As of this writing, these are my favorite restaurants. When compiling this list, I actually came up with 20 places, but whittled it down to my best 10. I am an expert on no one else’s taste except my own, and even that is constantly changing, so this list WILL be updated sometime this year. I know what I like and it makes me happy when others agree. If not, our different tastes are why there are so many restaurants that open (and close) in the metro every year. Of course, me being the dessert fanatic that I am, 3 of the 10 restaurants here are bakeshops or what I call sweet shops ”“ places where I get my dessert fix when it’s too late or I’m too lazy to make it myself. To my mind however, only the pastries I bake satisfactorily satisfy my lust for sugar. (This is unabashed self-admiration at its most hard core).
Here then, in no particular order, is my list of favorite restaurants. These are the places I go to when I’m in the mood for a “sure ball,” as my Bin calls it. That’s when I stray from my usual adventurous “drive 20 kilometers for a good meal” self and want a sure-fire guaranteed good meal. I hope that this list will prove helpful to whoever may need it, so feel free to forward this to your fellow foodies, but please acknowledge me. (Us writers love to see our bylines!) Manila denizens will note that there are no restaurants in their area. That’s because I’m hardly ever in Manila and I don’t know my way around there. So if you’re offering to be my culinary tour guide in Manila, I’d appreciate it.
Mr. Choi (2/F East Wing, Robinson’s Galleria)
This restaurant is right beside my gym (Gold’s) at Galleria, which may be why I and my gym buddies are there so often. They have the most unique sauce that comes with their siopao (2/order) ”“ it’s silky-tasting and black as night. Think hoisin sauce, but better. If you come here, you must order the siopao, if nothing else. They also have a good Japanese dimsum roll ”“ a nori wrapper encasing a pork/kani mixture, and a steamed fish filet served with heaps of fried garlic. Perfect for feeling virtuous after a workout! Stay away from the noodle soups or anything stock based. I find those dishes watery and tasteless.
Tang City (G/F, Glorietta 3, near Tower Records)
This restaurant is also beside my gym, this time in Glorietta. Yes, I’m most frequently there with my gym buddies and we pig out on the dimsum here, thinking that we’re eating healthy because the dimsum is steamed and comes in small servings (NOT!). I like the Japanese roll, siomai, beancurd skin roll (you have to try it to believe it), and the glutinous rice roll, which is really like malagkit rice encased in a siomai wrapper. Again, you have to see it to believe it. I really like their congee here, usually the shredded pork and meatball with an additional order of century egg, though that adds an extra P55. I’ve had the ho fan noodle dish here, and I love love love it — translucent noodles stir fried in sauce and meat. It’s absolutely gratifying for me, not to mention lots of child-like fun to slurp up these noodles, especially when I’m with an eating companion who doesn’t mind the extra noises. Tang is also known for their siopao, which has soup that you suck out with a straw. Fascinating, no? I haven’t tried it myself, and I’m wondering why it’s taking me so long. This place also specializes in crabs, but I’m always with cheapskates when I eat here (ha!) so I haven’t tried any of those either.
Mien-San (Gilmore St., after the Santolan-Ortigas intersection)
If there’s one place that is still packed to the brim at 11pm, it’s gotta be Mien-San. The Taiwanese owner cooks up down home tummy-filling dishes from his homeland, making me a convert in the process. His formula for serving substantial, tasty meals quickly and efficiently has made him so successful, but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at his restaurant. His signage has missing letters, and the telephone number listed there still has 6 digits! Aesthetics aside, go for the dumplings (steamed or fried, but I like steamed) in shrimp, vegetable, or pork. It comes with a dark vinegary sauce that I like to douse my rice with. Another fave is the spicy cha chang, chewy egg noodles glistening with a spicy dark sauce and mixed with plenty of what I believe to be minced tripe.
JT’s Manukan (also on Gilmore, near Mien-San)
My Bin came home late one night raving about this place, saying we had to go there ASAP. JT stands for Joel Torre, yes, the actor. Story goes that said actor went to Bacolod and ate at every manukan looking for the best chicken inasal. When he and his culinary cohorts found it, they pirated the chef and brought him back to Manila. Sneaky, eh? The result is JT’s Manukan. No fancy digs here, and it’s always crowded, plus the resultant pollution from Gilmore traffic may bother those with sensitive olfactory senses. But JT himself is almost always there. Persist, and pick your favored chicken parts (thigh, leg, wing, breast), and go for a few sticks of the liver (atay), which is paté-smooth and mouth-coating. Order lots of rice and the requisite chicken oil, a translucent orange liquid made from the rendered chicken fat colored with atsuete (annatto seeds). Can you spell c-h-o-l-e-s-t-e-r-o-l? Heck, yeah! Bring it on!
Uno (195 Tomas Morato corner Sct. Fuentebella, QC. Phone: 374-0774)
This restaurant was my refuge when I used to live in the Scout area in QC. It was also my default place to pick up bread or a dessert when I got a carbo or sugar crave. Uno is very quiet and subdued. B and I come here when I need to sob on his shoulder or when we’re feeling anti-social. Chef-owner Mari Relucio has a different menu every few months plus a daily special hand-written on the blackboard. I recommend the squash soup and any of the pasta dishes. I also become a bread monster when I’m there since the bread is baked on the premises and it’s ohsogood. Perhaps that’s why the service is so slow whenever I motion for more bread… Coffee is also good and so is the cheesecake (which is very light). I particularly like their puckery lemon tart.
Nippon (2/F Forum Bldg.,T.Morato cor Sct. Limbaga, QC. Phone: 927-0649)
Japanese restaurants are all starting to look and taste alike in the metro, but my current fave is Nippon. They have a smooth chawan mushi (Japanese egg custard), which is served hot and quivering in its delicateness. I could order just this and be happy.
Thai Kitchen (Tomas Morato, QC; 2/F East Wing, Robinson’s Galleria)
My default Thai place and to my mind, the cheapest and best. I start off with the Tom Yum Goong soup, and make my way through the bagoong rice (good for 2!), and the char kway teow. Their curry rice plates are always good and you can ask your server to increase the spice level if you so wish.
McCafé (branches in Glorietta, Makati Cinema Square, Eastwood, and Quezon Ave.)
This is my absolute favorite coffee shop in the metro, and I believe, also the most underrated. My friends and I call it Mac, and we are nuts for their pastries and coffee. Because I am more of the “would you like some coffee with your milk and sugar?” type, I revel in their Mochaccino and Café Latte. Should you order tea (green, please), they’ll give you your own pot, which keeps it nice and steamy while you sip and chat. Mac has a superlative drink called a Cocoa Steamer, a deep dark hot chocolate that is seductive and to my mind, the best hot chocolate on the planet. That’s saying a lot because I consider myself a hot chocolate connoisseur. Mac also serves a killer Honey Crunch Cake, a dense butter cake laced with buttercream and studded with sponge candy (waaaaaay better than Sugarhouse). Absolutely deadly and I absolutely love it. J likes the Chocolate Cake, which is the very first crunchy (!) chocolate cake I’ve ever had, as well as the Peach Tart. JJ likes the Banana Bread, and I agree. It’s dark and dense, qualities my own banana bread aspires to have.
New Bombay Canteen (G/F Sagittarius Bldg.Dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati)
From its humble digs at the Buendia Market, this homey Indian place has really come into its own. Owned by Indian émigrés, this is the restaurant to go to for truly authentic and affordable Indian food. (If you want show, go to Prince of Jaipur.) Have their spicy choleh (garbanzos in a thick brown sauce), chicken biryani and don’t forget the samosas.
Vanilla Bean (G/F Adamson Center Bldg., 121 Leviste St., Salcedo Village, Makati)
Come here for dessert after you eat at New Bombay. I blow my day’s calorie allowance on their Turtle Cake, which is a rich chocolate cake layered with caramel and generously topped with chocolate and pecans. Bobbie introduced me to their White Chocolate Cheesecake, which is a bestseller, as well as their coffee, which is served in those huge cups that you used to see on Friends. If you manage to finish one of those caffeinated babies, you’ll have enough energy to power a jeepney. K likes their apple pie although I find that it needs more apples (and crust!)