Pinoys never like being told what to do. Especially in the kitchen. So when news came out last weekend that the DTI was planning to standardize the recipe for adobo, and in the future other popular Filipino dishes, there was much clanging of kalderos and banging of kawalis. How dare they mess with my adobo? Don’t they have better things to do?
Adobo is a personal thing for many Filipinos (hence the complaints about the DTI move sounded like someone just invaded their dirty kitchen). It’s attached to memories of home, to long gone fathers (or mother, in the case of Kris Aquino who’s always been so proud of her mom Cory’s adobo), to the first dish we learned how to cook as grown-ups.
Sometimes it’s basic—pork and/or chicken, sautéed in garlic and cooked in equal parts soy sauce and vinegar, with a dash of salt and pepper for the flourish. Sometimes it’s extra—coconut milk is brought in, or chicken liver, or sometimes the sauce is made from balunan-balunan, just like the one Armida Siguion-Reyna used to make for her family in New York, says her manugang, Bibeth Orteza. “She used to cook a huge batch when we'd be in NY, prompting my father-in-law to always say when he'd get in: ‘Amoy-Filipino na!’”
Sometimes it’s all about where it’s coming from: if it’s Adobong Malabon then the soy sauce is done away with; if it’s Bisaya, it has turmeric or luya, and is more fried than saucy; if it’s Bicolano, then there’s no suka—just water, patis, garlic and dahon ng laurel.
Sometimes adobo is shredded. Sometimes it’s thrice-cooked. Sometimes it’s best served straight from the pan—but more often than not, nothing beats a next-day serving.
Adobo is such a personal thing it took a while to complete this list. It’s not something you just come up with off the top of your head. Because rarely does anyone order adobo in a restaurant. We’d all rather ask for something else because the one we cook at home is hard to match.
And yet, with a little jogging of memory and asking around, images of adobos from our past came rushing back—those that hit the right notes, those that were pleasant surprises, those that satisfyingly answered a craving the moment we needed it answered. Here are those adobos: they’re not bespoke as the once you have at home, but they’re excellent in their own ways—committees on standards be damned.
Lola Ising’s Adobo Rice at Cafe Adriatico
Used to be an after-drinks staple during Malate’s glory days. A chunk of pork belly that’s crispy on the outside, tender inside. Missing the sauce? It’s already on the rice the pork is sitting on. The restaurant owner Larry Cruz named this dish after his mother Fely J. Cruz (hence, its also on the Fely J's menu). She loved pork so much she would eat it everyday 'til her last years. And if the dish was adobo, she'd pick this one.
1790 M. Adriatico St, Malate, Manila, 1004 Metro Manila. Tel no. (02) 8523 7924
Chicken and Pork Adodo, The Lobby, Peninsula Manila
Uses corn-fed and “Berkshire” pork. The fact that it’s never been taken out of the menu since the famed hotel lobby opened in 1976 is a testament to its goodness.
Corner Ayala and Makati Avenues, Ground Floor Lobby Makati, 1226 Metro Manila Tel no. (02) 8887 2888
Three-way Pork Adobo Ribs at Cafe Juanita
A coming together of flavorful Adobong Bisaya, crispy adobo flakes, and saucy, tender ribs—all in one glorious plate. “It’s on the dry side, with a darker caramelized sauce,” recalls food writer Cyrene Dela Rosa.
19 W Capitol Dr, Pasig, 1603 Metro Manila. Tel. no: (02) 8632 0357
Mama Rosa’s Adobo
“To die for” is something that’s often been said about the adobo pork belly—served with crispy chicken adobo flakes—from this homey, no-nonsense Filipino food business.
Message 0922-820-5116 to order or visit their Instagram.
Chicken and Pork Adobo at Cafe Via Mare
We love an adobo that’s nagmamantika, and Via Mare’s is just the right amount of that. The meat is slow-cooked, too, and it’s soft, tender, almost sticky, so that even if there’s not much of a sauce, you never feel shortchanged because that pork belly and chicken are just packed with good ol’ adobo goodness. Simple, grownup and satisfying.
Here's where to find the branches nearest you: https://viamare.com.ph/locations/
Twice-cooked Adobo at Kuya’s
Dark, delicious and generous with its sauce.
The Vargas Kitchen Adobo
When you’re craving a good adobo but have no time to cook, the Vargas Kitchen Visayan adobo is a heaven-sent. It’s sold in two different sizes. “We like it because the chicken is rather shredded and they use achuete oil, so it’s orangey [in color],” says our source. You may also find them at Vargas Kitchen kiosks at Rustan’s and South Supermarket.
Visit their Instagram here.
The Chef’s Chicken Adobo at Chef Jessie Rockwell Club
With torched kesong puti. Enough said.
Rockwell Center, Amorsolo Dr, Makati, Metro Manila. Tel. no. (02) 8890 6543
Milky Way’s Pork Ribs Adobo
Because the guys at Milky Way have been doing it for a long time and are experts in keeping people coming back for more. “I love their adobo because it tastes like it was cooked at home,” says stylist and foodie Luis Espiritu. “The right amount of soy sauce and vinegar combined creates that addictive savory flavor.”
900 Antonio Arnaiz Ave, Makati. Tel. no. (02) 8843 4124
The Pork Adobo at TGIFriday’s
Surprised? The things you discover when you’ve run out of places to order in. And what a discovery. The pork belly is super malasa and possessed with that melt-in-your-mouth goodness. A crowd-pleaser.