Contrary to what many people think, Manila is a fabulous destination for dining out. A fresh wave of new homegrown restaurants – often led by Philippine-born chefs returning from stints abroad – have elevated the capital’s culinary scene to new heights. Here are 10 of the best places to eat out in the city.
Restaurant, Asian, Filipino, $$$
Pronounced ‘ah-beh’, Abe serves specialities from the Pampanga province, and a few gourmet dishes from beyond Philippine borders. Try the lamb adobo (lamb marinated in garlic, paprika, oregano, salt, and vinegar), the knockout knuckle, or the crispy pla-pla (fried fish). Abe is consistently named one of the capital’s best restaurants for traditional food, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Manila Hotel is surprisingly quiet about its F&B offerings, but Café Ilang-Ilang is one of those long-established outlets that’s stood the test of time and still manages to delight diners. The Filipino menu, featuring classic dishes such as kare-kare (stew with thick, peanut sauce) and pork adobo, is second to none. Lots of seating options and a dedicated coffee bar make this ambient haunt even more inviting.
Run by the granddaughter of Pulitzer Prize-winner Carlos P. Romulo, Romulo Café is a beautifully designed modern restaurant serving Filipino comfort food. Meals are surprisingly well-priced and the photographs on the wall are a treat for history lovers.
Don’t let the youthful, industrial interiors of this restaurant fool you: some of the finest classics in Manila are rustled up at Locavore. The menu is focused on making the most of homegrown, locally sourced ingredients, prepared using French cooking techniques. Expect a hip drinking crowd in the evenings.
Located in the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, Spiral offers perhaps the grandest buffet experience anywhere in Asia (that is what the team were aiming for). The gastronomic journey spans 21 dining ateliers, each specializing in different culinary traditions from around the world. And because this is Sofitel, expect a strong French influence (and an extensive cheese and dessert selection.)
Fancy dining in a mansion? Café Ysabel offers a taste of Old Manila glamour and elegance, both in its interiors and on the menu. Rich Spanish recipes, passed down through the family, take center stage here. Be sure to save space for the kitchen’s delightful strawberry shortcake.
Although Sentro 1771 isn’t likely to make many out-of-towners’ lists, few restaurants have done as much to modernize Filipino food – and it’s a solid favorite among Manila residents. A few bites of the corned beef sinigang (sour stew flavored with tamarind) or a nibble of the galunggong fillets (blackfin scad) will show you just how much can be done with humble ingredients.
Raising the culinary bar, chef-owner Jordy Navarra has made Toyo Eatery one of the hottest new restaurants to open in Manila. Navarra focuses on playing with fresh, local ingredients, using the training and techniques he picked up working in leading restaurants in the UK and Hong Kong. The result? Filipino dishes like you’ve never seen them done before.
Still one of the most stylish spots in town for a weekend brunch or dinner and drinks, M Café does modern Asian cuisine in an chic, open-air setting at Greenbelt 4 mall. The kitchen dishes up pad Thai, dim sum, and spring rolls, all with a fusion twist. After dark, stay for cocktails and live music or DJ sets.
Restaurant, Asian, Vegetarian, $$$$
Your Local in Makati City started off as a bit of a secret, and still has no signage and a hidden entrance from the next-door café. The food is the chef’s own take on comforting Asian favorites, such as chicken rice and salmon donburi (rice bowl dish). It’s a great spot for foodies to take lunch. Delicious, all-day breakfasts are also served here.