Manila’s Dining Scene Is Hot. Here’s Where to Chow Down.By Christian Razukas
Manila is a megalopolis with plenty to offer travelers led by their appetites. Traditional cooks serve centuries-old recipes, hipster joints offer artisanal delights and local fine-dining chefs are getting global attention.
Food in the Philippines is fun, blending traditions and ingredients from around 7,000 islands with American, Chinese and Spanish influences. Here’s just some of what Manila has on the menu.
Back to Basics
Restaurants consistently delivering superior takes on Filipino comfort food and family favorites are a traveler’s godsend, given the nation’ size.
Locals will tell you that at Sentro 1771, the chicken and pork adobo, virtually the national dish, isn’t as good as mom’s — but it’s close, and that’s no small feat. This Iberian technique for marinating meat has been localized by adding soy sauce, vinegar and crushed peppercorns.
Or rub shoulders with the political elite at Casa Roces, in a heritage building near the Malacañang (Presidential) Palace. Try the pancit molo (pork dumpling soup) or the paella negras.
Sidewalk Dining, Manila Style
Ubiquitous, unassuming and delicious, carinderias have a special place in the hearts of Manileños. These holes in the wall offer home-cooked local standards served cafeteria-style.
Found on a Makati side street, foodie favorite Aling Sosing (5819 Zobel Roxas St.) gets busy for lunch, thronged by those searching for barbecued pork skewers, squid served adobo style (a must-try) and a bone marrow soup called bulalo that locals say is worth the trip.
Two chefs, Filipino Jordy Navarra and Spaniard Chele González, have been giving Filipino cuisine a world-class transmogrification.
Named one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Navarra’s casual Toyo Eatery mixes local techniques, molecular gastronomy and fine-dining execution, as in a delicate 18-vegetable salad hidden under desiccated eggplant soil.
Meanwhile, Gallery by Chele is also unpretentious, offering a fusion take on tacos with ube (purple yam) tortillas matched with lechon-flavored carnitas.
Street Food Hustle in Quiapo
Make your way through sprawling Quiapo Market while munching on delicious street food. Start with kwek-kwek (quail eggs fried in batter) and finish with mango or ube sorbetes — a “dirty” (homemade) ice cream typically made from coconut milk.
Nearby is the Muslim quarter with Islamic/southern-style cooking from Mindanao and Cotabato. Pagana Maranao, easy to find on tiny Globo de Oro Street by the gorgeous Golden Mosque, serves a must-try piyanggang chicken made with blackened coconut, while a few yards away Junairah Halal Restaurant offers piyaparan curries, cooked in coconut milk, chillies and turmeric.
Hipster Pub Grub in Poblacion
Manila’s cool kids gravitate to Poblacion, which abuts a red-light district, for its bar scene — and for the food at Alamat Filipino Pub & Deli. The casual, neon-lit joint has 15 local craft brews on tap, like De Puta Madre (best left untranslated), a heady double IPA.
A creative menu is inspired by Philippine ingredients and pre-colonial (e.g., tribal or ancestral) local cooking styles, like artisanal sausages full of sisig (a delicious hash of pig face and liver) or denuguan (congealed blood).
Local Faves, with a Twist
S Kitchen, at the Sheraton Manila Hotel, by the airport, offers farm-to-table local produce — a big draw, since the hotel’s organic farm is in Tagaytay’s fertile fields.
Also wowing local eaters at Sunday brunch are Executive Chef Kiko Santiago’s creative riffs on this natural bounty, like his fusion Bicol Express Pasta, based on a spicy local fave that’s full of chilies, coconut cream and seafood, or a fusion lasagna, based on adobo.
The Pig of Your Dreams
Anthony Bourdain sparked global salivation after sampling lechon — or roasted suckling pig. Its crackling skin and succulent deliciousness have been perfected by Dedet de la Fuente, aka The Lechon Diva.
Making her bones at the World Street Food Congress, de la Fuente now offers seven-course lechon degustation menus on Sundays, stylishly served at a decked-out dining table in her home. Locals love her lechon stuffed with truffles and rice.
Bonus: Join Bourdain’s local lechon whisperer, Ivan Man Dy, on an expert food crawl of Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown.