LIST: WHERE TO BRING YOUR BALIKBAYANS
They’re coming home! They spent the last year or more surviving on burgers and pepperoni pizza, chicken rice and chili crab, yoghurt dip and date nuts or whatever it is they eat in their part of the world, and they’re looking forward to Filipino Food with capital P’s.
Sure, let them eat at Max’s and Jollibee. Get some Mang Inasal with Unli-Rice. Finish off each meal at Via Mare with halo-halo, bibingka and puto bumbong. These are the joys they remember and the stuff of their dreams. But where do you take your returning family and friends to really celebrate and to let them know that Filipino cuisine has grown up and gotten even better?
1. ABÈ – Dishes that used to be LJC’s special take on Filipino standards have become standards themselves. Lamb Adobo. Binukadkad na Pla-pla. And, of course, you must order Knockout Knuckles because that which we call crispy pata, by any other name would taste as good. Of the six or so branches around Metro Manila, I like the ones at Alabang Town Center and Serendra.
2. MANAM – Speaking of special takes, Manam offers a choice between the classic recipe and the same dish with a twist. Sinigang na Beef Short Ribs & Watermelon. Watermelon?? As mothers everywhere have said, try it first! The Greenbelt branch feels cramped. Go to the big, airy restaurant on Fourth Avenue in BGC.
3. XO 46 HERITAGE – The big twist here is the waitstaff is required to speak exclusively in Filipino. Crispy pata is “Pinalutong na Pata” and Coke Zero, “Coke Bokya”. Ask a waiter to take the obligatory cellphone photo and he might say Isa … Dalawa… Tatlo. Ang tatay mo kalbo. Ok, he won't say the last thing, but something equally ridiculous. Gimmickry aside, the Lechon Cebu con Salsa Oliva is deliciously sinful. Try it at the SM Aura and Estancia locations.
4. LOCAVORE – Ranked #1 in my survey of our four family members, Locavore started at, of all places, Brixton Street in Pasig but it has certainly hit the big time. You can have some fun with the celebrity names of the waitresses, but it’s really about the food. The Sizzling Sinigang is a visual delight and has a unique umami flavor (according to a friend who knows about flavors). Also try the Boneless Lechon Belly and Fried Oyster Sisig at the sosyal branch at the Conrad Hotel.
5. SENTRO 1771 – They claim to be the First in Modern Filipino Cuisine. Could be. Surely they’re the only ones who let you test the sourness of the sinigang before they serve it, which is great because I like soup to cut a track down my throat. (Gumuguhit.) They’re also the only ones who elevate galunggong into a restaurant entrée. The staff at the Capitol Commons branch will let you sit and eat all day.
6. PAMANA – Modern is great, but sometimes you want Filipino food as it has been lovingly prepared for generations. The heirloom recipes of Pamana include the original Barrio Fiesta crispy pata and kare-kare and much more in settings heavily laden with nostalgia. I prefer the Mother Ignacia branch over the bistro version in Makati which can get noisy.
7. THE PANTRY – Technically not a Filipino restaurant, but since The Pantry at the Dusit Thani Hotel has fresh whole lechon roasted on site for lunch every day, I believe it deserves recognition here. I think the buffet offers Indian and Chinese food, too, but did I mention the whole lechon?
Well, that’s my list. I was not paid by any of the restaurants mentioned. If you have any other suggestions for balikbayans, let me know. I’m always happy to eat at some place new. I’m always happy to eat. Period.