered where all the Filipino shops and restaurants had gone. “When you’re looking around and seeing all these cultures and restaurants and you don’t see your own, you’re like ‘enough is enough’ and someone has to take the leap,” she says.
Miranda decided to host a series of pop-ups in the neighborhood, the first of which was in a bar where her dad used to hang out back in the day. “My dad always knew where the parties were in Beacon Hill, and the ladies loved him,” says Miranda. “And at the pop-ups we had D.J.’s and dancing and drinking. That’s the spirit of my dad.” A photo of Musang back in the day, ’70s ‘do and all, now graces the wall and merch of the restaurant.
Miranda eventually found a permanent space on Beacon Avenue, where in addition to serving lunch and dinner she hosted cooking classes before the pandemic to help preserve Filipino foodways for the second- and third-generation Filipinos who repeatedly told her they didn’t know how to cook the classics. During the pandemic, she boxed up the ingredients along with recipes and sold to-go Little Wildcats cooking kits. Until you get to Musang (or order a Little Wildcat kit of your own), cook Miranda’s excellent expressions of Filipino comfort food in your own kitchen.