Located in the heart of the historic Ghent neighborhood is a Bolivian and Central American-inspired restaurant, Luna Maya. The Montano sisters, Karla and Vivian, opened the restaurant in 1997 when there was limited international cuisine available in the area. Although the sisters did not have an abundance of experience in operating a restaurant prior to opening, their passion for food allowed them to succeed and become a Norfolk staple.
Growing up, the Montano sisters were raised in a Bolivian household where food was highly valued in their family. “We cooked and ate seasonally using only the best ingredients our mother could find,” Karla describes. At 10 years old, Vivian began to show more interest in different styles of cuisine and asked her mother to take a Chinese cooking class to learn about other cultures of food. It was this class that made Vivian’s passion come to life. From there she found herself taking over her mother’s kitchen for Sunday dinners. As Vivian became more confident in cooking, she urged Karla to lend a hand, and the sister cooking duo began.
Many of the restaurant’s dishes cannot be found anywhere else in the 757 because of the uniqueness of flavors. Karla’s favorite menu item is the tamales, which features fresh corn seasoned with cinnamon, a traditional Bolivian twist. The magic of this dish lies in the tender, juicy shredded brisket on top. As someone who disliked the way meat tends to dry inside a typical tamale, Karla decided on the brisket topping instead and found that it pairs beautifully with the starchiness of the corn.
Aside from the delicious food, the ambiance of Luna Maya is a vibrant and welcoming experience. The outside draws patrons in with its beautiful patio, shading umbrellas and twinkling lights while the inside’s brick walls and soft lighting beckons guests to stay a while. The sisters settled in Ghent because of its quaintness—and with the dream of having customers grow into regulars. After more than 25 years in business and a steady influx of both regulars and first-timers, it’s safe to say their dream has more than come true.