Phil-Am Kusina, short for Filipino American kitchen, is located in the heart of Rosebank on Staten Island. Home to a population of immigrant families migrating from the Philippines, over 7,700 reside in Staten Island today. Phil-Am Kusina lends culture and traditional cuisine to those who are missing their home country.
Phil-Am Kusina has a unique design that looks like a revamped single family home turned restaurant. Walking in, you will be placed at an open table by the restaurant’s manager Gretchen. Hanging on the walls is décor collected from the Philippines, adding an authentic and captivating layer to the meal. There is no bad seat, each table has an undisrupted view of the outside avenue as natural light pours in from the front facing windows.
This was a slow Thursday afternoon which gave me the opportunity to sit down and chat with the petite restaurant manager, Gretchen. Gretchen states the busiest hours are on the weekend, specifically after church. Religion in the Philippines is marked by a majority of people belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.
We soon discover that Teresita Imperial, Gretchen’s Aunty is the owner of Phil-Am Kusina, opening its doors in 2015. Imperial immigrated to the United States in the late 70s to be with her siblings, travel, and follow her dreams that meant calling America home. After taking the board exams and coming to America, Imperial began to work for Revlon, a multinational cosmetics company. There she worked full-time as a chemist in the hair color department for 38 years, retiring in 2012. Filipino natives are known to be hospitable and business minded. Gretchen added the restaurant isn’t the only food service provider her family owns.
After Imperial married her husband in 1983 - together they started a grocery business. Phil-Am Foods began its food services over 35 years ago, serving up the same traditional ingredients its neighboring restaurant now thrives on. Elements like purple yams, chili flakes, langka (flavoring found in a type of jackfruit) and Japanese inspired sliced sushi ginger.
Filipino food is a cuisine of many influences. Gretchen shares with us her home town called Batanguena and explains that the Philippines is an archipelago with over a thousand islands located in the South China Sea. The Philippines collects influence from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan, to name a few of its neighbors.
From 1565 to 1821 the colony was directly ruled from Spain’s government in Mexico. In the midst of defeat after the Spanish-American war, the Philippines then became a territory of the United States until after World War II. This resulted in a culinary melting pot with influence both from the East and the West.
In order to savor the ultimate traditional experience, we went with a specialty drink to quench our thirst. On the drink menu was delightful Filipino juice, and we ordered two flavors, mango and calamansi. Calamansi is a Philippine lime and is ubiquitous in traditional Filipino cuisine, used in several condiments, beverages, dishes and marinades. Served chilled with its rich colors, we sipped on the tangy yet sweet juice while ordering the rest of our meal.
Appetizers range from Lumpia eggrolls with pork and vegetables to crunchy shells filled with chicken sisig. Other traditionally and culturally influenced dishes like miki bihon (egg & rice noodles with veggies, pork and shrimp), pork stew, tilapia fillet in a sweet pineapple sauce and adobo are also on the menu. Adobo is a perfect dinner for the entire family, braised pork or chicken simmered in soy sauce and vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and black peppercorn. Adobo is a true Filipino experience because it originated in the Philippines prior to colonization. Ancestors would often cook adobo, before foreigners arrived to the Philippines.
For dessert, Gretchen graciously treated us to ube, a purple yam bursting with flavor and color used in sweet dishes. The bright purple Filipino ice-cream is available for purchase by the pint at their grocery store. Our experience was a two part adventure, as we headed over to the Phil-Am Foods just across the street. The shelves are stocked with everything needed to recreate traditional Filipino cuisine, or just to jazz up a meal. Ingredients such as jasmine white scented rice, calamansi juice, ginger, watermelon seeds and candy to snack on. Eventually we made our way to the freezer section where you could find ube in mango salted caramel flavor. I was most excited about this particular discovery and I couldn’t resist taking one home with me.
The experience at Phil-Am Kusina is worth dining out for, and the friendly faces you encounter, such as Gretchen, is equivalent to an extra scoop of delicious ube.
A huge thank you to our local immigrant restaurant owners bringing us recipes from back home. Without folks like Gretchen’s Aunty, New York wouldn’t be the widely diverse experience it is. Finding authenticity is not about traveling to far lands, it’s about acknowledging culture in your own backyard.
556 Tompkins avenue
Staten Island, NY — 10305
Phone: (718) 727 3663
Mon, Tues: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Dedicated to Gretchen’s Aunty.
About the Author
"My two loves are food and writing. My best memories are visiting new restaurants with my boyfriend, we love Vietnamese and Italian. Writing for Uncle Sam’s was an amazing opportunity and I hope to become a journalist and help inform people through my writing and research."
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