What do Allen, Elbert, and Sonja Eat After Hours?

August 28, 2018

These professionals work with food every day. Their frequent exposure to it leads them to create some very inspired edibles. So this led us to wonder, what do they look for when they eat out? And do they stuff themselves silly with fast food too? Read on, and find out what these powerhouses have to say about their favorite meals, particularly those outside their own highly successful restaurants.

Meet our experts:

Photo via Manila Social Diary

1. Elbert Cuenca –  Restaurateur/Purveyor of fine steaks. Elbert’s Steakhouse, Elbert’s Cheesesteak Sandwiches, and Ramen Yushoken

Photo via Photokitchen

2. Sonja Ocampo – Owner/Awesome baker at Cupcakes by SONJA

Photo via Twitter

3. Allen Buhay –  Cheffin’ it up at Wildflour Café + Bakery

Where do you usually eat out? Where are you favorite restaurants?

Elbert: “My favorite restaurants are my own, but I do eat out a lot. I will try out as many restaurants as I can, even if their cuisines are not related to the restaurants I operate. I constantly benchmark myself, and check out market and industry trends.”

Sonja: “Fort/Makati Area. CirkuloMamou, and People’s Palace. [For dessert] I order from Georgia Schulze-Del Rosario, Mara de la Rama, Mrs. Yulo, Dulcelin, [and] Roshan’s.  Or head to Classic ConfectionsChez KarineMarta’s, and Sweet Bella.  Just all the desserts that I don’t make.”

Allen: “I love ramen. When I first got here, I sent JJ Yulo [of Pinoy Eats World] a message asking about ramen places. That was around August, none of these new ramen places were open yet, but a few months after that, they sprouted like mushrooms! Mitsuyado was good, but that’s the only place I’ve been to. Draft and Barcino are probably my go-to places.”

Any recommendations for Fine Dining?

Elbert: “Antonio’s, Sala and Old Manila.

Sonja: “Antonio’s.

Allen: “Only been to Sala here in the Philippines. I had a great meal.”

Recommendations for Easy, Everyday Meals?

Elbert: “I recommend the Remedios Circle establishments: Tanabe and Cafe Adriatico. I also like Kanin Club, Tao Yuan for its dimsum and Chicken Rice, and JT’s Manukan for its Inasal.”

Sonja: “Cibo, Wildflour, Mamou.

Allen: “I’m far from ever having everyday meals. I work 6 days a week, so any restaurant meal is a special meal for me! Can’t answer this one! Ha!”

What are the dishes there that you usually like to order? What makes them your favorites?

Elbert: “In Tanabe, I like the Sukiyaki. And in Cafe Adriatico, Lola Ising’s Adobo. They’re favorites because they never fail to put a smile on my face.”

Sonja: “Cirkulo: Beef Belly, Sisig, Truffle, Mushroom & Asparagus Paella, Lamb Ribs, Bone Marrow, Foie in 3 ways.  Everything there is so good.  The Gamboas can’t do anything wrong.  All their restaurants are great, and [the food is] always so consistent.  Whatever your go-to item is, it will be exactly as how you remember it, even if months/years pass between visits.

Mamou: Steak, Truffle Pasta, Barcia Strips*, Duck Adobo, Lamb Tapa, Sinigang, Sweet Spicy Tuyo. All comfort food done right.  You’re treated like family, and that’s exactly what makes people fall in love with this place.  You can taste love in every bite.

People’s Palace: Catfish Salad, Phad Thai, Papaya Salad, Spring Rolls, Shrimp Rolls. Full-flavored Thai dishes that always hit the spot.

Desserts: I’m so tired of desserts I make. I always tend to love the ones made by others.”

Allen: “Love the burger at Draft. I like good, simple stuff!”

Do you go more for the authenticity of a dish, or for an overall balance of taste and flavor?

Elbert: “It’s hard to say which I would prefer, but over and above those two, I would go for honesty in cooking (as opposed to [being] pretentious and trying hard). Basic dishes done right with the correct ingredients are what I appreciate most. For example: a Carbonara that involves nothing more than raw eggs, pancetta, Parmigiano Reggiano, pepper and no. 12 pasta.”

Sonja: “Depends on where I’m eating.  I love eating at places that execute flavors in new and exciting ways, but [are] always balanced and satisfying.  I really get blown away with restaurants that combine flavors and different textures that all come together when you take a bite.  But there are also moments when I crave for simplicity in my dishes. I’ll crave for Sinigang, just like how my mom makes it. Or I’d rather enjoy a rustic meal by the countryside, where it comes straight from the garden, and [is] prepared simply.  Always better than eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant trying to emulate food from that particular region.”

Allen: “I’m a fan of authentic dishes, it’s usually what makes more sense. But taste and flavor is definitely a reason to go back.”

Do you go to any Fast Food chains? Which ones are your favorites, or go-to’s?

Elbert: “Yes. KFC.”

Sonja: “KFC.”

Allen: ” I’m a super fan of Andok’s Liempo. And Tapsilog of Vivian’s in Antipolo (I grew up there). As for fast foods, I love [Wendy’s] Frosty.”

Are there any guilty pleasures you have when it comes to eating out?

Elbert: “That’s a tough one, because I don’t ever feel guilty when I eat something pleasurable. Haha! I guess a bottle of rare wine that goes for over [US]$1,000, or a Crispy Pata that I would [eat] half of, or a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s, or a second Krispy Kreme doughnut.”

Sonja:  “I sometimes enjoy having 2 dinners in one night.”

Allen: “My guilty pleasure is [the] Longganisa Meal of McDonald’s. I have a rule, I can only eat McDonald’s at the airport, or when wasted at 4 AM. It’s a childhood thing.”

Are there any up and coming restaurants that get you excited?

Elbert: “Can’t think of any in particular. It is hard for me to get excited for something that I haven’t tried or tasted yet. I always took forward to restaurants that serve the same cuisine as mine do. Any new steak house, sandwich place, or ramen shop is a welcome thing for me, because it helps uplift the local industry, and allows customers to gauge my establishment against others.”

Sonja: “Moment Group [Cue Modern Barbeque and BurgerBar] has had a really dynamic year opening several food concepts.  Excited to see what’s next.”

Allen: “Wish I knew more about the happenings, I depend on the local writers to know. But Wildflour Coffee Bar at the Podium definitely gets me excited!”


These people put a premium on simple and honest food made really well, as opposed to fads, fancy concepts, or hefty price tags. And they show that craving for chicken from Colonel Sanders is probably a universal thing. But one thing is for sure: you are bound to keep coming back for the food that makes you feel loved. Even if you happen to find it outside your own kitchen.

*Barcia Strips are thin slices of marinated pork belly, which are rolled in flour, then deep-fried. They are like a cross between bacon and pork rinds

A Bit About Our Interviewees:

Elbert Cuenca
He is a successful restaurateur with three restaurants: Elbert’s Steak Room and Elbert’s Cheesesteak Sandwiches in Makati, and Ramen Yushoken in Alabang. While not a chef himself, he is a firm believer in providing customers with a special and highly memorable gastronomic experience. Elbert also likes Krispy Kreme.

Sonja Ocampo
She owns and operates the well-known Cupcakes By Sonja in Serendra. She considers herself to be lucky enough to do something she’s passionate about. Even though she eats a lot (just look at all the food she mentioned!), she retains her girlish figure, much to everyone’s envy.

Allen Buhay
Chef at the fast-rising Wildflour Café+Bakery in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). He recently came back to Manila, after studying and training in the US for 9 ½ years. He makes it a point to source the freshest ingredients for the restaurant from local producers. Judging from his answers, Allen likes to hang out at pubs to get wasted at 4am, so he can eat at McDonald’s. Truly a man after our own hearts.

Nico Goco Nico Goco

Nico is an engineer with a fondness for food, drink, and cooking. This is in serious conflict with his desire to lose weight. Writing is his outlet to make sure the right side of his brain still works. When free, he likes to read, travel, and nurture a dozen different hobbies. He also believes that the perfect fried chicken is the cure to anything.

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8 responses to “What do Allen, Elbert, and Sonja Eat After Hours?”

  1. “And they show that craving for chicken from Colonel Sanders is probably a universal thing.” SUPER MADE MY DAY!

  2. i feel disappointed that they didn’t share any hole-in-the-wall places. keeping it secret, huh? 🙁

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