BAGUIO CITY -- Perhaps it’s the cool mountain breeze and the refreshing scenery but everything seems to taste delicious in Baguio City.
Food invariably dominates our fond memories of this mountain city, whether buying fresh vegetables at the city market or enjoying an ice cream while strolling along Session Road. Popular pasalubongs from the city also tend to be food items like ube jam and peanut brittle.
As such, planning a trip to Baguio would never be complete without mapping out an itinerary of restaurants to visit. If you’re heading to the mountain city this summer, here are 12 suggestions on where to eat in this food city (in no particular order).
Cambodian garlic chicken. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
If you’re planning to splurge on just one meal on your trip, reserve that for Hill Station, which, depending on the eventual fate of the old Casa Vallejo hotel, perfectly captures Baguio’s appeal as a food destination. The location is historic, with its log cabin architecture that has become a Baguio trademark. The ambience is grand and romantic, and the food concept pays tribute to the city’s American colonial past. No wonder Hill Station made it to the Miele Guide of best restaurants in Asia.
Mitos Benitez-Yniguez’s family also owns Mario’s, another Baguio culinary landmark, and you can sense this affinity for fine dining in Hill Station, as well. Not to mention, the menu also includes the classic Caesar salad and other traditional items.
But the menu’s most interesting section consists of dishes from other countries that also had “hill stations” like Baguio, such as the rustic yet juicy Cambodian garlic chicken and the Mutton Berbere from Ethiopia. I love it that these two dishes appear like a playful twist on local favorites. The chicken is a more flavorful and elaborately prepared inasal and served with mountain red rice to match, while the mutton is an exotic version of kaldereta with very strong, foreign flavors that’s just perfect for Baguio weather.
Hill Station also serves highly recommended desserts if you just want to have a quick coffee break from this weekend’s flower parades.
Half-half from Balajadia Restaurant. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
On the other end of a Baguio culinary adventure is Slaughterhouse, which is as local as it gets. Take a break from the traditional tourist trail and head out to this compound off Magsaysay Avenue, just a little farther from the Baguio market beside a bus station and the city’s abattoir (hence its nickname).
The compound consists of several eateries, all fronting a barangay hall and the neighborhood basketball court, which during my visit was decked out for its annual fiesta.
If you want a taste of Cordillera food, this is the place to go to and among the eateries here, Balajadia appears to be the most popular. Prices are P100 on average per dish. Start off with a typical Baguio salad of boiled sayote tops and bagoong and a piping hot bowl of pinapaitan. Customers can choose if they want beef, pork or goat meat and the popular combination here is called “half-half,” consisting of slices of roast liempo and kilawin.
Fried tilapia. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Baguio’s Wright Park is still basically equated with horseback riding. But now it is also becoming famous among foodies thanks to the Ketchup Food Community, which is a compound of five restaurants, each with their own specialties.
Happy Tummy is the pioneer restaurant in Ketchup and also one of the well-reviewed food places in the city. The food here is Thai home cooking served in a garden-like setting with nipa huts. The prices are just as friendly too. The spice levels have been tempered to Filipino tastes but still a hot bowl of shrimp tom yam seemed a perfect match for Baguio’s cool temperatures, especially during dinner.
The menu features popular Thai favorites like pad Thai and chicken pandan but do order the fried tilapia, which speaks well of the Pinoy influence on the menu.
Crispy papaya salad. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
This Asian specialty restaurant gained notice among foodies as a hole-in-a-wall eatery run by a Malaysian chef who has chosen to retire in Baguio City. After moving to a more spacious location, Chef’s Home is back, well, to its old home on Outlook Drive with slight improvements and more seating.
Chef-patron Alvin Emuang has served as executive chef in top hotels but, just like his restaurant, is a very down-to-earth chap who seems unaffected by the raves, especially among the tourist crowds.
What to order? The crispy papaya salad was recommended by the chef himself and this tweaked version of the Thai salad was certainly worth bragging about, with the added textural contrasts improving on the spicy-sweet-sour goodness of this classic Southeast Asan appetizer. For the main, I opted for beef rendang, given the chef’s nationality. I will definitely return for this.
Le Monet Hotel
Eggs Benedict. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Even if you’re billeted elsewhere, drop by this mid-rise hotel in Camp John Hay for what many consider as the best breakfast buffet in the city. Its lobby outlet, Dinelli Gourmet, has Robby Goco as its chef consultant and is known for its sausages, meats and cheese. (Foodies in Manila may remember the Dinelli’s free-standing outlets in Quezon City and Taguig, although some gourmet retailers still carry its products.)
The breakfast buffet, which is available until 10 a.m., consists of a large spread that should fill you up well until after lunch. Apart from the usual breakfast items like cereals, fantastic home-made yogurt, breads and pastries, pancakes and an egg station (ask them to whip up an eggs Benedict), the buffet even includes salads (this is Baguio, after all), appetizers and main entrees like adobo and Angus beef tapa.
Le Monet also offers a dinner buffet on weekends with a carving station.
Chirashi. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
If you’re hankering for Japanese food in Baguio, Chaya (Legarda Road) is really the only game in town (apart from Japanese restaurant chains from Manila). What makes Chaya special is its very homey ambience that immediately captures the romance of this city. It is, in fact, a restaurant located inside a home, with mismatched tables and chairs set up in a cavernous living room, with a little corner still decked up like a functional sala. The kitchen, sometimes visible from the dining area, also looks a lot like home set-ups.
The menu is typical of general (as opposed to specialized) Japanese restaurants with items like kani salad, tempura and donburi rice toppings. The specialty here, according to the staff, is sushi.
Chaya also has a little souvenir shop selling artisanal food items and handicrafts and has recently expanded its offerings to include bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
Choco-late de Batirol
The casual ambience of Choco-late de Batirol. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Tucked away in a park at Camp John Hay, one might mistake this restaurant as a garden shack selling plants. This unique and peaceful location, amid the old pines of this former R&R facility, makes Choco-late de Batirol a must-visit destination in Baguio even for just a cup of hot cocoa.
The ambience can be casual romantic particularly in twilight yet it also has that artsy vibe that isn’t forced. Best to come here for a late merienda or post-dinner dessert and order the turon with hot chocolate, although full, reasonably priced meals are also offered here.
Customers also get to watch the traditional way of preparing its specialty chocolate drink, which is served in its original form or with add-ons like marshmallows.
Salad. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Since Baguio is popular for its fresh vegetables, it is but natural for vegetarian restaurants to thrive here. Located in the basement of La Azotea Building, near the top end of Session Road is this quaint restaurant, squeezed beside a tattoo parlor and some hip shops.
The shabby chic interiors with old sofas, as well as the usual café table-and-chairs setup, goes for that comfy feel that provides a convenient escape from the bustle of Session Road. The pace is languid – don’t expect quick Starbucks-like orders – and very relaxing, with some art pieces on exhibit for that odd university feel.
The menu consists of simple rice meals, sandwiches, salads and fresh juices. Compared to restaurants that position themselves as temples of health and fitness, this one borrows more from the hippie vibe that fits right in with Baguio’s artistic temperament.
Kiwi’s Bread and Pastry Shop
Kiwi muffin. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
A Baguio food experience isn’t complete without breads and pastries like Baguio Country Club’s popular raisin bread or the many cinnamon rolls available in old bakeries. This shop, located just across Mines View Park, is slowly becoming the go-to place for many food entrepreneurs and gourmets in the city.
The “Kiwi” in the name refers to Darren Wilson, who hails from New Zealand but has decided to retire in Baguio. The artisan breads are made on-site (at the second floor) and includes standard loafs, brioche and even pan de sal.
However, the shop also offers full meals, including all-day breakfast, sandwiches and salads. Instead of going to the usual coffee shops, relax here instead with some brewed coffee and its signature kiwi cake or kiwi muffin, which turned out to be luscious with the kiwi seeds providing a nice texture contrast.
Baguio longganisa breakfast. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
One of the local delicacies in the City of Pines is the well-loved Baguio longganisa and Baguio Deli in Camp John Hay’s Mile Hi Center reportedly is tops when it comes to this local fave. The setup is certainly postcard perfect – breakfast at the al fresco “porch” of this restaurant that overlooks a hilly portion of the camp with towering pine trees, maybe after a morning jog with the crisp cold air.
Baguio Deli serves other longganisas from Vigan and Tuguegarao, as well as other breakfast items including an Ilocano version of adobo. Main entrees include bagnet rice and pinakbet with bagnet, as well as the Ilocano special poqui-poqui. It also sells its own branded preserves and other food items for pasalubong.
The long dining table. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Private dining has also invaded Baguio City and if you plan your trip well in advance, try and book a slot at Mama’s Table, which is strictly by reservations only and with a minimum number of guests.
The planning is all worth it for the location alone. One gets to dine in the home of Chef Vicky Tinio Clemente, whose living and dining areas have panoramic mountain views as it is perched on one of the highest points in Baguio and away from the highly developed slopes of the city. No wonder, couples have even elected to hold their wedding at the well-tended flower gardens.
Tinio Clemente has a long table for these private multi-course degustacion dinners, which have become deservingly famous. She has lived and worked in Canada from decades but has decided to settle back in the Philippines to be with her mother. Having studied French cooking, she decided to open her spacious home to customers.
Congee. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
No trip to Baguio can be complete without a visit to the old restaurants to relive memories of the good ol’ days. For some, that can be Mario’s, which has been opened since the 1970s, while for the younger set, that can be Café by the Ruins or even Don Henrico’s, which actually started in Baguio.
But for sheer history, squeeze in a meal in Baguio’s famed Star Café, which dates back to 1940 along Session Road. Despite the Western-sounding name, this is actually a Chinese restaurant that also sells baked goods like cinnamon rolls. Locals still patronize Star Café for its reasonably priced family-style meals and pancit Canton, or just a plain hot bowl of congee. Now this is comfort food, Baguio-style.