Forget the gorgeous islands of Boracay and Palawan, Manila is forging its own tourism niche, and it has nothing to do with business travel (oh, and kick-ass shopping)! An exuberant flowering of restaurant rows and bar clusters in neighbourhoods across Metro Manila are turning the urban sprawl into a veritable paradise for foodies. From hip-haunts to gourmet mainstays, Mabel David-Pilar and Pierra Calasanz-Labrador highlight where to eat in Manila.
Where to Eat in Manila
With a constant influx of new establishments vying for the attention of urban professionals, ladies who lunch and a growing number of insta-foodies, the Makati business district is one of the most vibrant – and cutthroat – culinary hubs in the country.
Le Petit Souffle
The latest venture of award-winning pastry chef Miko Aspiras, this hip and cozy French-Japanese bistro dishes out innovative, exquisite eats.
MUST TRY: Mac and Foie (indulgent Mac & Cheese, the best-selling Valrhona Guanaja Chocolate Souffle and the light, fluffy, decadent Classic Souffle Pancake with Cream Cheese.
3/F, Century City Mall, Kalayaan Ave, Poblacion $$
Ramen devotees swear by the slurp-tastic fare served up at the sleep, horseshoe-shaped bar, where customers are seated as each individual space frees up (in other words, don’t expect to sit with your friends and family!).
MUST TRY: The Tantanmen and savoury Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen with a side of Aji Tamago, the refreshing Hiyashi Chuka and the Karai Tokusei Tsukemen.
G/F, V Corporate Centre, 125 LP Leviste St., Salcedo Village. $$
Va Bene Pasta Deli
In this teeny gem above a gas station, chef Massimo Veronesi serves up arguably the best, eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head-delicious pasta in the metro.
MUST TRY: The Polipo (braised Octopus salad), Veal Cheeks Ravioli, Pappardelle featuring 12-hour braised-lamb shank, Organic eggs Tagliatelle and practically every item on the fresh pasta menu!
2/F, Petron Gas Station, EDSA, cor Pasay Rd, Dasmarinas Village. $$
The “only tequila bar in town” offers an impressive, mouth-watering array of tequilas and delicious Mexican grub (the owners are the same group behind cult favourite Tacos Chingones) and has an intimate yet festive vibe.
MUST TRY: The tacos and frozen margaritas. Or ask for a new tequila recommendation.
G/F, Sunnette Tower, Durban St, cor Makati Ave. $$$
Expect deceptively simple, dangerously addictive, ultra-juicy burgers with a secret sauce. Despite Sweet X’s modest, open-air set up, burger fans descend in droves on the hottest days to get their fix.
MUST TRY: The Double, Sriracha Lime Wings and Adult (aka spiked) Milkshakes.
10 Jupiter St, cor Asteroid St, Bel Air. $
In recent years, so many exciting new establishments have popped up along Aguirre Avenue in BF Homes that residents in the south no longer have to trek to Makati for a gastronomic adventure.
The Girl and The Bull
Culinary works of art with organic leanings in a chic space make this the ideal dining spot for foodies, a girls’ night out or a fancy date.
MUST TRY: Chicken Confit Bibimbap, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Grass-fed Beed Tenderloin and, for dessert, Faux Twix.
346 Aguirre Ave, BF Homes. $$
Magnum Opus Fine Coffees
The laid-back ambience and excellent, experimental brews from an intrepid team that wants to “change your perception of coffee” make this specialty coffee shop a favourite hangout in the south.
MUST TRY: The Belgian Heartbreaker with freshly melted dark Belgian chocolate and steamed milk.
2/F The Prime Building, 115 Aguirre Ave, BF Homes. $
Chef Tina Legarda serves up delectable concoctions and dishes from heirloom recipes at this cosy and charming restaurant.
MUST TRY: Artichoke Crostini, The Morning After Sandwichm, Capellini Seafood Aglio Olio, Le Cochon Sliders, Sangria de Charito and chocolate pie called What’s My Name Again? (’nuff said) for dessert.
55 Aguirre Ave, cor Arsenio Luz, BF Homes. $$
Carnivore heaven! The premise is simple at this neighbourhood meat-shop-cum-restaurant: Choose your meat, decide how you’d like it done, add some sides and dig in! Bonus points: Friendly, personalised service and quality meats priced a tad cheaper than at some supermarkets.
MUST TRY: The Wagyu Beef, The Angus Beef, Grass-fed Premium Beef and Pork Chops.
283 Aguirre St, BF Homes. $$
Restaurants come and go but this unassuming Japanese joint remains a well-loved haunt for both its authentic classics and inventive specialities. A big plus: A seasoned Japanese chef at the helm and fresh, quality seafood makes all the difference.
MUST TRY: Sepcial Chirashi Sushi, Wagyu Sashimi, Sukiyaki and Yakitori.
108 Aguirre Ave, BF Homes. $$
One of the main roads cutting across Teacher’s, UP and Sikatuna Villages in Quezon City, this street (and others nearby) has enthusiastically embraced its reputation for serving up great grub in a laid-back, almost bohemian setting. It even hosted a street food festival for the first tie last year as past of QC’s 75th anniversary celebrations. The roads have been widened to accommodate more vehicular traffic and since it’s near several schools and universities, there are many options for students on a budget.
This hole-in-the-wall inspired by the Indonesian warung (street food stall) is so affordable that you’d be hard-pressed to find an unoccupied Monobloc chair during the lunch and dinner swell.
MUST TRY: House specialty Ayam Goreng (fried chicken topped with deep-friend rice flour), Sate Ayam (chicken satay), Indonyaki Lumpia (vegetable spring rolls with turmeric and other spices).
54 Maginhawa St. $
Streat Maginhawa Food Park
An outdoor gathering of food stalls and food trucks offering a range of cuisines at student prices. Live acoustic performances are a big plus.
MUST TRY: Burritos from Mexikombi, juicy, 100% beef patties from the G.R.eat Burger Truck, hand-brewed coffee from Benguet beans ad waffles from Magpie Cafe, filling rice toppings from Saucy Food MNL.
91 Maginhawa St. $
Pino Restaurant Bar
While it looks more refined than your average Maginhawa eatery, Filipino meat-dish specialist Pino Resto Bar manages to maintain a fun and relaxed atmosphere, thanks in part to its bright interiors.
MUST TRY: Mini Sisig Tacos, Kare-Kareng Bagnet (air-dried and deep-fried pork belly) and Pino’s version of Kansi (beef bone marrow and vegetable stew).
39 Malingap St, Teacher’s Village – East. $$
Van Gogh Is Bipolar
Owner Jetro Rafael, who is bipolar, did intensive research on how certain foods affect the hormones in the brain. His restaurant has been serving full-course meals of mood-altering drinks and dishes since 2009. There are no set menus.
MUST TRY: The five course meal, including Courtney Love’s Potion (fruit-punch with watermelon, melon, mint, lemon, grapes and celery stalk).
Inner courtyard, 154H Maginhawa St, Sikatuna Village. $$$
Cool Beans Cafe
This java joint news beans from the Philippine Highlands and has a small library custom-made for bookworms in need of a quiet reading corner. There are light snacks such as paninis to go with your brew.
MUST TRY: The medium-light roast Kalinga, the dark roast Sagada and medium dark roast Benguet.
67A Maginhawa St, UP Village. $$
Read my article, 8 Unexpected Reasons to Visit the Philippines, for more tips.
Getting To and Around The Philippines
Cebu Pacific Airlines flies direct from Sydney to Manila five times a week. The no-frills carrier offers the cheapest flights from Sydney to Manila on the market. For more information, visit their website: https://www.cebupacificair.com/au-en
For more information on island-hopping and discovering the Philippines, head to the Australian Tourism Philippines website.
This article first appeared in the Cebu Pacific ‘Smile’ Magazine, July 2015 edition.
Stefanie Acworth was a guest of Cebu Pacific Airlines and the Philippines Tourism Board in August 2015. All opinions are her own.
Image of Le Petit Souffle via Jin Loves to Eat
Image of Streat Maginhawa Food Park via Travels with Gusto