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. Karla, describes how, “we cooked and ate seasonally using only the best ingredients their mother could find.” At ten years old, Vivian began to show more interest in other 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 so the sister cooking duo began.
The diversity of Norfolk is celebrated at Luna Maya and is shown through the community, due to the naval base and NATO headquarters, which are some of Karla’s favorite things about the city. Many of the dishes can not be found anywhere else in the 757 area because of the uniqueness of the flavors. Karla’s favorite menu item is the Tamales which includes fresh corn seasoned with cinnamon, a traditional Bolivian twist that is topped with a juicy and tender shredded brisket. Why topped with brisket? Karla never liked how the meat would tend to dry up inside a typical tamale so she decided to create a brisket topping instead and found that it pairs beautifully with the starchiness of the corn.
Besides their delicious food, the ambiance of Luna Maya is welcoming with the outside drawing you in with its beautiful patio, shading umbrellas and twinkling lights. Karla and Vivian settled in the Ghent neighborhood loving the quaintness and hoping to have customers that would become regulars to make Karla’s motto come to life, “you grow up learning from what’s foreign to you, only to come back home to those flavors that you know, the ones that are close to your heart.”