Matina, a burgeoning suburban district in the southern part of Davao City, hosts several quaint and off-the-beaten-track culinary destinations.
One of these is Kusina sa Subli, which specializes in traditional Filipino/ Dabawenyo comfort food. The restaurant is located in the middle of Lanzona Subdivision, tucked at one of the corners of busy Subli Street.
The resto has been known for its grilled seafood specialties such as tuna belly, tuna panga, and squid. Other popular orders include paella negra, tuna pakfry (Piniritong paksiw na buntot), and pork adobo.
Rowena “Weng” Ruiz, the head chef, shares that her secret is “a sprinkle of joy and tenderness” in every dish she prepares. A graduate of a General Radio Operator Course, she pursued her current profession in 1999 as an assistant cook at a downtown diner. Rowena’s delicious take on familiar local comfort food is perhaps Kusina’s main draw.
For restaurant owner Jessica Jane “JJ” Ongkingco, people keep coming back “because of our cozy ambience and a food experience which reminds them of home.”
She established Kusina sa Subli originally to serve as a food and beverage outlet for the guests of the nearby Residencia de Fernando Apartelle which her family owns.
In one of her travels to Dubai, JJ posted on her Instagram a photo of a delicious-looking burger. The following day she was deluged by inquiries if the burger is being offered at Kusina sa Subli.
This inspired JJ to expand her menu. She asked her friend Frine Kristoffer Fuentes, a chef formerly based in Cebu, to help her come up with the new dishes.
For the expanded menu, Frine teamed up with chef Weng and created Southside Burger, the Chihuawings (Chicken Wings), and his own version of the Tropicale drink.
During my visit to Kusina, I got a chance to taste the Southside Burger, made with grilled pure-beef patty and topped with a specially-made sauce, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, tomato, and lettuce. The verdict: a certified must-try.
Aside from food, there are three KTV function rooms great for a night of singing. From P1,500- P2,500 consumable, one can rent out these rooms for a night. There is also a billiards room, a nice place for friends who want to shoot a game or two.
The resto’s main function room can host workshops and meetings for as many as 20 people. Last summer, a photography workshop was conducted there by wedding photographer Raphael Banta of Organic Studios.
JJ says marketing Kusina sa Subli is a challenge for her because of its location. With the help of friends, she organizes events such as the quarterly garage sale dubbed Tienda de Subli. People flock to the resto not just to feast on great food but also to shop for branded pre-loved fashion items like clothes, shoes, bags, and other accessories.
But the location of the resto can also be an advantage. It is not crowded, allowing for an intimate ambience that complements the dining experience. Many regular customers actually say they hope Kusina sa Subli can be Matina’s best kept secret.
Getting there: From MacArthur Highway, turn to Tinikling Street (at the corner is the former ABS-CBN station, now the home of its Bantay Bata 163 Foundation). The third street to the left of Tinikling is Subli.
(Photos from Kusina sa Subli)