The Hungry Wanderer: El Nido EatsFebruary 18, 2019
- Addi dela CruzWords
Up until my feet actually touched the ground of El Nido, Palawan for the first time, I had always thought that it was a place accessible only to people with bodyguards and private jets. It turns out that there’s also a place for people like me, at a small town called Buena Suerte located south of the province.
Buena Suerte is heaven for travellers on a budget.
In contrast to El Nido’s secluded private islands, where VIP guests, CEOs, and Patrick J. Adams, are flown in via chartered planes, Buena Suerte, fondly called “El Nido Gilid,” is heaven for backpackers and tourists on a budget. The place is filled with relatively affordable hostels, souvenir shops, spas, bars, and even gourmet restaurants.
As first-timers who had to rely on Google while planning our trip, Artcafé naturally made it to the top of me and my friend’s must-try list. Located above a huge souvenir shop along Serena Street, the restaurant was adorned with paintings, musical instruments, books, and ethnic decor. We visited the place our first night in town, and we were lucky a live band was playing that evening.
I recommend the Artcafé Pizza and El Nido Salad.
I have nothing but praise for the food at Artcafé. As far as I could tell, all the ingredients were fresh and each dish had flavors that were beautifully balanced. I recommend their Artcafé Pizza and El Nido Salad. I was baffled where and how they got yummy ripe mangoes this time of the year, but hey, sweet mangoes and cashew nuts on a bed of fresh greens? I wasn’t about to complain.
Since we enjoyed it so much the first time, we came back the following morning to try their breakfast offerings. They bake their own bread and make perfect French toasts and omelettes. Everything looked nice and Instagrammable in daylight. Ten minutes after our food arrived, we still hadn’t touched anything. We were too busy snapping away with our phones, ignoring the other tourists staring at us with judgemental eyes.
We were looking for a place to get desserts in Buena Suerte when we saw people setting up a stall with two huge flat pans placed front and center.
I was so impressed with my street-style Chocolate Banana Crepe, eaten using toothpicks and served on a paper plate, that I almost didn’t mind that the chocolate syrup was just Clara Olé or that the bananas were underripe. I’d gladly order another, maybe with some ice cream on top.
Buffet Lunch by the Beach
An El Nido adventure would be incomplete without a day or two spent hopping from one beautiful island to another. An island tour package ranges from PHP 1,000-2,000 per head, which normally includes four to five different destinations, snorkeling equipment, towels, and a lunch buffet. The boatmen also serve as your tour guides, bodyguards, chefs, photographers, and inexhaustible taga-kwento.
Our lunch was prepared and cooked by the beach on Shimizu Island. It was a complete feast that included fish, pork, and chicken, all grilled and seasoned perfectly. We also had a nice eggplant and tuna ensalada (this was my favorite!) on the side, and a variety of fresh ripe fruits for dessert.
This meal was one of the most memorable ones I’ve had in years.
The food wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but dining with my bare hands as I sat on the warm sand, the cool December breeze on my face as I listened to the crashing waves, made this meal one of the most memorable ones I’ve had in years.
If I had to pick a favorite restaurant in El Nido, it would be The Alternative. Don’t let the dingy entrance fool you, there’s magic on the second floor.
The Alternative is my favorite restaurant in El Nido.
I’d recommend their Tempura Ice Cream, which tasted great even half an hour later. Under the crunchy fried crust was a crepe-like layer which worked very well with the vanilla ice cream and ripe mangoes inside. The dish is even better when paired with a nice cup of Mint Tea.
On our last morning in El Nido, we went back to The Alternative to have breakfast at one of their coveted sofa-balconies overlooking Bacuit Bay. I munched on the homemade bread and sipped my Four Seasons while watching Buena Suerte go about, what is to them, just another Monday morning.
The Continental Breakfast was the perfect meal to cap-off a perfect trip.
For less than PHP 300, I really enjoyed my hearty Continental Breakfast. The omelette had bacon, ham, tuna flakes, onion, tomatoes, bell pepper, and—my favorite part—huge cubes of cheese. You picked either a fruit salad, fruit juice, or fruit smoothie to go with your breakfast, plus your choice of tea or coffee. It was the perfect meal to cap-off a perfect trip.
If you’re traveling to El Nido on a budget, keep in mind that Buena Suerte is a five-hour van ride from the city of Puerto Princesa. Some hostels also offer airport pick-up. I recommend a three-day-two-night itinerary. A food budget of PHP 1,000 per head per day is more than enough to enjoy your stay.