In the heart of downtown Hagåtña lies one of the island’s best kept secrets: Kitchen Lingo – a beautifully designed craft restaurant quietly known for its inventive local fare and eclectic fusion creations.
The restaurant opened in May 2015 under namesake owner and Executive Chef Lingo Quichocho.
Quichocho partnered with co-owners Lenny and Pika Fejeran of Pika’s Café to open the craft restaurant about two years ago with a goal to serve chef-driven, craft foods and drinks – using as many local ingredients as possible – in an intimate and transformative space in downtown Hagåtña.
In late January, it closed for renovations and reopened late last month, boasting a new cocktail menu, more seating, and an enhanced dining experience.
Success from humble beginnings
Lingo and Lenny grew up with each other in Southern Guam, both graduated from Southern High School, and eventually moved to southern California where they both got their start in the food industry in the early 2000s.
After a series of trials and triumphs in their California adventures, Lenny and Pika moved back to the island in 2010 to open the popular Pika’s Café, while Chef Lingo continued his work in the states for a few years.
As Pika’s Café continued to grow, Lenny said he convinced his longtime friend to come back to Guam to help offer something different for island residents, and to contribute to the growth of the restaurant.
“I told him ‘Hey, just come back and try it out. Come work with me for a few months and see how it is. If you don’t like it, move back, but if you’re ready to stay home, then stay,’” Lenny said. “Turns out, he was ready and he moved back when we expanded.”
It was early 2013 when Lingo came home, helping Lenny and Pika to streamline the café’s menu and kitchen operations while getting a feel of Guam’s growing food industry.
The following year, in 2014, Lingo said they started conceptualizing a new restaurant for the island, crafting something of their own that would prove a little more interesting than typical diner fare.
“They always say it’s not a good idea to have two chefs in a kitchen, but I think that’s pretty old-school,” Lenny said. “I think now we’re a little bit more open minded, we understand the artistry of what we both do and with that respect, we were able to come together for something new.”
Crafting something new
In 2015, Lingo, Lenny and Pika opened Kitchen Lingo, a more upscale and fine-dining restaurant for Guam – and, as noted by several satisfied customers, with semblances to some of the best restaurants of California.
At Kitchen Lingo, Lingo runs the back kitchen and serves his style of food, while Lenny and Pika take care of the vision and created an ambience to match.
“It’s his style of cooking, his artistry, and we wanted to design the place to reflect that.”
For the renovations, the owners said they broke down a wall and put up a bar, adding a whole new cocktail menu with some liquors. They also nearly doubled the seating, created more space, and added a comfy lounge area for a better dine-in experience.
However, they’ve also stopped serving lunch, and instead are focusing on a more specially designed dinner course on Mondays through Saturdays.
Quality over quantity
At Kitchen Lingo, diners can expect carefully crafted eats and drinks made from the island’s freshest ingredients in a simply creative process.
Lenny described the menu as “very straightforward, simple, but sophisticated, and just doing basic things really well."
Partnering up with a variety of local business – including Farm-to-Table Guam, Grow Guam Fresh, the Fisherman’s Co-op, South Pacific Ales and Spirits, and Spike Coffee – Kitchen Lingo has an obvious commitment to supporting local growers and vendors while maintaining high value.
And while the restaurant may not have the largest menu selection, it offers the best of Guam’s bountiful land and sea. The small, but diverse menu offers quality-crafted choices for the vegetarian, meat-lover, and seafood diner – and all choices provide flavors so well-thought out that diners can taste the extra effort and passion.
“A lot of my inspiration comes from seeing different ways to utilize an ingredient, and I kind of go from there,” Lingo said. “We try to do things that aren’t being done on the island, different things than most restaurants do.”
Lenny also mentioned that the menu is heavy on vegetables, without the usual side of rice, creating healthier sides for patrons who can enjoy their meals guilt-free.
Through Farm-to-Table, Kitchen Lingo is also able to incorporate locally grown, but not-so-familiar items into its menu, such as purple cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
In fact, Lenny said that the Brussels sprouts, priced at $14, is actually one of his most popular items. Flash-fried and tossed in a sesame dressing with grated parmesan, Kitchen Lingo’s Brussels sprouts are enough to change your view of a much maligned vegetable.
Another favorite is the crispy octopus, also priced at $14. It isn’t chewy like calamari, but tender and served with a fish sauce caramel, cilantro and toasted garlic.
Local reef fish like mahi mahi and parrotfish are also available, depending on the season.
Kitchen Lingo also caters to vegetarians looking for a quality bite, offering different chef specials for $24. Lenny said they’ve served couscous with charred cabbage and nori salsa, and cauliflower steak with general tso sauce – just to get an idea of what they've done in the past.
Innovation in the kitchen
Executive Chef Lingo has been in the food industry for about 14 years, cooking and managing in several high profile kitchens from California to Massachusetts. He was also a sous chef under renowned Chef Roy Yamaguchi and is certified by the National Culinary and Baking School in San Diego, California.
With a Pacific Rim and progressive American cooking style, Lingo said he focuses mostly on the ingredients he uses and on food and drink pairing mastery.
“Food brings people together, no matter what language you speak or where you come from, or how you are,” Lingo said. “I make each dish its own with flavors that I think go well together.”
With thorough research and a knack for knowing what ingredients marry to form unique flavors, Lingo has worked to fine-tune every item on the menu – food and beverages – to bring out the best flavor possible. And all dishes also have a cocktail pairing.
The restaurant also changes most of its offerings every four to six months. Occasionally keeping some popular items or reintroducing older ones, Kitchen Lingo’s whole menu transforms into something new and brilliant from the mind of Lingo, Lenny said.
“That’s the beauty of the menu. It’s small, we rotate things, and we really wanted to put control back into the hands of the chef,” he said. “You’re here to experience what he’s cooking and we want people to try new things. Otherwise people get stuck in their ways and they would never know how good something else is. We want to be your friend that says ‘Just try it.'”
While it’s no easy task to transform a menu that often, Lenny and Lingo agreed that it’s something that helps chefs stay inspired.
Kitchen Lingo is an ideal places for anniversary celebrations, birthday dinners, or any special night out on the town.
Combining the best of local hospitality and creatively inspired dishes, the restaurant offers a high-quality food experience from beginning to end.
“I want to transport people to a different place without them having to actually leave the island. And our design is based on that idea,” Lingo said. “We want to give people a nice place to eat without them having to go to Tumon – and I think we achieved that.”