Convenience is often our main criteria when choosing where to eat. Accessibility and service speed has become such a priority that the Metro is overpopulated with franchises. Yet, there are still restaurants that put greater focus on the quality of their dishes, rather than the pace at which they’re served. They might be out of the way, but they are definitely worth the trip.
A number of factors come into play when determining whether a restaurant is worth going out of your way for. But for me, it basically boils down to three things:
Taste. Forget fancy decors, faddish concepts, or gimmicky dishes. All restaurants should ultimately be judged by the quality of food they offer. This is especially true for a restaurant that requires a bit of travel time.
Uniqueness. Like staring at your phone while on a first date, or watching TV in your hotel room while on vacation, it’s sad if you go back to your comfort zone when given the chance to experience something new. Eat that cheeseburger or fried chicken any other day of the week. What you put in your mouth after a long drive should at least be something unique.
Overall Experience. This one takes everything else into account: the ambience, the level of service, and whether or not you feel that the entire experience was deserving of your precious weekend.
I know that convenience is important, especially when it’s a hectic workday, and we’re all rushing to get back on the grindstone. But weekends give us the chance to shake things up a bit. Listed below are some far-off restaurants, which I’m sure will help you forget that another Monday is just around the corner.
Located just 20 minutes away from the San Fernando exit, Apag Marangle stays true to its Kapampangan heritage by offering classic Filipino dishes and unique local delicacies. It’s the perfect place for balikbayan relatives craving Filipino food, or anyone looking for a great meal served in a unique Filipino setting.
The beautiful landscape is the first thing you’ll notice upon arriving. The dining area is comprised of bamboo huts floating on a tree-lined pond, with fishing rods available for diners to use. Rafts are also there for those who want to wade across the water to really soak in the countryside. All these elements combine to create a rustic ambience, which you just can’t replicate in any of Manila’s restaurants.
Equally noteworthy is the food they serve. Their Litsun Kawali pairs fried pork belly with homemade bagoong (shrimp paste), which gives it a unique salty-sweet flavor, without the pungent aroma that accompanies other renditions. The Pepalukluk Manuk (Steamed Chicken on Salt – PHP 275) illustrates just how sublime a simple dish can be if executed well. The salt brings out the full flavor of the chicken, which is made meltingly tender by a long, slow cooking process.
The Nasing Marangle is a creative spin on normal fried rice, with bagoong fragrantly coating each grain, and bits of pork that deliver a pleasant crunch.
Also, don’t forget to try the Betute and the Camaru (Mole Crickets – PHP 150). They taste so good that you won’t feel squeamish about eating such weird creatures. And hey, you’ve already traveled this far, so you might as well taste what the locals are enjoying.
Olongapo-Gapan Road, Sta. Barbara, Bacolor, Pampanga
045 436 1600
Mila’s is a stand out in a city already filled with great culinary delights. Don’t be put off by its humble location and décor. A restaurant packed with diners despite being furnished with plastic chairs, old tables, and an electric fan is bound to serve great food.
As the name suggests, their specialty is the Tokwa’t Baboy, but I believe that it’s their other dishes that are worth coming back for again and again.
The Tocino BBQ combines the sweetness and chewy texture of cured pork with the smoky flavor and crispy burnt edges you can only get from the grill. Crazy delicious, it’s one of those combinations you can’t believe no one has done before.
Their Sizzling Sisig is what all other sisig dishes should aspire to be. Perfectly crispy, it has no trace of the gamey flavor that often accompanies the dish, and has just the right balance of fat, meat, and spice. Heck, you can skip the other places in Angeles that offer sisig, and head straight for this one instead.
Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy
San Antonio St., San Angelo Subd., Sto. Domingo, Angeles City, Pampanga
Ramen is one food trend currently taking Manila by storm. This has led to ramen houses popping up all over the city, and quite a number of them do a great job in improving upon the offerings of those that came before. Ramen Yushoken, a hot new restaurant that just opened in Alabang last December, is one such example.
There are three main components to ramen: the noodles, the broth and the toppings. Purists rightfully say that the components of a great ramen should be in equal harmony, with no single ingredient overpowering the rest. Just like a good burger, a good bowl of ramen should be better than each individual part. But personally, my ramen litmus test is biased towards the broth, as that is the hardest element to master and the easiest to mess up. Variations of it are endless. Some easily require 20 ingredients, involve multiple stages of cooking, and call for long hours of simmering.
Ramen Yushoken’s Miso Ramen shows why all that work is worth it. One sip of the broth made me close my eyes in pleasure. Almost creamy in texture and comfortingly succulent, it had that deep meaty flavor that can only come from well-made stock. While eating ramen, I suggest you order Aji Tamago (PHP 80) on the side, and add it to your bowl. The perfectly runny yolk makes the broth taste even richer.
Another menu item you shouldn’t miss is their exceptional Gyoza. Crispy and fragrant with an acidic kick from the soy-vinegar, it makes a great accompaniment to any bowl of ramen.
Further validating my esteem for the restaurant were the audible slurps I heard from several Japanese diners intently attacking their bowls of noodles. If the food is good enough for expatriates craving for a taste of home, then you can bet the place is well worth a visit, especially if isn’t that far from the city.
Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines
02 808 7424
I’m a sucker for old-school restaurants that stubbornly stick to what they do best, and limit their menu to a few, well-executed items. Jamicos Restaurant perfectly embodies this. Located in Malabon, diners go on pilgrimages here for just one dish: The Judy Ann Crispy Pata (named after the current owner, mind you, not the actress).
The Judy Ann Crispy Pata will make you forget all the other crispy pata renditions out there. Crispy skin? Check. Moist and tender meat? Check. Optimal meat-to-fat-to-skin ratio in every bite? Check. It also has this distinct sweetness, which could be from the type of pork they use, or their top-secret marinade. Whatever it is, this one menu item can entice anyone to drive all the way up north, just to indulge on a dish that has sustained this institution for more than 40 years.
201 Gen. Luna St., Malabon (in front of Meralco)
02 281 4193
I couldn’t stop at just 4 recommendations after tasting this. Besides, what’s a great meal without dessert? Serving up a cheesecake that will make northerners brave the dreadful SLEX traffic, Don Limone is a worthy addition to the ever-growing food heaven that is Sucat. The restaurant, with its quirky signs alluding to religion, romance, and marriage, is hard to miss. But it’s their cheesecake that will make you come back again and again.
Don Limone’s menu offered dozens of cheesecake variations, but I often find that a restaurant’s merit is best determined by how well they execute the basics. So, I kept things simple and ordered the classic New York Cheesecake.
The cream cheese was exquisitely sweet, tangy, and smooth; a perfect contrast to the thin layer of the chewy graham crust below. Drizzle it with a bright, citrusy sauce, and you’ve got a cheesecake that’s miles away from the overly sweet Jell-o concoctions served in more famous cheesecake establishments.
Don Limone Grill
A. Aguirre Ave, Parañaque City, Philippines
02 345 1803
Road-trips make weekends more meaningful, and elevate routine meals into an event worth remembering. With options like these, you now have a perfect excuse to escape the city just to enjoy a great meal.
Of course, I know that there is a longer list of other road-trip worthy establishments I might have missed, so feel free to share your own recommendations below!
[Thumbnail image via Profantasy]