CEBU CITY -- The big day for the much-awaited Sinulog festival is just around the corner and everyone here is already getting ready to party.
Hotels are already booked as guests look forward to a weekend of fun and revelry.
But even before Sunday's grand parade, there are plenty of things to do in the Queen City of the South. For starters, Cebu is known as a food capital so it's an excellent city to go on a food trip.
Here is a rundown on where you should be eating during the Sinulog festival:
Larsian. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Al fresco barbecue places are abundant in the city, not to mention the many restaurants offering grilled dishes as part of their menu.
But if you're truly looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, the best place to experience a barbecue dinner Cebu-style is Matias in A.S. Fortuna, Mandue. While it is located 20 to 30 minutes from Metro Cebu, Matias is a recommended barbecue place with open-air dining. The prices are also very affordable and you can eat in one of their picnic tables.
Another option is Larsian, a no-fuss cluster of barbecue stalls situated in the heart of the city on Fuente Osmena. As the locals say, “You can't leave Cebu without trying Larsian.” Most of the stalls offer similar dishes and prices so they'll be fighting over customers. Go for the stall that gives freebies or offers other dishes that you want to try. Be ready to bargain for some freebies, especially you're a large group.
Tip: Bring hand sanitizer. In both places, you'll be expected to eat either with your bare hands or with plastic gloves. These barbecue dishes are usually paired with "puso" or cooked rice wrapped in coconut leaves.
Manna SuTuKil Food House. Photo from the restaurant's Facebook page
Sutukil has long been a favorite and must-try experience in Cebu. Coined after the three popular ways of cooking Visayan dishes, particularly fish and other varieties of seafood -- sugba (grilled), tuwa (soup) and kilaw (raw) -- sutukil establishments can be compared to the many "dampa" places in Metro Manila, where you have to buy freshly caught fish and seafood and have them cooked according to the style you want.
If you're craving for a true sutukil encounter, the best place to go is still the sutukil area near the Mactan Shrine as some eateries there have been around for almost 20 years. Manna is a great go-to place for some of the freshest seafood options, as well as for its clean amenities.
But if you're looking for a sutukil option that's within the boundaries of Cebu City, the best place to visit is STK Ta Bay, otherwise known as Paolito's Seafood House, located on Orchid Street, Capitol. A notable feature of this restaurant is the place itself as it is set in an ancestral home. Many guests have likened the experience to dining inside a museum. Now on its 11th year, STK Ta Bay is best known for dishes like baked scallops, tuna panga and halaan soup.
Tip: Since Mactan's sutukil establishments have already become a tourist destination, be prepared to pay a high fee when having your food cooked in them.
Rico's lechon. Photo courtesy of Spanky Enriquez
A trip to Cebu can't be complete without eating lechon. Cebuanos take their lechon seriously such that packed lechon has become a preferred pasalubong item along with dried mangoes and otap.
With an abundance of lechon stalls and restaurants throughout the city, finding one is not an issue. But if you're looking for value for money and taste, then we recommend Rico's Lechon on F. Cabahug, Mabolo where lechon can be enjoyed in various ways. From the familiar (lechon paksiw) to the downright clever (lechon carbonara, anyone?), foodies have been raving about Rico's, including former President-turned-Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
But make sure that you still get to try the original Cebu lechon that goes perfectly with steamed rice. And for that, CnT Lechon fits the bill. Best known for its Cebuano taste and crunchy skin, locals agree that CnT embodies what a true lechon should be. Coupled with the fact that it is both affordable and accessible (it has branches at Ayala Food Choices, SM Supermarket and at Rama Ave., Guadalupe), CnT tops any lechon lover's checklist.
Tip: Try Spicy lechon for a change, of which Rico's is the pioneer.
Cafe Georg in Banilad (Oh Georg! in Ayala Center) is a casual dining restaurant with an upmarket image. It's fun to see families enjoy its unpretentious dishes from an array of pasta to salads and pies. A must-try is the spinach dip with crostinis for appetizer and the hickory ribs for the main entree. You can't go wrong!
Another option for quality comfort food is the quaint and intelligently decorated Simply J's Cafe on Escario St. This restaurant is perfect for those who like to play it safe with classic dishes such as the chef's signature baby back ribs, lasagna, taco salad and cream dory.
Tip: These establishments also serve good desserts and coffee. So you can end the night here with a cup of good joe.
The facade of Joed's. Photo by the author
When craving for an authentic Japanese meal, one of the best places to visit is Nonki at A.S. Fortuna. With its inviting interior, the restaurant is known for its sashimi, tempura and yakitori dishes. Although it doesn't come cheap, the food is excellent and the service is top-notch.
But if you're looking for a more affordable Japanese restaurant, then try Joed's Lutong Hapon in F. Cabahug, Mabolo, which is being marketed as a Japanese restaurant with carinderia prices. You can get Japanese dishes for as low as P35, while a full bento box is priced at P150. The sauces lean on the sweet side perhaps because the cook is Filipino. But if you're on a budget, Joed's is a decent choice.
Tip: What should you try at Joed's? With their prices, it's possible to have a little of everything.
The conveyor belt of Tsim Sha Tsui, Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Located at The Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu, Tsim Sha Tsui is a good option for delicious dimsum. A must-try is its eat-all-you-can feast where you get to sit before a conveyor belt and pick the dishes you want to try. If you prefer to order a la carte, you can try some of the steamed dimsum served in a rolling cart. Some of their bestsellers include hakao, siomai and stuffed taro.
Harbour City with numerous branches throughout Cebu is another place to get good yet inexpensive dimsum. Make sure you try the bacon siomai, fried wonton, shrimp toast, fried shrimp balls and other dimsum favorites.
Tip: The two restaurants serve "steamed" fried rice, which isn't exactly what you think. It's a cup of rice topped pork and shrimp simmered in a generous serving of their secret sauce.
Cafe Marco. Photo from Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s Facebook Page
If you're willing to spend money (and gain a few extra pounds), then visit one of the many buffets in the city. Cafe Marco in Marco Polo Hotel is undeniably among the best buffet options here with its vast selection of Western, Mediterranean and Asian dishes. Some of the notable stations in the buffet are the "make your own halo-halo" bar, cheese and cold cuts, desserts and, who can forget, the lechon station.
For the budget-conscious, Joven's Grill has a buffet that includes fried crabs, grilled pork belly, grilled fish, dimsum, sushi and fresh fruits. It also offers freebies for those who dine in big groups.
Tip: Try Cafe Marco's Sugbusog 2014 which runs until January 20, on top of its regular lunch and dinner offerings.
Vegan Chocolate Gateau from The Chocolate Chamber. Photo: Handout
Whether you feel the need to satisfy your sweet tooth or just looking to spend a quiet afternoon, you'll never go wrong with a visit to a cafe. But make sure you visit the ones that aren't available in Manila. The Chocolate Chamber is a newly opened cafe on President Quirino Street corner Magsaysay in Brgy. Kasambagan and comes from the same group behind Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate. Try TCC's Vegan Chocolate Gateau or the Hot Chocolate with Hibiscus Tea. It even offers a Chocolate Afternoon High Tea, which is perfect for groups.
For something quick, La Marea's Warm Brownie Cup is a real foodie delight. With many branches in the city, the best location to go to is at the The Walk in Asiatown IT Park. Other specialties include the Almond Cashew Sans Rival, Choco Truffle Tart, Choco Triple Mousse Cake, and the Boston Cream Pie.
Tip: Watch out for the re-opening of Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate in March. Apart from serving delicious chocolate, they will also allow guests to experience making their own tablea.
Kusina Uno’s sizzling pochero. Photo by the author
If you're looking for a late night (or early morning) fix for a hangover, a perfect solution is to order a bowl of hot pochero, which is like the bulalo in Manila and elsewhere. In Cebu, Abuhan Tres at the I2 Bldg. in Asiatown IT Park serves pochero as a soup or in a sizzling plate with a generous serving of gravy. Other dishes to try include the lapu-lapu in pepper sauce and salpicao tangigue. On weekdays, Abuhan stays open up to 2 a.m. but on Fridays and Saturdays, it extends until 4 a.m.
Another place where you can get really good pochero is Kusina Uno located in F. Cabahug St., which is open 24 hours. Apart from the sizzling pochero, you can also enjoy other Visayan treats like calamares and chicharon bulaklak in an open-air setting.
Tip: For a few extra pesos, you can get an extra serving of bone marrow for your pochero.
There are plenty of pungko pungko places throughout Cebu, mostly outside school campuses, along busy streets, and even near churches. The term is a Bisaya word that refers to how the diners eat their food by squatting down. Since the original pungko pungko did not have any chairs or even utensils, that was how diners ate.
Today however, chairs are provided, along with plastic gloves, so you can easily pick out the dishes you want to eat: ginabot (deep-fried pork intestines), chorizo, bola-bola and ngohiong. It's not really a sanitary option, especially if you have a sensitive stomach, but it's an experience that must be tried.
Tip: Be ready for anything!
With plenty of restaurants to check out in Cebu, you'll never end up with an empty stomach. So enjoy and make the most out of your Sinulog visit! Viva Pit Senyor!