The Festive Filipino

Lumpia Pansit, off of Muddy Branch Road in Gaithersburg, features home cooking, Filipino-style.

Lumpia Pansit offers Filipino home-cooking that draws patrons from around the Capital Beltway. A hidden gem, Lumpia Pansit is a family-owned business created by Cho Ortega—chef and owner. Ortega started catering small parties, but her cooking was so popular that the ambassador of the Philippines requested her to cater at the embassy. She eventually followed her dream—opening a restaurant in January 2008.

Lumpia Pansit is located in the Festival Shopping Center off of Muddy Branch Road next-door to Ski Chalet. Ortega and her family designed the space to accommodate dancing and karaoke.

The lunchtime buffet allows diners to sample the restaurant’s specialties and experience the unique flavors of Filipino cooking—an intriguing combination of sweet and sour at different levels of intensity. The key ingredients: dark, rich soy sauce, pungent white vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaf, fish sauce and chili. 

At the buffet, I was able to taste several signature dishes. Ortega’s restaurant serves two crispy, fried egg rolls—lumpia—with a sour sauce and optional chili peppers.  One thin roll contained pansit noodles with cabbage and carrots while the other contained tangy shredded beef. Neither one was greasy.

Pansit consists of thin rice noodles stir fried with vegetables—snow peas, carrots, onions and peppers. Ortega’s pansit carries an underlying hint of fish sauce, and her vegetables remain snappy and firm.

Lumpia Pansit serves the Filipino favorite, Adobo Chicken—skinless chicken sauteed in smoky soy sauce with rings of onions. More impressive was the Lechon Paksiw—a cut called “pork picnic” roasted and soaked in liver marinade lightened with brown sugar.

Interesting, but not my favorite, was taro, a green leafy staple in Southeast Asia that Ortega creams with coconut, soy sauce, peanut oil and chili. In contrast, I adored the garlic eggplant—tender and firm—a sweet-and-sour sensation not to be missed. It was one of the highlights, along with Sinigang.

Filipinos make different versions of this traditional soup, but Ortega's Sinigang is powerfully tart with vegetables and meat—pork ribs, bok choy, green beans, boiled potatoes, Japanese eggplant and red pepper. The ribs are not fatty—boiled first, with meat falling off the bone. They add pork undertones to the clear, tamarind-flavored broth.

Ortega explained that Filipino food is prepared with acids because in tropical Philippines, refrigeration was limited. Ortega brews her own white vinegar to insure dishes express the flavors of her native land.

The fried chicken is made with homemade batter and marinated for days before frying. The crispy batter sears in the juices. Ortega turns the bag of battered chicken frequently. She jokes, “You have to talk to them.”  

Lumpia Pansit offered two desserts at the buffet, which varies daily. On this occasion, she served kutsinta, a brown sugar, gelatinous rice flour cake with fresh coconut. Kutsinta is an explosion of smooth, sweet and gooey. The kakanin pastry, a sweet, sticky rice cake, didn’t have the same appeal.

Three Filipino gentlemen sitting nearby told me that “we drove here from Fort Washington, an hour [away], to eat this food.”

I learned about Lumpia Pansit from my Filipino friend, John Chavez, who says eating here “is like traveling 2,000 miles back” to his homeland. Local Filipinos have the restaurant on their radar, but it’s time more Marylanders were in on the secret.  

213 Muddy Branch Rd., North Potomac, MD, 301-527-7788

During most of January, customers can print a coupon off of the restaurant's website for a free weekday lunch buffet with one paying customer.

Lezlie Crosswhite March 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I love Filipino food; my family lived in the P.I. when I was a teen. The food at Lumpia Pancit is wonderful, but the reviewer didn't mention the even more appealing aspect of Lumpia Pancit: the warmth and generosity of the owner and staff there. Ms. Ortega's attitude is typical of the hospitality and kindness I experienced in the Philippines. And the lumpia is amazing!


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