For a while there, after seeing the words “For Sale” below its signage a few months back, we thought, 'Oh well, there’s another of our favorites becoming a casualty of the pandemic.' Fast forward to December and we’re happy to report that Dos Mestizos, the “Spanish-Filipino heritage cuisine” restaurant in Boracay, is powering through. It has left its old address and opened a new dining spot along the main road, across Sea Wind in Station 1, the spot Boracay Shores Resort used to occupy.
The location is better. And both facade and interiors have a brighter, fresher, breezier vibe. From the pictures, the place looks more spacious, too. It is also now seen by more people, no longer hidden all the way in Station 3. ”What’s also good about the new location is that it’s right where the bulk of Dos’ main market – guests in high-end resorts along White Beach – are in,” says founder and owner Jose Carlos “Binggoy” Remedios.
The reopening of Dos Mestizos, and in a new location at that, sends an important message: Boracay will bounce back. And those words hold even more weight coming from an oldtimer like Binggoy who has seen the island through its ups and downs.
“Our friends and patrons in the local community came out in full force,” reports the owner about his reopening week. Tourists visiting the island for the Christmas and New Year break have also been keeping the kitchen busy. “It’s been very encouraging. But the real test will be when the holiday season ends.”
The menu remains close to the original, still offering the dishes that it’s visitors have loved over the years and keep coming back to: the paellas, the tapas, the cochinillo. But Binggoy says they’re also introducing new Mediterranean-style dishes. The chef-patron’s back at the helm of the kitchen, and Binggoy’s daughter Monique Yrezabal Escalona, who was in charge of the food for a while, is now in Puerto Princesa and is about to open her own small cafe.
Monique was the chef when we visited the place sometime in September last year. We sat down over lengua and chorizos while we talked about Boracay with her brother Andre who is managing front of house operations. They spoke about how much Boracay has changed after the six-month closure the year before, unaware of the upcoming challenge it was to face this year. The two shared what they love about living in the island: the accessibility of the beach during one's work break, the sense of community that remains one of its great charms.
Binggoy says the community spirit is even stronger now. “I now realize that there’s no place like Boracay," he says. "The island will never be replaced by any other in this country. We have guests or old friends in Dos from Manila, and we see how happy they are to be back on the island, with one saying, ‘why are we even thinking of Balesin or other islands? There you just have the beach but here, you have a stunning world class beach and a community of people that you can interact and talk with.’”
It’s really the friends and fans of the restaurant that encourage Binggoy and his team to power through, the Boracay community who shows up in times of both merriment and misery. “This has boosted our faith that the island will bounce back after being moribund for nine months. And looking at Boracay with scarcely any people, we’ve seen how beautiful it is in its pristine state. And we are more determined to preserve the island’s environment especially when tourists start to come back.”
According to his kids, Binggoy first came to the island in the late 1980s. A well-traveled man whose passion was cooking, he's always wanted to put up a Spanish restaurant in Boracay. After all, as a former in-flight catering supervisor who used to work in San Francisco and Honolulu, he already had a good background in running a food-based organization. And so sometime in the early 2000s, together with his best friend Ramon Nieto, Binggoy was finally able to realize his dream in the form of Dos Mestizos (the restaurant name actually refers to the founders).
Its first address was in fact in Station 1, on a spot right behind Beach Comber. It eventually moved to Station 3 where Binggoy was running an ice plant. He turned the ice plant into a restaurant and the rest is history.
Monique and Andre describe their dad as a very smart businessman who wakes up with a hundred ideas every day. An "inhenyoso," as Monique would put it. "Every time they get together they always talk of how they would have to bring produce from different parts of the country," she recalled of overhearing conversations between Binggoy and his friends about doing business in Boracay during the early years. They would also talk of riding the ferry and stopping in the middle of the ocean to transfer to a banca. Of the long drives to Iloilo. Of the very small planes that used to take them to Boracay—they used to call it "the flying coffin"—and flights to and from the island that used to cost Php 20,000.
Nowhere to go but up
We have yet to dine in the new spot but everything we remember of the Station 3 Dos Mestizos we loved, cocktails included. It’s one of the reasons we’re looking forward to going back to the island, and we’re happy Binggoy sounds like he’s decided to keep the business alive.
It was not easy during the first months of the pandemic. “It was scary because we didn’t know what to expect and we didn’t know when things would get back to normal,” says Binggoy who is now in his 70s. “As a business owner in a tourism dependent island we rely heavily on international and domestic tourists for guests in the restaurant. So there was anxiety on our part.”
But it’s not like they haven’t been through tough times. The government-mandated closure of the island in 2018 was difficult and unprecedented, but it actually gave birth to a Filipino restaurant he lets his employees run to this day on the empty lot beside Dos Mestizos.
The concerns of the pandemic are different, of course. And when it actually ends is not clear. “But one day I said what the heck, lets bite the bullet,” Binggoy remembers of deciding to reopen this December. He recalled all his employees, including those who lived outside the island. “I decided to open in the new location,” he says, “to be closer to our market which I knew was going to be among the first to fly back after the Department of Tourism and the local and provincial authorities opened Boracay for domestic tourists.”
Clearly, for this mestizo, things have nowhere to go but up.
[All photographs from the Dos Mestizos Facebook page.]