To be called “Restaurant of the Year” in these extraordinary times is noteworthy and extra meaningful. Not only does a restaurant need to offer great food and service, it should have also been able to adapt to the times, while remaining true to its purpose. It is for these reasons that Musang, a Filipino restaurant in Seattle, Washington, earned the recognition from Seattle Metropolitan—or Seattle Met—a monthly news, culture and lifestyle magazine covering the city.
In her article on Musang, writer Allecia Vermillion says the restaurant was able to successfully navigate the unique realities imposed by the pandemic while remaining true to its values, like having a great appreciation for building and nurturing communities, for offering food from her culture that speaks not only to those who know it but to those who are just being introduced to it. These are why Musang is Restaurant of the Year—these and its awesome kare-kare.
On Musang’s Instagram page, Miranda posted a heartwarming note, dedicating the accolade to her parents, who she describes as “the epitome of heart” and “unconditional love.” She also made special mention of the community of chefs that helped her along the way—“all of us hustlers, grinders and everyone that just shows up.”
Growing up with a family who loves to cook, the Washington-born Miranda had shown interest in food at an early age. In a video published by Bon Appetit, she shared the recipe of a dish that she grew up with—Adobong Pusit Pancit. Her dad, who she jokingly referred to as a “squid whisperer,” would go hand-catching squid at the pier at 2 in the morning, and when he gets back home, Miranda would always be up to the challenge of cleaning the squid. This said noodle dish, like many dishes that are inspired by her family’s cooking, is offered in Musang.
Miranda graduated with a sociology degree from the University of Washington and later moved to Italy to study food and hospitality at the Florence University of Arts. She later on worked at Il Santo Bevitore and Vivanda, before moving to New York City where she worked at Felice, Sant Ambroeus, and Mayfield.
After her stints in Italy and New York, she moved back to Seattle with the intention of pursuing Italian cooking.
When she realized that the Filipino restaurants she grew up with in their area had sadly already closed shop, the idea to organize pop-ups was born. “My Italian pop-ups morphed into Italian-Filipino pop-ups, and then I thought, ‘How can people appreciate Filipino food if they don’t know what Filipino food is? I can’t reinterpret kare-kare if you don’t know what kare-kare even tastes like,’” she shared in an essay she wrote for Zagat.com, a US-wide food website.
Her first big Filipino pop-up called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” wasn’t exactly just a pop-up—there was a Filipino folk group called Rondalya playing music, there were dancers performing a candle dance, there were Filipino artists and vendors. And that was how her Italian restaurant became a Filipino restaurant, she told Zagat.
“A lot of Filipinos who came were like, ‘Oh my God. We haven’t had this food in so long.’ And a lot of new people told us that they didn’t realize that this is what Filipino food tasted like,” Miranda recalled to the website.
As for how the name of her restaurant became Musang—there is a back story there. Her dad used to drive a Mustang. But the ‘t’ fell off the model tag of the car, and so his dad’s friends started calling him musang, which is wild cat in Filipino. “He’s six feet tall with fair skin. He had big hair. He was this ladies’ man. My dad knows a lot of people, and so anywhere we’d go—from the mall to Chinatown to just being on the streets—people would call out, ‘Musang!’”
While in the Philippines for a vacation, she went to Benguet and consulted a local healer for her back pain. “She’s this tiny woman who only speaks in dialect,” she told Zagat. “As she’s working, she looks down at the owl tattoo on my arm. In dialect, she says to my friend Teresa, ‘Why does she have an owl tattoo? She should have a musang.’ I was like, ‘What the fuck? Did she just say ‘musang’? That’s my dad’s nickname. This is crazy.’”
Musang, the resto, started out as a brunch pop-up with a rotating preset menu so she could “educate” the patrons about the dishes she’s serving. “You knew that every month you’d run into friends or make new friends. That was the Seattle I remembered, the Seattle I wanted to bring back,” she shared
Musang finally opened in Beacon Hills in January 2019. “We say that this restaurant is community-driven, not chef-driven,” she wrote in Zagat.
Musang serves lutong bahay take-out menu Wednesday through Saturday, and their patio is open for in-house dining from 11am to 8:30pm. Some of Musang’s bestsellers include Crispy Lechon Belly Bicol Express, Silog Special, Lola’s Roast Beef, Beef Mechado, Dinuguan and Kare-kare.
On her Instagram, Miranda says that while Musang’s journey has been met with challenges, it is also one that has been full of joy and blessings. Musang the restaurant, she says, is only the beginning. “We know and we dream that this is far greater than we even can begin to realize,” she wrote on Instagram. “It is a community space, a healing space, and this is our home.”
Photos from Musang's and Melissa Miranda's Instagram account