The Best Restaurants in the Philippines

Filipino food is a grand stew of flavors and styles developed across the Southeast Asian country’s 7,000 islands. Flavors often lean toward sour in savory dishes (the country is a vinegar fan’s delight) and, on the dessert front, the sweet relief from the heat that halo halo and ice cream treats provide. But you’ll also see the influence of many other countries’ flavors in the mix, from Spanish cuisine to Chinese. The restaurant scene ranges from relaxed open air spots that focus on local food to high-end dining at resorts. If food is your top reason to travel, consider sticking around the capital for several days. Many restaurants in Manila are becoming household names around the world.

Milkyway, 900 Antonio Arnaiz Ave, Makati, 1200 Metro Manila, Philippines
Halo-halo is a popular everyday dessert whose name is a Tagalog word meaning “mix.” It’s composed of many ingredients, including various beans, fruits, and jelly-like coconut-based sweets. These toppings are put over a big bowl of shaved ice with milk; finally, the mixture is topped with a slice of leche flan (cream custard) and ube (purple yam). Some versions also incorporate gelatin, cheese, or pinipig (crispy rice), though nothing beats adding a scoop of ube ice cream on top. The proper way to eat halo-halo is to stir it up first so that each spoonful includes many ingredients and gives you a taste and texture explosion. Halo-halo is available everywhere, from public markets and local food chains to ice cream bars and the most luxurious hotel restaurants. But serious connoisseurs go for the classic one at the Milky Way Café. The eatery has been serving halo-halo for more than 40 years, and their iteration boasts 20 premium house-made ingredients and ice that is finely shaved using a hand crank.
One Mango Mall, General Maxilom Ave, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines
Arriving alone and hungry in the Philippines, I checked into my hotel and immediately asked for a dinner recommendation. After some thought by the staff, I was directed to Zubuchon for some authentic Filipino food; but not just any food: Lechon. And not even just lechon, but what Anthony Bourdain suggested is the “best pig...ever.” This perfectly prepared pig keeps its moisture generously covered and insulated with a layer of pork belly fat. Unfortunately, for some reason, I was not able to purchase a piece of pork less than ½ kilo. So, that is what I ordered. Perhaps I should have given the menu a closer look and ordered from the selection of “Fast Meals” that appear to be better suited for one. Before I ran off with my ½ kilo of pig, the server suggested I also try a Kamias Shake which paired with the pork better than any wine pairing I have had with a meal! The tart, but not quite sour, beverage brought out all the nuances of the lechon. Back at my hotel, I was unable to stop myself from eating all ½ kilo of meat - and heading to bed that evening completely stuffed. Try the lechon in the Philippines. And make sure you have Zubuchon at least once!
Provincial Capitol Complex Cadlan, Pili, Camarines Sur, Philippines
Had the tastiest Laing Pizza during a trip to CamSur (Camarines Sur), Bicol Region, Philippines. This is a great example of fusion food which combines an Italian pizza with a very local Filipino dish called Laing. Laing is a dish made of gabi (taro) stem and leaves and coconut milk, which originated from the Bicol Region. Since Bicol is one of the few regions in the Philippines that love to eat spicy food, Laing is heavily spiced with siling labuyo (red hot chilies). Different versions have come about adding a bit of bagoong (fermented shrimp) or meat to the dish. With the Laing Pizza we ate, the spicyness of the Laing combined with the gooey cheese of the Pizza simply wakes up those taste buds! I would definitely want to go back for more :-) You can try this at the cafe inside Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Camarines Sur, which is a popular venue for several world events involving wakeboarding. You can also do some wakeboarding yourself or get some lessons if you’ve never tried it. It’s fun! There are several accommodation options inside the complex from budget to high end.
San Antonio, Pasig, Kalakhang Maynila, Philippines
Visiting the Philippines without trying “Halo Halo” won’t be complete. Everytime I have friends or relatives from abroad come visit, I would bring them out to have Halo Halo. Halo Halo came from the Tagalog word for “mix” which is what it is. Halo Halo is a favorite dessert among Filipinos and is made up of a many ingredients such as beans (kidney beans, garbanzos, red beans), fruits (plantain bananas, jackfruit) and coconut based jelly-like desserts (sugar palm or kaong, nata de coco made from coconut juice). Then lots of shaved ice and milk are placed over it. And finally, topped with a small slice of leche flan (the local version of cream custard) and ube yam (purple yam). Some versions also top it with some gelatin, cheese and pinipig (crispy rice). Oh, and a special one comes with a scoop of ice cream on top. My favorite flavor would be Ube :-) But wait, we’re not yet done yet! The proper way to eat it is to MIX it up first so that each spoonful gives you an explosion of taste of each and every ingredient :-) The best ones are from the public markets, but you can also get these at the most luxurious hotel restaurants. My recommendation: go to something in between :-) Icebergs (a local ice cream and snack bar chain), Chow King (a local food chain), and Razon’s (a local family owned establishment) all offer great halo halo at great prices too. There are a lot of branches, and are either stand-alone restaurants or stalls located in the mall food courts.
National Rd, Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
This is the saying on one of the signs inside the Honesty Cafe, a small little cafe near the port in Ivana, Batanes. Joe and Elena own this place and because they were so busy with many other chores elsewhere, they often had to leave their little cafe which eventually turned into a self-service cafe, where even the payment for the food, drinks or souvenir items you want to get are done by dropping them into a box just sitting on the countertop. Thus, the birth of Honesty Coffee Shop where Honesty is the Best Policy. Some of the other interesting reminders posted inside the cafe :) 1) Get what you need 2) Please pay for whatever you get 3) If you have no change, knock at the next door. If no one answers, sorry, so you give more than the price. But the Lord will give you more later on. May your tribe increase!
Cubao Expo, 3 General Romulo Ave, Cubao, Quezon City, 1109 Metro Manila, Philippines
If you’re craving for Italian food in Manila, and love those little quaint places, you should visit this place. It’s not in your usual tourist areas, it’s located in Cubao Expo in Cubao, Quezon City, about 20 km from Makati. The Cubao area is more known to the locals as it houses a large wet market, as well as to the sports and live concert enthusiasts who attend events at the popular Araneta Coliseum. In the past, kids loved this area too as there used to be a large indoor carnival. Recently, the commercial area has been rehabilitated, and now also includes a large upscale mall and hypermarket. The owner of Bellini’s is an Italian married to a Filipina and both of them are heavily involved in their restaurant business since 1999. Their food is great as they are all freshly made and uses quality ingredients. Try the beef carpaccio, the pizza is excellent too and I also love their pasta. I also love the decor, they put together some Italian icons on the walls and ceilings and even has a mini Tower of Pisa inside the restaurant :-) After your meal, you can also explore Cubao Expo, which includes small stores selling arts and other quirky stuff. It also has a weekend flea market. If you prefer more upscale shopping, you can go the nearby Gateway Mall.
36 Polaris, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines
Makati’s Salcedo Village is abuzz with the energy of Manila’s creative circle. The coffee at Commune, undoubtedly, fuels this buzz. The community-minded café is a hub of activity at all times: Mornings see neighbors schlepping in for their sleepy breakfast fix, lunch hour is packed with multi-taskers having a meeting while tucking into the local Filipino menu. By mid-afternoon, the space fills with freelancers typing away, rewarding themselves with custom cupcakes while in the background, fashionistas pose for selfies with Commune’s popular 3D latte art. The post-dinner crowd saunters in for a second caffeinated wind paired with warm, homemade apple pie and conversation. The vibe here is casual and friendly. But most importantly, the coffee is potent. Commune salutes its community by using locally sourced and roasted coffee beans. Meanwhile, their drinks are served up in beautifully handcrafted pottery mugs. (I wanted to smuggle one home. In every color!) When in Manila, get to know Salcedo Village, starting at Commune. Because when you’re here, though you may just be a visitor, you’ll feel right at home.
If you haven’t tried the Philippine Lechon, it’s basically roasted suckling pig. The pig is roasted whole over open fire for hours and it’s a favorite celebration food for Filipinos. The best part of the lechon of course, is the crispy skin, which is also the most challenging to serve. Folks would often fight to have a piece of it, but it’s never enough for everyone :-) The traditional version is simple and the meat is dipped in sweet pork liver sauce. I used to remember after every party we have, my mom would take the leftovers including the bones and make it into a stew called “paksiw” with the same liver sauce for the next day’s meal. When you head to Cebu though, the lechon there is roasted with herbs and spices that make the lechon meat a little bit saltier than the traditional version. They are eaten as is, or with some vinegar and chilis. The same crispy skin is what people enjoy too. As people’s taste change over the years, the traditional lechon has also evolved. Today, you can have a lechon with just the prime lechon belly meat without the bones and pig head served in front of you :-) And now, they even made a spicy version to it. Somehow, this makes the skin extra crispy and that’s what we all love about the lechon. Don’t miss this, even Anthony Bourdain had to try it :-) Innovation brings new tastes, but I think people love traditions so maybe I’d go back to my original whole lechon, to which I associate with happy eating and happy celebrations! :)
Pamalican Island, Sulu Archipelago, Agutaya, Palawan, Philippines
Amanpulo occupies its own island in the Cyuo Archipelago, where members of the animal kingdom outnumber humans by some comical order of magnitude. Adding to the resort’s castaway cred is the private airstrip, where guests land after a quick flight from Manila. When not communing with the islet’s dozens of resident bird species or carefully avoiding nesting sea turtles, visitors can dive among the countless colorful denizens in the adjacent marine park, sail to neighboring islands, or hide out under the seashell-tiled ceilings at the spa (don’t miss the Hilot massage, which features warm banana leaves and cold-pressed coconut oil). Those interested in the local cuisine can even pick their own ingredients in the resort’s organic garden and have the chef whip up a feast. Don’t leave without at least one peek through the island’s refracting telescope, which makes the epic night sky look hallucinatory.
Ayala Avenue corner Makati Avenue, Makati City, 1200 Metro Manila, Philippines
A city within a city, Makati is Manila’s poshest shopping, business, and nightlife district. At the Makati Shangri-La, guests have amazing access to—and respite from—all of the above, including the malls that have made the neighborhood a retail pilgrimage site. After settling in, walk over to Glorietta, where you’ll find everything from high-end beauty boutiques to a family-run pawn shop and multiple Starbucks for good measure. Some of Manila’s best restaurants are also located in Makati, but the Shangri-La’s own Shang Palace is so beautiful and beloved, you won’t want to miss the experience if you have even the slightest interest in Cantonese food. As for the aforementioned breathing space on the guest floors, it starts with the waterfall you’ll pass en route to your room and ends with the custom-appointed bed in your plush, spacious surroundings. Go for one of the Deluxe Suites and you’ll also enjoy panoramic views of the bustle you’ve just left behind.
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