Mestiza Kitchen
2855 Johnson Drive, Ventura

Savory noodles, crispy spring rolls, grilled meats, inventive burgers, even baked goods . . . all freshly prepared and given a distinctly Filipino twist. That’s what you’ll find at the aptly named Mestiza Kitchen in Ventura, and it’s been a hit for the fast-casual eatery.

In Philippine culture, a mestiza is a person of mixed heritage, and here it refers to the Clevenger family: “Mama Beth” is a Filipina; her husband, Corky, is American. Together with their children, Leia and AJ, they opened Mestiza Kitchen in the spring of 2018 to showcase something different for Ventura County: Filipino fusion. The results are delicious.

Located in the Gateway Village Shopping Center between SkyZone and Cronies, it’s a small and unpretentious, but inviting, space. The casual atmosphere is enlivened by colorful paint on the walls, photos of the Philippines blown up to poster size and two lovely murals. Before placing my order at the counter, I gazed longingly at the bakery case, displaying a fresh fruit tart (here called a “fruit pizza”), cookies, macaroons and the green and purple “Space Cake.” I knew, immediately, that I’d be saving room for dessert.

For our family of four, we selected the Malaking Combo, the Wing Plate, a Mestiza Lumpia Burger and a trio of pastries. We also ordered the fresh and delicious cantaloupe juice, although next time I might try the lemonade-like calamansi juice, light green and made with a citrus fruit common in the Philippines.

The Malaking Combo included lumpia (long, skinny Filipino-style egg rolls), chicken adobo sliders, imperial noodles and chicken skewers. The lumpia were hot from the fryer, crispy and wonderful. The shredded chicken in the sliders was delicately seasoned, but got a flavor punch from the adobo glaze (soy sauce, vinegar and ginger) and a good crunch from jicama slaw. Sweetness came via the King’s Hawaiian buns. That’s a lot of flavor profiles for one sandwich to hit! Chicken thigh meat is used for the grilled skewers, which were plenty juicy but not overly seasoned; they lacked the flavor I’d enjoyed in the other items (a dip in vinegar or sweet and sour sauce improved things). The imperial rice noodles were quite simple, but made an appealing complement to the more assertive dishes.

The Wing Plate, which featured chicken wings in a sticky glaze made from soy, vinegar, ginger and garlic, was a big hit. Crispy and rich, the wings were so flavorful — and a far cry from the bar food basic. The combination came with more of that tasty lumpia and some rice — again, a very simple side, but a good foil to all the richness. (Mestiza Kitchen’s food, in general, is very tasty, but on the heavy side.)

We also loved the lumpia burger. The patty was made from lumpia filling — a blend of seasoned ground pork, ground turkey and vegetables — and paired with jack cheese, garlic aioli, homemade pickles, a fried egg and a King’s Hawaiian bun. An intriguing mix of flavors and textures that were a little bit Filipino, a little bit American . . . and a whole lot delicious.

Many of Mestiza Kitchen’s desserts contain produce native to the Philippines, and thus seemed completely original (for Ventura County). Ube, or purple yam, was a frequent ingredient, and gave the Swiss roll-like Space Cake a distinct purple color. Its bright green filling came courtesy of the tropical plant pandan. The very popular Ube Crinkle Cookies are beloved for their chewy texture as well as their fun hue. Not purple, but still delightful, were the calamansi bites, similar to shortbread with a hint of citrus, and the chocolate-dipped macaroon.

I wasn’t familiar with Filipino cuisine before going into Mestiza Kitchen, so I can’t speak to authenticity. But it was a wonderful culinary adventure for the entire family, with new and interesting flavors and unexpected combinations. The Ventura County dining scene is definitely more colorful — and not just from the ube!