The holidays typically mean that our balikbayan family and friends are in town. And a common question arises: where can we take them for a taste of Filipino food? While the malls are full of restaurant chains serving the greatest hits of adobo, sinigang, crispy pata, there is also a growing number of restaurants that offer more, usually better options, that sometimes even go beyond the traditional. So, for those balikbayans ready for a bit of adventure, here are 10 of our top picks, spanning north to south Metro Manila, including a day’s drive to Tagaytay.
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Buenavista Street, Bucal, Silang, Cavite, (0918) 565-2691
Tucked away in an off-the-Tagaytay Ridge path is Sonny Lua’s ode to traditional Caviteño cuisine. This is still the best place to try Cavite’s famous Pancit Pusit, also known as Pancit Choku, aside from another pancit made with itlog ng isda or fish roe that shares the same flavor profile with aligue. Make sure to also order from Asiong’s ever-growing list of housemade sweet and savory native delicacies that Lua lovingly makes from scratch.
Nasugbu Highway, Tagaytay, Cavite, (046) 413-4866
This is the restaurant that Chef Tonyboy Escalante of Antonio’s fame built in order to offer good quality, reasonably priced Filipino food served in a beautiful setting. Balay Dako serves, in my opinion, the best weekend breakfast buffet in town. It’s an amazing spread that includes the usual Filipino breakfast staples, plus a make-your-own fried rice station with assorted toppings, and a local sweets section offering kakanin (native rice cakes), taho, and freshly-made puto bumbong. The buffet costs less than P1,000 per head, and comes with the best view of Taal Lake too. Since there’s a no-reservations policy for the weekend buffet, make sure to come early to avoid the long lines waiting for a table. Just for the holidays, the breakfast buffet will also be served on December 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, and January 1.
55 Aguirre Avenue corner Arsenio Luz, BF Homes, Paranaque, (02) 8519-7097
This is, hands down, one of the best restaurants along BF Home Parañaque’s Aguirre Street, and in Manila for that matter. At this little neighborhood joint, Chef Tina Legarda (formerly of Osteria Mozza in Singapore) serves an extensive menu of international dishes, including a lot of Filipino-inspired ones, ranging from various iterations of silog, to an addicting “salad” called Tindahan ni Maria that marries chorizo with petchay, kesong puti, itlog na pula, and pili nuts in one glorious mess dressed with guava vinaigrette. Bamba Bistro also sells one of the best ensaymadas in town, plus classic Spanish-style fruitcakes and mini cinnamon rolls baked by Tina’s mom, Betina Legarda of From Betina’s Kitchen.
19 West Capitol Drive, Kapitolyo, Pasig City, (02) 8632-0357
This pioneering restaurant in Kapitolyo, Pasig is owned by doctor-turned-restaurateur Efren “Boy” Vazquez. Named after his mother, Café Juanita is still going strong after more than 20 years in the area (nine years at its second more spacious, converted bungalow location). The restaurant serves an ever-changing menu of eclectic Filipino and Asian fare that matches its somewhat quirky, kitsch-filled, Southeast Asian-inspired interiors. Still on the menu are some of Café Juanita’s bestselling Filipino dishes like Kare-kare, Sinigang, Beef Ribs Adobo, and Cassava Cake.
220 Hillcrest Drive, Pasig City, (02) 8671-5277
For those balikbayans looking for a “grittier” food experience, this carinderia gem is reputedly one of the best in town. Located within Pasig’s infamous motel row, Caruz serves an extensive menu that changes daily, including popular dishes like its roadside grilled Pork Liempo BBQ, Adobo and Kalderetang Itik or local duck, and Guinataang Kuhol or snails. The eatery is best visited shortly before noon on weekdays to avoid the lunchtime office crowd.
201 Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, (0947) 560-1853
For those balikbayan friends or relatives open to going beyond traditional Filipino food, there’s Hapag, a cozy Quezon City restaurant where its three young chef-owners are serving their updated takes on familiar Filipino dishes. You can try their versions of popular dishes like kwek kwek and kare-kare or some of their own innovative creations like Oyster Bonete and Laing Stones. Hapag offers a tasting menu or you can order dishes from the à la carte menu.
5883 Enriquez Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (0917) 173-5883
The chef-owners of Poblacion Makati’s most popular neo bistro are hoping to instill a renewed sense of appreciation for Filipino food. And they’re drawing in the crowds by combining their modern take on Filipino food with retro hip interiors and a fun cocktail program. Crowd favorites include the Rice Cups, as well as their innovative take on desserts.
Little Flour Café
G/F World Plaza, 31st Street corner 4th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, (02) 8777-7383
G/F The Stratosphere, 136 Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City, (02) 8403-9265
While Wildflour doesn’t do Filipino food at all, its little sibling leans more Filipino. This all-day brunch café combines some of Wildflour’s bestsellers with its own locally-inspired offerings, including a nice selection of rice bowls. Must-tries are the Beef Tapa, Sarsiadong Isda with fried danggit, Guinataang Prawns, and Bicol Express. Plus, the café has an equally impressive spread of native desserts top-billed by the Bibingka Cheesecake and the to-die-for buko or Young Coconut Pie.
Mijo Comfort Food
4987 P. Guanzon Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (0917) 149-0148
Chef Enrique Moreno’s new restaurant in Poblacion is all about comfort food, mostly polished versions of dishes he enjoyed growing up. Although the menu is not entirely Filipino, it offers a stellar version of Aligue Gambas, which is enough reason to visit, as the dish had us ordering extra bonete bread, baked on the premises, to mop up the extra sauce. While there, don’t miss out on a really good deal with the Wagyu Picanha Steak (a steal at P995) and their delish take on tapsilog made with Wagyu beef brisket which you can also order at Church, Mijo’s sibling rooftop bar, after 10 pm. Don’t skip dessert and order their excellent take on Bread Pudding, served with chocolate and housemade honeycomb.
The Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City, (0917) 720-8630
Elevating Filipino food onto the global dining scene is Chef Jordy Navarra’s Toyo Eatery. It’s the first restaurant serving Filipino food to make it on the highly-coveted Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2019, a year after it was recognized by the same awarding body with the One to Watch award. Run by a young team led by Navarra and his wife May, Toyo offers two ways for diners to experience the best of Toyo, through an eight-course tasting menu or by ordering from its à la carte menu. Take note that Toyo is only open for dinner.
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
Asiong photo by Ricky Ladia for FOOD Magazine
Café Juanita photos by Pat Mateo
Caruz Eatery photos courtesy of Caruz Eatery Facebook page
Hapag photos by Jar Concengco
Lampara photos by Paul del Rosario for Metro.Style
Little Flour Café photos courtesy of Little Flour Facebook page
Toyo Eatery photos courtesy of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants
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