Eating out in Manila, Philippines
With its wide range of influences from Spain, America and China just to name a few, Filipino cuisine is certainly one that does not lack variety.
We’ve listed some of the places below that we enjoyed and recommend a visit to if you are in Manila. Some aren’t necessarily traditional Filipino cuisine as such, however we felt that it represented the diverse food culture and palate in the Philippines.
Filipino Restaurants & Chains
UP Town Centre, Katipunan Avenue UP Diliman Campus Quezon City
Although Crisostomos is a restaurant chain, they have managed to maintain their authenticity and do Filipino food justice. They do a serious pinakbet which is a vegetable dish sautéed in shrimp paste, as well as crispy pata; pork trotters deep fried to delicious crispiness. They also offer an extensive beverage menu consisting of imported wines from Australia and Chile, spirits and local cervezas- an excellent way to wash down your feast.
If you are keen to try some local favourite sweets, a visit to the popular food chain Goldilocks will satisfy the sweet tooth in everyone. Try the sans rival (a cashew, buttercream and meringue layer cake), and the decadent brazo de mercedes (a soft meringue roll filled with creamy custard filling). Although Goldilocks specialises in desserts, some branches also offer a range of traditional Filipino savoury dishes if you wanted a complete meal out of your visit.
I have yet to meet a fellow carnivore who doesn’t enjoy fried chicken. Whether you’re a wing, thigh or drumstick kinda person, if you want to try it the Filipino way, Max’s Restaurant should probably be one of your first stops as the institution is famed for it.
The setting is very casual and you can order other traditional Filipino dishes for variety. We recommend trying the fried chicken (served with a good dollop of banana ‘catsup’) and the kare kare; a peanut based casserole served with shrimp paste.
If you want to sample a variety of traditional Filipino food without breaking the budget, a visit to Cabalen is a good idea. It is an all you can eat buffet chain restaurant akin to the Sizzler of the Philippines specialising in food from the Pampanga province. Try the crispy kang kong and for the more adventurous – the pork sisig.
Greenwich Pizza is another popular Filipino chain serving western style food with a Filipino twist. The chain is famous for their pizzas, but also serve the typical favourites such as spaghetti and fried chicken.
We took a detour from Subic to Manila to stop by the famed Razons in Pampanga. We heard there were two star dishes to try here; the iced sweet treat ‘halo halo’ and palabok, a seafood based noodle dish. We arrived near closing time so the kitchen was closed and we didn’t get to try the latter, but the staff kindly accommodated our request for halo halo’s.
You would be hard pressed to find a Filipino that didn’t enjoy this sweet concoction of crushed ice, evaporated milk and sweet toppings. The Razons version was a simple blend of crushed ice, coconut strings, creme caramel and creamy evaporated milk. After a long hot day, it didn’t disappoint. If you can’t make the journey to Pampanga where the original Razons is, there are several scattered throughout Manila as the Razons brand has now become a chain- a testament to its popularity.
Timberland Sports and Nature Club Quezon City
With a spectacular vista over Manila and a rare setting amongst greenery, Timberland Sports and Nature Club has their location on point. We had lunch here on invitation by a local member where we had the option of eating a buffet lunch or ordering a la carte. We enjoyed the bbq pork belly with green mango and shrimp paste salad. Make sure you head over to the balcony for an awesome view of the Manila skyline.
Market Market, Bonifacio Global City
If you’re not game enough to explore the ‘palengkes’ (markets) in Manila, but still want to have a taste of the local experience – Market Market in Bonifacio Global City has stalls set up resembling one. There is a large mall with retail space selling clothing and other products, and outdoors a food court and flower, fruits and vegetable markets.
The space is very commercialised and will only offer a very diluted version of the authentic market experience you will otherwise get in places like Divisoria, however if you’re in the area its worth checking out to sample the local produce (which in my opinion, looked more appetising than Divisoria!).
You will probably see less of the big yellow arches and more of the jovial striped bee around Manila- or Philippines for that matter. Its menu is very similar to its American competition; offering burgers, spaghetti, fries, and fried chicken. Order the chicken joy with rice and gravy for some tasty hangover food on the cheap.
Some people will probably tell you that no foodie journey is complete without sampling some of the local street food. They are probably right, however being an overcautious traveller, I missed out on a lot of the street food and was only game to try it once. I tried a warm dessert made of glutinous rice and purple yam topped with coconut and sugar – ‘puto bumbong’, which is apparently a Christmas favourite. If you are more game than I, some of the popular street foods we did see whilst in Philippines were, balut (fertilised duck egg), bbq pork sticks, grilled chicken intestines and fish balls.
Not quite Filipino
Spiral Buffet, Sofitel
CCP Complex Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City
We stayed at the stylish Sofitel for 2 nights so were treated to the breakfast buffet that came with our accommodation, and paid to try the lunch buffet.
The breakfast session had a dizzying variety of food with classic continental menu consisting of breads, cheese and fruits, set up alongside Chinese dim sums, steamed buns, and Japanese miso soup and sushi. However, being in the Philippines, the best atelier station for breakfast was probably the traditional Filipino section, carb loading with all kinds of delicious longonisas, beef tapas, chicken noodle soup, fried fish, salted duck eggs and fried garlic rice. For lunch, the seafood selection was a letdown for me as the bugs and prawns didn’t taste as fresh as they looked. However, the peking duck and Indian stations were a highlight, as well as the fromagerie which was all kinds of impressive, housing a selection of quality fine cheese and cold cuts to satisfy my gluttony.
Make sure you arrive with an empty stomach to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Round 1 of our feast at Spiral Buffet // Sunset outside the Sofitel
Meat Plus Cafe
Sampson Rd, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo, Philippines
An unexpected delight, Meat Plus Cafe’s interiors are reminiscent of an old 60s American diner – not surprising considering Subic Bay was a former American military base and these days has the occasional naval ship docking on its shores. The diner/cafe isn’t located in Manila, but if you are doing a day trip to Subic Bay from Manila, its a good place to stop over.
The menu is a continuation of the diner theme, however catering to Filipino tastes with rice as an alternative to mash or fries as the accompanying carb of choice. We ordered a cheeseburger with a side of fries, and a T bone steak served with rice, gravy and steamed vegetables. We highly recommend the steak, perfectly tender with a nice hint of pink.
Extremely Xpresso Cafe
1 Dewey Ave, Olongapo
This quaint little cafe set amongst palm trees in Subic seemed like a popular hangout for day trippers and locals alike with the cafe at full capacity by midday. The lunch menu included pizzas, pastas and burgers but we settled with a couple of teas and dessert which were reasonably priced. Again, another cafe not located in Manila but another good place to stopover for Subic daytrippers.
Ling Nam Noodles
616 T Alonzo St. Sta. Cruz, Manila
The steady hum of the air conditioning, clinks of cutlery and loud slurps of the diners are the main sounds you’ll hear at Ling Nam noodles. The delicious bowl of noodles is a conversation stopper- all you’ll want to do is savour the flavoursome broth and tender chunks of beef brisket. We ordered one bowl each of the wonton and beef, and one plain beef noodle soup.
Serving sizes are on the smaller side, but this just means that you’ll have more room for dessert, or if you’re keen, another bowl of this good stuff.
Masuki Mami Restaurant
931 Benavidez St., Binondo
We visited Masuki Mami restaurant to try their special siopao (steamed bun) on recommendation by a local. The steamed bun is quite big and is filled with salted egg and asado pork. The filling is tasty enough, but the bun is accompanied by a side of sweet dipping sauce for the condiment aficionados.
At a wallet friendly 85 pesos for the special steamed bun with pork and salted egg and 55 pesos for the regular steamed bun sans salted egg, it’s chump change for a delicious merienda or appetiser.
Pull apart, dunk, eat, repeat.
Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City
This funky little ramen restaurants name gives it all away – they specialise in ramen of the not so authentic kind. If you’re a Japanese food purist you will probably want to stop.reading.now.
We ordered the Tonkotsu ramen, one light and the other rich to taste the difference. Although the ‘light’ version was so called, it still delivered a pretty thick broth full of flavour. The ramen servings were generous so be prepared and come in with an appetite!
Tamarind Thai Restaurant
L5, Fort Bonifacio SM Aura Premier, 26th St. Taguig City
Thai food is probably one of our favourite cuisines and and our takeaway staple. After spending 3 weeks in Philippines, we were craving some Thai comfort food. Located on the rooftop of SM Aura the cosy and warm interior filled with earthy woody tones, sets a nice ambience for the restaurant. We feasted on a warm eggplant salad, fried fish with tamarind sauce, squid with cilantro and of course the classic pad thai, finished off with a dessert of sticky rice, sweet mango with coconut milk. I couldn’t fault any of the dishes, and this was probably one of my favourite meals during our visit to Manila.
The amazing food at Tamarind, Taste of Thai restaurant
L5 Fort Bonifacio SM Aura Premier, 26th St. Taguig City
Its no surprise that the first NBA Cafe in the world is located in the Philippines. The basketball mad nation has a passionate spirit and love of the game.
The gimmicky restaurant is flanked by several screens with the NBA channel on show, murals of fave teams in action and houses some other pretty impressive NBA memorabilia. The food menu consists of classic American grill faire with the highlight for us being the teriyaki braised pulled pork sliders and classic cheese burger.
Ask for the window seat so you can enjoy views over Manila and maybe spot a basketball court or two from above.
City of Dreams Manila, Aseana Boulevard Corner Macapagal Avenue, Entertainment City
If you’re like me and see a restaurant specialising in different Asian cuisine, I tend to think it will disappoint. Red Ginger however, proved to be an exception and although offer an extensive oriental menu, the array of South East Asia’s finest from Thailand, Malaysia, China and Vietnam was surprisingly good. Most of the plates are meant for sharing so we ordered a variety. We highly recommend the salt and pepper tofu, smokey char kway teow and chicken wings with sticky chilli jam.