Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
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Sweet Pampanga

posted by in Food Tripping

My sisters and I grew up going to Pampanga — my mom is from there and we would visit my lolo every weekend. Little did I (we!) know that the then-quiet, mall-less city would bloom into a culinary destination — or has it always been and I was the one who became more aware? Well ok, Capampangans are generally known to be the best cooks in the country so it was inevitable that Pampanga would soon boast of a plethora of dining establishments. Here are a few of my favorites.

Zapata’s

Zapata's (1)

Manila desperately needs a good Mexican restaurant. Mexicali is decent, Chilly Willy’s (at Robinson’s Pioneer) isn’t. Until something happens to change this or I get to Agave (at Eastwood Mall) – whichever comes first, my fellow Mexican-food fan sisters and I motor all the way to Zapata’s. We always say that we’ll try another restaurant whenever we go to Pampanga, but the pull of terrific, soul-satisfying Mexican food is just too strong.

Zapata's combi plate

As Mexican as it can get in terms of décor, Zapata’s is named after Emiliano Zapata Salazar (August 8, 1879–April 10, 1919), a leader in the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Yellowed blow-ups of the man dot the walls, accompanied by large guitars, kitschy plastic chili peppers, and the requisite oversized sombreros. The restaurant always makes us feel that the long drive is worth it, and apparently, a lot of other Manilans do too, since the place is almost always full especially on weekends. The female servers are very pleasant, peppering their conversation with Spanish words like “gracias,” and “de nada.”

cheese quesadillas

nachos

chips and salsa

Mexican hamburger

A plate of warm tortilla chips with a cold bowl of salsa paired with cheese quesadillas is a rejuvenating starter and then we move on to combination plates of burritos (choices of chicken, beef, beans and cheese) and enchiladas. Each combi plate comes with refried or whole beans and Mexican red rice or plain rice if you prefer. The fajitas are also excellent as are the tacos (fish or soft), a Mexican burger for those not so inclined to Mexican food, and of course, chili con carne. We always order the strawberry margaritas as well, they’re ice-cold and tangy and perfect with just enough salt lining the rim.

strawberry margarita

Zapata’s
480 Don Juico Ave, Clarkview Angeles City (Right on the perimeter road adjacent to Clark)
(045) 892-0859
E-mail: joecrow@mozcom.com
Closed on Mondays.

A La Crème

A la Creme's ube cake

A reader of my website gave me the heads up on A La Crème after reading my post on ube cake. “It’s so different from all the ube cakes I’ve come across,” she writes. “…texture is dense, and it has macapuno and walnuts!” After getting lost trying to find the place –MacArthur Highway is so gosh-darn-it long! — but finally stumbling upon it and trying the ube cake, it’s everything she says it is. Definitely heavier than that of Red Ribbon, it’s made extra special with bits (though very few) of macapuno and the ube buttercream filling is dotted with chopped walnuts.

chocolate sin

The servers recommend the Chocolate Sin to me, a cake with alternating layers of mousse and sheets of a walnut-encrusted chocolate cake. Impressive though it looks, it’s not my thing because I’m not big on mousse. But what I really like is the Belgian Chocolate Cake, the store’s version of a decadent chocolate cake. It’s so dense that it sticks to the roof of my mouth and it’s imbued with a deep chocolate flavor, not to mention that it also weighs a ton in one hand!

chocolate cake

A La Crème
*Alcon Bldg., MacArthur Highway, Angeles City
(045) 888.2303 / 322.2745

*CTH Bldg., MacArthur Highway, San Fernando City
(045) 861.0829 / 961.7624

*3933 MacArthur Highway, Balibago, Angeles City
(045) 892.1205 / 332.1593

Aurely’s

Aurelia Miranda Yap is credited with teaching luminaries in the local baking industry, people who now run Goldilocks, The Pastry Bin, Red Ribbon, etc. I called her Lola Els, and though she’s passed on, I was lucky to have had one baking session with her in the earlier days of my food writing career. Her niece (if I’m not mistaken), put up a bakeshop several years ago called Aurely’s, and all the pastries sold there were based on Lola Els’ recipes.

Aurely’s now has three branches in Pampanga. The original one still stands on B. Mendoza St., the same street where my lolo’s house used to stand on. One of the windows looked out onto Aurely’s which was just across the street, and come merienda (snack) time, my sisters and I would scamper over and choose our sweet for the day. My sisters and I have fond memories of the yema balls, the old fashioned sort where the custard is formed into a ball and then dipped into hot sugar which then caramelizes. Peeling off the cellophane wrapper was sheer agony since it stubbornly clung to the hardened sugar, but oh! how sweet success was when we popped the yema ball into our mouth and heard the triumphant crunch of the sugar melting away to reveal its soft, custardy center. I still remember the taste sensation of gritty sugar melding with smooth yolk.

Aurely's Special

On our most recent trip back to Pampanga, my sister, Tricia, and I are disappointed that the yema balls aren’t the same as we remembered them to be. Margarine has replaced butter and the yema balls are noticeably smaller (or is it that my sister and I are all grown-up now?) Whatever it is, I took solace in a new treat called Aurely’s Special. Also known as the inside out brazo de mercedes, it’s squares of whipped egg whites topped with yema. It’s perfect for people like me who think that the only reason to eat brazo de Mercedes is the yellow custard ensconced within. With this inverted brazo, it’s just a matter of scrape and slide (into the mouth).

Aurely’s
Main: B. Mendoza St., San Fernando, Pampanga
(045) 961.5607

San Agustin, San Fernando, Pampanga (2 branches along this stretch)
(045) 961.1006
(045) 963.5726

32 Responses to “Sweet Pampanga”

  • Zapata’s is FANTASTIC! I agree…there really needs to be a real, authentic Mexican restaurant in the city. There really is nothing worth savoring here at the moment! Someone come up with one already! ;)

    I also agree that Zapata is definitely worth the drive out to :) I love their Enchiladas and their freshly made pico de gallo (which you have to specially request for!) Just thinkin about it makes me want to hop in the car and head out there!

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  • I love Zapata’s. My friend from Angeles brought us there once and I love the food! (Also, it’s my namesake :-) ). I want to go back and try the other items on the menu one of these days.

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  • I really need to go to Pampanga soon.

    Food-wise, there is just so much happening there. It’s getting hard to ignore.

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  • Dang it, we were supposed to eat in Zapatas or that famous italian place (whats it called again?) the other week but we ended up in bleah pizza place with square pizzas and sisig (?).

    at least i found cold spoon yogurt which was pretty yummy.

    thanks for the review!

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    melisa Reply:

    the famous Italian place is called C’

    hmmm… square pizzas and sisig, Didi’s?

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  • I agree with the sad state of Mexican food in Manila — my hubby is a big fan so we are continually on the lookout. We love Zapatas! We consider the trek to Pampanga well worth it for their Mexican food :)

    So much food-wise is happening in that area…a fantastic place to explore!

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  • i love aurely’s buko pie! but it’s been a while since i had it last. on my way to subic last weekend, i passed by susie’s cuisine in san fernando to try its famous kakanin. i liked the pichi-pichi but was disappointed in the mochi.

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  • What a coincidence! Some of us were just in Pampanga a little over a week ago. We tried to buy Aurely’s Special, but it was out of stock, along with a few other things we’d wanted to purchase. :-( However, it was still worth the drive for the hearty soul food at Cottage Kitchen. Have you been there? Cornbread, grits, biscuits (not as good as yours, but decent), ham hock, gumbo…like Mexican, Cajun food’s also impossible to find a *good* restaurant of in Manila. And if you ever tear yourself away from Zapata’s (which I’ve yet to try, but hope to ASAP), go to C’ Italian Dining. I know, with all the great Italian restos in Manila, why go to one in Pampanga? But they have dishes I don’t see here, like the endless flavors of panizza and the colorful, flavorful special risotto. They make their own gelato, too. I’m so happy we’re going back to Pampanga this Saturday, so that I can assuage the cravings brought on by your post! :-)

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  • I’m from Pampanga and I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t gone through all these wonderful places in our province. I know, shame on me :) I blame it to the difficulty in going to these places from where we live. ;) thanks ms lori for sharing these.

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  • I agree that we definitely need good Mexican restaurants. What is know as Mexican food is actually TEX-MEX. The dishes that you mentioned such as Chili con carne, fajitas, Mexican burger do not exist in the Mexican menu. They are created in the US especially around Texas. What we consider as “Tacos” is very different from the real Mexican tacos. Maybe what most people want is a good TEX-Mex restaurant like CHILIS located in . Am not too sure Filipinos will real Mexican food.

    Too bad Zapatas is so far away from Manila.

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  • Another Capampangan foodie find is Nathaniel’s. It’s near the intersection beside isuzu motors. I’ve heard that it has a branch in QC now. Their buko pandan is a must-try!

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  • I wish we had a decent Mexican restaurant in Manila. I liked the little kiosk that used to be at the food court in Greenbelt (3?). The food court near the cinema and time zone. too bad that’s gone.

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  • hi lori! i love pampanga! its every pinoy foodie’s haven! a couple more places where you should visit particularly in angeles are: ac rumpa (we love their ribs!!), rosing’s near nepo mall for yummy pastillas, nathaniels (in san fernando) has really good puto pao and buko pandan, junjun’s bbq, tollhouse’s baked mac and susie’s kakanin

    hmm.. ill think of more food stops :)

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  • I’m also frustrated with the sorry state of Mexican food in Manila. My fiance and I love Mexican food and we’ve been praying for something like Manana in Boracay (cantina-style) or Rosa Mexicano in NY (trendy mexican eatery) to pop-up in the metro. We’ve tried Chilly Willy’s too and were extremely disappointed with the food. What ever happened to Tequila Joe’s? I remember when it opened in the late 90’s, the food was not bad (not authentic, but pretty tasty) and the cocktails were great.

    I really hope someone fills in this void in our foodscape soon. Chicken Enchiladas and Carne Asado, please!

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  • Thanks for these tips! I hope to catch that inside out brazo de mercedes next time I’m in the area. More power to you!

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  • lekker! dank je wel, lori! :P

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  • try the burger in ala creme:)

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  • you should try Corazon ahaha it’s one of the best!

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  • those are truly good pictures. did you take them?

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  • Hi Lori,
    I make it a point to eat at Ala Creme whenever we are in San Fernando. Their cakes, tuna rolls and salads are just so good. Nathaniel’s has yummy macapuno tarts,siomai and buko pandan. Aurely’s buko pie is one of the best. The neighboring town of Mexico has one of the best San Nicolas cookies baked by Lilia Pineda. While in Guagua, La Moderna’s tostadong mamon is still the best….

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  • you did not include C?! guaranteed the best italian food :-)

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  • hi chef lori! does dessertcomesfirst have a friendster or multiply account that i can add? hehe i’m a dessert enthusiast myself and i couldn’t resist checking and reading your blogs everytime i turn the pc on :) anyways, more power and hope to see more pics of yumyum food on your site! thanks :) God bless

    P.S. the ube cake looks so delish! (deli-cious hehe)

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  • i agree the food is really masarap in zapatas. i stay in angeles several months every winter so i eat there often.im swedish by the way

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  • A la creme’s ube cake and sinful cake are the best! I agree that some of Aurely’s baked goodies have gone smaller in size, but they are still delicious anyway. I love their Buco Pie. You should also try their Banana Crunch ;) I’m excited to try Aurely’s Special :)

    I love Razon’s idea of combining (only) macapuno, saging na saba, leche flan, ice and milk into one delicious Halo-Halo, super sarap! Nathaniel’s Buco Pandan salad is as yummy as Mequeni’s Cheesecake. :)

    Thanks for your post! I look forward to dining at Zapata’s one of these days ;)

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  • Hi! i’ve always loved reading your entries… im also a foodie-fan, and a capampangan. a la creme’s sinful chocolate and belgian chocolate cakes are really the best! im also a fan of their mud pie.

    havent tried zapata’s. for italian, i recommend C! in clark…

    looking forward to all your top ten lists, and all the mouth watering, tummy-gurgling entrees…este entries! more power ms lori! =)

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  • oh yes, that chocolate sinful cake is sooo good. very very rich, u can only eat little bit at a time. definitely the best!

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  • there’s an Italian restaurant in hensonville and it serves very delicious italian food..Asti’s Restaurant. It’s better than other italian restaurants. you should try it. definitely yummy!

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  • My family is from Angeles Pampanga. I love all the above restaurants and bakeries. Zapatas I think is a gem in the city as comparibly its probably the best mexican food ive tasted than in London!! As for Aurelys I LOVE their banana cakes and empanadas…oh how i feel quite homesick!!

    Theres a resto called C’s Italian Dining very near to Zapatas. Pricey but very good!

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  • hi! :) if you get to come back to angeles again, there’s a new entertainment place there in Balibago called the courtyard. Its actually a row of restaurant & bars with bands at night. Try the Las Fajitas Taqueria there,they serve mexican food that’s really good! They open starting 5 but starting this march they’ll serve lunch too! :) I wont go back to Zapata’s anymore since the management & owners are so mean they made us leave one time when it was full & we weren’t even done yet! Never again..

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  • hi! mind telling me where to get good cream puffs with the hard caramel sauce on top??? thanks

    and while you’re at it, where could i also get good cheesecake (particularly chocolate)

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  • @ Ana, try the cream puffs at Dalcielo, a new cafe and pastry shop that opened very recently at Lopez Avenue, Los Banos, Laguna, near UP Los Banos. The General Manager, Marissa de Jesus, was once among the first GM’s of Italianni’s before she moved to California and managed bakeshops there. She’s back in the Philippines and put up the store with some partners–the shop has killer Cream Puffs with caramel on top, which has quickly become their carrier product. If its too far for you, I’ll gladly bring some to Manila. You may order on their Facebook page: facebook.com/dalcieloLB.

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  • I love panizzas and pasta at C’s and I love the place as well.

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