According to a different mama, "there'll be days like this." You know, when the train doesn't come or the bus splashes you or someone steals your taxi. Bad days, the blues, the pits—whatever you call them, we all have them. And Mama Meena's, a Filipino restaurant in Woodhaven, has the cure. It's a sunshiny place serving sunshiney food.
We started with lumpia Shanghai ($6), miniature spring rolls stuffed with pork and served with a bright chili sauce. These were a poppable bar snack, crunchy and meaty. To drink, we had a freshly made, utterly ordinary mango juice ($2) along with a freshly made, absolutely extraordinary melon juice ($2). Shreds of cantaloupe twirled beneath crushed ice, revealing depths of orange and refreshment of which we were heretofore unaware.
Our chicken adobo ($6.50) wouldn't win any beauty contests. In keeping with the rest of our experience, the soy sauce-vinegar-garlic marinade had rendered the on-the-bone chicken sweet, despite the occasional brackish bite. A Filipina woman sitting next to us ordered the same, then bantered with the waitress-owner-expeditor about Manila in Tagalog.
The pancit bami ($7.50) featured two types of noodles (rice and "yellow"), carrots, shrimp, and chicken, and snow peas, for crunch. Everything fused together into a carbtastic bacchanal. In the interest of research, we attempted to slurp the noodles, but it couldn't be done. Our noodle grease landed on glasses, shirt fronts, and the table. It was fun.
We finished with halo-halo ($5), topped with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream. Halo-halo, or "mix mix" in Tagalog, is a riot of textures, colors, and flavors. This version included red beans, white beans, garbanzo beans, coconut chips, melon pieces, cubes of gelatinous tropical fruit, and shaved ice. Each dip of the spoon offered a surprise, as we never quite knew what combo would come up. The ube tasted like yams, but candied and dense like bubble gum. As it melted, the whole dessert turned lilac.
Mama Meena's takes the "family restaurant" part of its name seriously. When we visited, kids sat in the corner and watched cartoons while their parents took orders. The walls are the color of a farm kitchen in the Midwest, the tablecloths checked. The restaurant puts you in a mood, but not the mood. Here, happy eating isn't a cliché. It's best for: a date whose frown you'd like to turn upside down.
About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.