Here are 10 Restaurants You Should Try Outside Metro ManilaDecember 3, 2014
- Addi dela CruzWords
You can’t make a fair judgment of the restaurant scene in the Philippines when you’ve only eaten your way around Metro Manila. Indeed, the city is bursting with food establishments serving great food in interiors begging to be photographed, but you haven’t seen, tasted and experienced it all. It might take you a five-hour road trip, a cramped economy seat on a plane, or a bit of getting lost and a little help from a local in an unfamiliar town, but there are a good number of restaurants outside the capital that are worth crossing toll gates—or seas—for.
1. La Preciosa, Ilocos Norte
La Preciosa is one of those classic Filipino restaurants that boasts of a rich culinary heritage preserved and passed down across generations. The first time I tried it on a family trip to Ilocos, I remember eating so much Bagnet that my mom had to move the serving platter away from me. It wasn’t really because they served the best twice-deep-fried pork; rather, every other dish seemed cooked for the sole purpose of complementing the already-blockbuster Bagnet. A must-try is their Poqui-Poqui, essentially eggplant cooked with beaten eggs onion, garlic and tomatoes, a deconstructed eggplant omelet of sorts.
But the dish that put them on the map isn’t an Ilocano delicacy; it’s their Carrot Cake, with a perfectly moist base and rich creamy frosting generously topped with fresh carrot shavings. A slice alone was worth the ten-hour, butt-squished ride in our cramped SUV.
Address: J.P. Rizal St, Laoag, Ilocos Norte
2. Café by the Ruins, Baguio
Stepping inside Café by the Ruins is in itself, an experience. From the dilapidated interiors they refuse to remodel to the space accentuated with native furnishings, to the local artworks and handicrafts that seem to tell the story of the Cordilleras, the restaurant exudes a confused yet captivating mystique. Wait till you’re seated and browsing through their menu (and your Instagram feed because they have super fast WiFi!), and you’ll realize that this Baguio staple is surprisingly contemporary. Its charm lies in how well it blends the old with the new, which you can taste even in their dishes.
Try Ernie’s Kamote Bread that works well with the carabao cottage cheese and basil. Of course the cold Baguio weather begs for a steaming bowl of Pinkpikan, a native Cordilleran chicken stew dish, and a cup of hot dark chocolate, made with real Baguio tablea. For the main course, the Crispy Tapa (pork flakes) is a must-try, and it comes with an Ensalada on the side and their signature purple-colored Cordillera rice.
Café by the Ruins
Address: 25 Shuntug Rd, Baguio, Benguet
3. Bale Dutung, Pampanga
Dining at Bale Dutung is like visiting your favorite relatives in the province, if they are also incredible hosts and serve the best Kapampangan dishes. Bale Dutung, which translates to “house of wood,” is owned and managed by Chef Claude Tayag and his wife Mary Ann. They don’t open the restaurant unless there are at least 12 people dining that day, so making reservations is a must. Diners get to choose from three menus, each a 10-course meal that expands into three to four hours of eating, admiring Claude’s paintings and sculptures (yes, he also happens to be an artist), and easy conversations under the silong, the restaurant’s open dining area. Claude cooks as Mary Ann entertains and explains each dish in detail. The food is authentic Kapampangan with simple ingredients cooked and served in Claude’s own way. The whole experience is nothing short of a gastronomic and cultural feast.
Address: Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles, Pampanga
4. Antonio’s, Tagaytay
Secluded from Tagaytay’s urbanized center, Antonio’s doesn’t give its visitors an easy time locating the place. Finally getting there however will be worth it. Antonio’s is the perfect venue for intimate celebrations, especially in the evening. Dress to impress because the Hispanic-Filipino-themed interiors, antique furniture, and lush green surroundings will make you feel like you’re in a 1920’s hacienda.
Its patrons keep coming back for the same classic offerings, and the quality and taste of the food have been consistent through the years. A couple noteworthy dishes are the Seafood Sampler Trio (scallops, prawns, and Chilean Sea Bass) and the Duo of French Poultry (roasted duck and squab). A full-course meal at Antonio’s surely drills a hole in your wallet, but dining at an establishment declared by The Miele Guide as one of the best restaurants in Asia shouldn’t come cheap, should it?
Address: Purok 138, Barangay Neogan, Luksuhin-Mangas Road, Alfonso, Tagaytay
5. 1st Colonial Grill, Albay
1st Colional Grill is an ordinary-looking restaurant that serves extraordinary food. There are three things you should try here. First, the Tinapa Rice, which I’d like to call Fiesta Rice, because it looks like a Filipino fiesta in a platter: a huge heap of fried rice the restaurant beautifully plates with toppings of tinapa flakes, salted egg, tomatoes, and green mango slices. Then, the two ice cream flavors you’ll only find in Bicol: the Tinutong Ice Cream, which is made with tutong (toasted rice) that gives it the strong mocha-like flavor, and the Sili Ice Cream: strawberry milkshake in your mouth and Jose Cuervo in your throat.
1st Colonial Grill
Address: Villa Amada Building, Rizal St, Sagpon, Daraga, Albay
6. Ka Lui, Puerto Princesa
Ranked best in Palawan among locals and tourists alike, Ka Lui makes diners feel like they’re royalty in a bahay kubo. The restaurant has a native Filipino atmosphere you won’t get in the run-of-the-mill kamayan or ihaw-ihaw restaurants all over the country. Guests can choose to dine fisherman-style—barefoot and sitting on banig—while enjoying only the freshest seafood and home-style native Filipino dishes. Must-tries are their Tubbataha Salad (tuna sashimi with fruits and seaweed), the Sizzling Seafood Sisig (made with cuttlefish), and really, anything on the menu that has a sea creature in it.
Address: 369, Rizal Ave, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
7. Artcafé, El Nido
True to its name, Artcafé is a restaurant for the senses. The restaurant is adorned with paintings, musical instruments, books, and ethnic decor. My friend and I visited the place our first night in El Nido’s backpacker town, and a live band was playing. The place however isn’t just all for show; tourists come back for the food as well. I remember guiltlessly wolfing down the El Nido Salad—a lovely balance of greens, cashew nuts and mangoes drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. I also remember not remembering how many slices I had of their signature simple margherita pizza topped with a sunny-side up egg. We learned that they bake their own bread, and that alone was enough to convince us to come back the following morning for breakfast. Their breakfast food looked and tasted even better, and so we ate the early morning away, despite being fully aware that we had to expose our bellies at the beach shortly that day.
Address: Serena St, Barangay Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan
8. La Vie Parisienne, Cebu
When I dream of Cebu, what makes me want to come back isn’t the authentic Cebu lechon, neither is it Casa Verde’s fall-off-the-bone ribs, nor Sunburst’s southern-style fried chicken. Although those are great reasons, I find that they aren’t as compelling as the taste of Paris I had at La Vie Parisienne. The best time to visit the restaurant is in the evening, when the artificial cherry blossom trees are lit, turning the place into a glowing pink botanical garden, almost like a scene from James Cameron’s Avatar (2012). The shop itself looks like a French deli offering various products from freshly baked bread, meats and cheeses to chocolates and international beers. Don’t miss the entryway that leads to a wine cellar complete with a pub table for small intimate gatherings, so you and your friends can pretend you’re somewhere in Paris, sipping chardonnay, trying out different flavors of macarons, and deciding which bottle of wine goes best with which meat and cheese. The biggest surprise however is all of this was well within our backpacker budget.
La Vie Parisienne
Address: 371 Gorordo Ave, Cebu City, Cebu
9. Breakthrough Restaurant, Iloilo
Breakthrough is a huge open space by the shore where diners are treated to the fresh sea breeze that flows through. But you can’t talk about the restaurant without raving about the fresh seafood they serve. The variety of shellfish alone can be overwhelming, but the standouts are their baked oysters and the imbao, which is a huge clam whose meat appears like mouthwatering pork fat and ia best served raw. Breakthrough is also known for their Aligue Rice and Iloilo’s famous Chicken Inasal.
Address: Villa Beach, Barangay Sto. Niño Sur, Arevalo, Iloilo
10. Tiny Kitchen, Davao
Apparent in the long waiting line at the restaurant, Tiny Kitchen is a crowd favorite among Davaoenos. Owned by Chef Vincent Rodriguez, it is known for their cakes and paella dishes. I never fully appreciated seafood paella since I was always discouraged by the tedious method of consuming it while preserving my table etiquette. Tiny Kitchen’s however was the only paella I took the trouble of patiently peeling off the shrimp and crab just to get a taste of everything in a mouthful. The sticky rice flavored with squid ink could not have been more balanced, the chicken was cooked and seasoned to perfection, and the crab, squid and prawns were as sweet and tender as their colors promised.
Address: F. Torres St, Poblacion District, Davao City, Davao del Sur