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Top 10 Best Places to Eat in Manila

Posted by on May 25th, 2009
Filed Under: Featured, Food, Manila

RyanManila is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia-Pacific. Although frequently derided for its pollution (Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong are worse), traffic (Seoul, Jakarta, and Bangkok are about the same or even worse), floods (portions of Jakarta go underwater during a huge downpour) and not enough historical buildings (you’ve got to thank the Americans and the Japanese who bombed the crap out of Manila during the closing days of World War 2 to become the second most destroyed city in the world after Warsaw).

Manila Makati Night View Panaromic
Photo by eehgow

For the uninitiated, Manila is the epitome of urban chaos – the image that is always projected on the world’s TV screens. But like the Philippines, Manila is a place that is meant to be discovered- its true beauty hidden under several thick layers of years of colonial rule, turbulent politics, and national self-doubt. For people like me who have lived in this great city for quite a significant amount of time, Manila will always be a place I hate and love as passionately as the other. A relationship that one can only tag as, well, complicated. When I say Manila here, I refer to the thriving metropolitan area of about 19 Million people scattered in 17 cities and municipalities that composes the National Capital Region.

Being naturally at the crossroads of the East and the West, Manila offers one of the most vibrant, yet, underrated nightlife and the most varied cuisines in the entire Asia-Pacific. It does not come as a surprise that one can have a Filipino regional breakfast, a Malaysian lunch, and a German dinner in one day. The following list is just among one of my most favorite and highly recommended hidden gems for the traveling gourmand.

Som’s Noodle House

5921 Alger Street
Poblacion, Makati City
+63.2.757.8079

This unassuming Thai eatery along the margins of the swanky Rockwell in Makati serves the most delectable, no-frills, cheapest and most authentic Thai dishes in Manila. Dining al-fresco or inside its tiny air-conditioned room – this is not a place where one needs to dress up for an evening date although the succession of diplomatic-plated cars and BMWs parked along the street reflects the level of Thai dishes served here. I was never a big fan of Thai cuisine, which I thought pretentious and overhyped and undeserving of the haute cuisine status that most people accord it to be. Som’s Green Curry and its Bagoong Rice – (Rice sautéed in shrimp paste and served with strips of scrambled eggs, slivers of green mango and tapas) tells like it is: simple and really good. I don’t need an orchid on my plate or a dancing katoey to serve my Thai food.

Ziggurat Cuisine

Cor. Tigris & Euphrates Streets
Poblacion, Makati
+63.2.897.5179
www.zigguratcuisine.com

Tucked in the seedy streets of Makati’s red light district is Ziggurat Cuisine – home to excellent Indian, Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The streets’ names where it was located are quite uncanny (Tigris and Euphrates are the two main rivers of Iraq) and the acronym for the cuisines that they serve is IMAM – a reference to an Islamic holy man. From Ethiopian Breads to Afghani Rice and Chicken Tikka Masala – the menu is extensive with explanations to its origins and ample description of the dish itself. While we prefer to dine al-fresco but, Ziggurat has dreamy, harem-inspired interiors – the lush Mesopotamian décor complements the sinfully exotic and insane flavors of its food. For the unwelcome notoriety of its immediate vicinity where respect flies out of the window, Ziggurat establishes itself as a place of cuisine respectability as the food connoisseurs’ destination for quality international cuisine.

Salcedo Weekend Market

Salcedo Village Carpark (inside Jaime Velasquez Park)
Salcedo Village, Makati

Salcedo Village Carpark is ground zero for international cuisine and organic produce in Makati. Started in 2004 with a few stalls, the Salcedo Weekend Market grew to become an exciting destination for budding cosmopolitan culinary adventurers. Once a hush-hush secret amongst Makati’s well-heeled from the nearby posh villages of Bel-Air and Urdaneta- the Salcedo Weekend Market became a place to find the most authentic international and mostly homemade dishes that you can find in the entire Philippines. From Portuguese seafood delights, to Turkish baklavas, to French crepes made by a chef from Bretagne, France to tasty Spanish Paellas and German wursts to name a few from the Eurozone. Asian staples such as satays, rendang and laksa from Indonesia and Malaysia, Kimchi from Korea, Hong-Kong style dimsum, Indian shawarmas are not to be left out, also a decent sushi and maki spread represents the Japanese. Homemade traditional Filipino recipes from the different regions of the country are well-represented – the Lechon Cebu that food guru Anthony Bourdain loves, the extra-spicy Bicol Express and fresh seafood flown the same day from the waters of Roxas City are just a few of what’s on display. Salcedo Weekend Market is held on Saturdays, a similar, albeit smaller version happens in Legazpi Carpark in Legazpi Village, Makati. You want kefir to go with your wagyu burger? Like Obama said, yes you can.

Stone Lion Food Haus

Carvajal Street
Binondo, Manila


Philippines Binondo - Carvajal Street
Binondo – Carvajal Street
Photo by webzer

At its best, the tiny alley where this restaurant is located is dirty, aged and daunting – but teeming with good Chinese restaurants that are usually conspicuously hard to find in a metropolis with a sizable ethnic Chinese population. Called Ho-Sua-Hang, Hookien for Umbrella Alley, by the Filipino-Chinese community – the street does have an intimate appeal and gritty charm. The street is actually one of the little known streets of Binondo – Manila’s Chinatown. The more famous street is Escolta which is Manila’s former financial district (and where young Imelda Marcos worked as a saleslady) and of course, Ongpin – the busier main street of the area. Binondo is recognized as the oldest Chinatown in the world – established in 1594. Aside from the traditional Filipino cuisine that’s being offered at Stone Lion Food Haus – one should try the spicy salt and pepper squid (a definite must-try), beef broccoli and their own version Yang-chow fried rice. One should not miss Eng Bee Tin for their yummy hopia and tikoy and their restaurant – Mr. Ube in Ongpin for a very good bowl of Laksa. Part of the earnings from your meal goes to supporting the local fire volunteer brigade. Ube is Tagalog for purple yam – which explains in part that while the rest of Manila had red fire trucks, Chinatown has a purple one – donated by the owner of Mr. Ube.

Mang Jimmy’s

Balara (Near University of the Philippines-Diliman),
Quezon City
+63.2.927.2909

I could not remember when the last time I went to Mang Jimmy’s was, but I could still vividly remember how succulent and amazing the food was. If you are on a tight budget and around the University of the Philippines-Diliman area – head to this stark and down-to-earth grill place. For people who are unabashedly addicted to rice- the restaurant offers refillable rice. If there are three of you, three dishes gets you another dish for free! Sizzling sisig (that famous dish from Pampanga) and Sizzling Squid are the best amongst the bunch. The place can be quite crowded and parking can be a problem during lunch as students from UP, Miriam and Ateneo de Manila University check out this place.

Travel Cafe

Greenbelt 5, Legazpi Street
Legazpi Village, Makati
+63.2.7292233
www.travelcafephilippines.com

Booking your tickets and learning about the different Philippine destinations has never felt this haute. Designed as a Travel Shop which provides up-to-date information about the Philippines with onsite travel bookings assistance and an attached a restaurant come café that serves Filipino fusion cuisine in its menu – the Travel Café provides a more relaxed, highly internationalized concept of the Philippines. An active supporter of the Fair Philippine trade organic coffee, it lists down the Philippine Civet Coffee (Kape Alamid) – one of the rarest and the most expensive coffees in the world, as one of its core beverages, served with the traditional Filipino breakfast bread- the pan de sal. The Philippine Civet Coffee is a blend of the country’s finest Arabica, Exelsa, and Liberica beans and can fetch as much as $600 a pound in the world market. This type of coffee comes from sweetest coffee cherries that are precisely chosen by free-roaming civets in the deepest part of the Philippine forests. This is then fermented inside the civet’s digestive tracts and excreted as whole beans. The coffee is smooth, clear and sweet-tasting. After a cup of this coffee, I walked past by Starbucks, and I could not help but felt sorry for those people lining up and buying crap coffee. Travel Café also promotes North Luzon Arabica from Mt. Province and Benguet, Liberica Barako from Bulacan and Batangas, and South Mindanao Arabica from South Cotabato.

Rufo’s

4736 Kalayaan Avenue cor. Salamanca Street
Poblacion, Makati
+63.2.899.4207

This is the place to go to after a hard night of partying, conveniently tucked in an almost secluded area; the place offers rest and somewhere for sobering up- forget Embassy’s overpriced cafeteria. Sizzling sisig, fried danggit and of course the tapas are the piece-de-resistance. The service is amiable and fast, and the food, what can I say… hmm… after a night of finishing almost a bottle of vodka, throw your diet out of the window because the garlic rice, tapas and danggit and sisig just feel heaven. It was so good I almost had an orgasm. (Just thinking of it, just makes me shiver!) Price wise, they are priced wisely. Just perfect, no complaints there! If you are tired of the usual McDonald’s fare after parties, Rufo’s is the best place to be, before hitting your bed or someone else’s! (Just make sure you gargle Listerine to take away that garlicky breath!). Rufo’s does delivery, but I’d recommend you just head to the restaurant itself – the quality of delivered food is quite inferior compared to the one fresh from their kitchens.

Barcino’s


Unit 101, Forbeswood Heights, Rizal Drive,
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
+63.2. 468.5942

Chic and comfortable with distinct Iberian undertones, Barcino’s is my ultimate choice for real after-dinner conversations over decently priced, yet excellent Spanish wines (priced between PhP450-PhP900). Similar bottles of the same vintage would be priced triple in another wine place nearby. The wine bar is a two-story affair in a newish apartment building block in one of the fast rising modern residential and business districts in the country – The Fort. The tapas are quite lovely and just right and a heady night with good company as well as the affable Spaniards who run the place and their equally-friendly staff makes Barcino’s one of the most charming and trés elegant wine bars in Manila.

M Café

Manila Museum CafeGreenbelt 4 (across Ayala Museum)
Makati City
+63.2. 757.6000

Popular with the lunch crowd from the nearby offices of multinational companies off Ayala Avenue, M Café (Museum Café) has steadily built a reputation as a very important nightspot for the hip expat crowd of Makati. Off from the busy areas of Greenbelt 2 and 3, M Café boasts of excellent fusion dishes and cocktails. The Roti sampler wasn’t too bad at all, and unfortunately, they had to take out my favorite Adobo with Foie Gras off their menu. The desserts are equally as sinful – one should not leave M Café without trying their crème brûlée in imaginative flavors – of which chili and garlic are my favorites. Without flinching a single facial muscle, I can definitely proclaim that M Café has the best Lychee Martini in the entire country. They also offer nice champagne brunches every Sunday at very affordable price. And before I forget, prostitutes from nearby Club Havana in Greenbelt 3 are given the coldest shoulders here. Photo by santos

Swagat Indian Cuisine

119 FCC Building
Rada Street, Legazpi Village
Makati City
+63.2. 752.5669
www.swagatindiancuisineph.com

Probably the single most authentic Indian restaurant in the Philippines, Swagat, has created a very loyal following since it started its restaurant business in a basement of my apartment building over 5-6 years ago. After the persistent nagging from their customers, Mr and Mrs. Sanjay and Komal Khanchandani, finally moved Swagat to its current location. The restaurant is small but clean, and all the dishes are exclusively prepared by Mrs. Khanchandani herself, in an almost auteur-like fashion (although her husband sometimes takes over in extremely rare occasions). True to its Indian roots, the restaurant has an extensive Indian menu (a mix of all the different regions of India). I would go for Chicken Tikka Masala (I guess by now, you would have noticed that I am addicted to Masala), or Murgh Tikka (Tender skinless boneless chicken marinated in a blend of ginger, garlic, yogurt & various spices , toasted & sautéed w/ butter & cream.) matched with Vegetable Biryani. A cool glass of lassi made out of rosewater is perfect to balance the spiciness of the Indian dishes and their mouthwatering and famous- kulfi (chunky and super-creamy homemade pistachio ice-cream) to cap the night of delicious debauchery on my tastebuds.

The Runners-up

Mandarin Oriental Hotel – Best Breakfast Buffet
The Shang Palace, Shangri-la Makati – Best Peking Duck
The Spiral, Hotel Sofitel Philippine Plaza – Best Views of Manila Bay
Le Souffle, Top of the Citi – Best Makati Skyline View
Café Caruso – Best Authentic Italian Fine Dining
Handle Bar – Best Value off-the grill steaks
Max Brenner – Best Chocolate-inspired Bar
Cyma – Best Greek Restaurant

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21 Responses to “Top 10 Best Places to Eat in Manila”

  1. ava livne says:

    i do love reading your articles dahling.

    aside from the salcedo weekend market i had never had a chance to try the other places.

    armed with your helpful information my next trip to manila will also be a culinary journey starting with the swagat indian cusine as it is only a stone’s throw away from my vacation flat.

    i look forward to reading more of your adventures, culinary or otherwise.

    your fan from sydney,
    ava

    • Ryan says:

      Thank you Ava! Glad that you liked my articles. :) Watch out for more – I am heading to Zambales this weekend! :)

  2. Cora says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I recall that we were discussing this while we were on our way home to Manila after our Sagada Trip. It is good that you have documented your top 10 places to eat in Manila. As usual this one is well written and makes the reader want to visit the places you’ve mentioned.

    rgds
    Cora

    • Ryan says:

      Thanks Cora,

      I hope you would be able to check these places out. :) Actually I’d like to include heaps more, but doing the Manila run, I would probably end up writing a book about it!

      Cheers!

      Ryan

      • Alice says:

        Hey, a book is not a bad idea!

        I’ll try one of these places soon. I owe the Sagada girls a treat. You’re welcome to join us in case we run into you :-)

        • Ryan says:

          haha.. :) I am heading out to Barcino’s this weekend. I have reserved the bodeguita on Saturday night, maybe if you guys are around you can drop by and check the place. :)

  3. Scott says:

    My mouth is watering after your wonderful description of the cuisine on offer in Manila. Can’t wait to head out and try a all of these.

  4. [splice] says:

    .. Mang Jimmy’s! :]

  5. Teethy says:

    Hey Ryan, what about doing a top list of bars pubs nightclubs too? Thumbs up for this great list!

    • Ryan says:

      Hey Teethy! That list would come out very soon, the thing is a lot of places rarely stay too long, as you know how fickle the Manila scene is – M Cafe, and Barcino’s double as nice bars as well. I have some favorites myself but we will see, I’d like to get the best ones on the list myself (and when it comes to clubs and bars- I am little bit too fussy and choosy). But yeah, I will do that list soon though. :)

  6. i went to som’s noodle house last march, with my fiance’ and my family.. funny thing was, when my ninang told me to meet them at rockwell, i thought we may be dining at a swanky place.. but, lo and behold, we met her and she told us we’d have around 5-10 min walk to somewhere wer thai food is scrumptuous… and then my fiance and I saw som’s.. i was amazed because much of the stature that rockwell holds, there was an ordinary – like of a dampa setup along …so.. we tried it, and indeed, since i love asian food.. i loved som’s… i cant forget the weird colored iced tea and the yummy fish i tried.. i maybe going back there again next week since this blogging made me miss it…

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Beck!

      Yeah, I am not a big fan of Thai food myself but Som’s is definitely worth a try – very unpretentious which the way Thai food should be. Ah yeah the weird colored iced tea is the thai iced milk tea. LOL. yummy though- the green curry and their Bagoong Rice is awesome! Haven’t been back there in months, so yeah, I might do that well this weekend when my Dad comes to visit.

      Cheers,

      Ryan

  7. bangwi says:

    Never heard of most of this places except Mang jimmy’s, and some of your runner ups. Really digging the Salcedo weekend farmers market specially with the vid. Definitely be checking that out when i visit the phil this nov!!

  8. Chi says:

    Please take Som’s Noodle cafe off the list. If you think that it serves authentic Thai food, then you have no idea what authentic Thai food is. The Tom Yam Goong is too sweet and the taste is off. Pandan chicken is too dry. We ordered mango salad and it came slathered in chilli sauce. I can only shudder at what you think authentic Indian food is.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Chi,

      I do understand that one can never please everyone. I think you may have had a different experience from most of the people I know including us. Som’s is owned by a Thai married to a Filipina, and while we are not paid (nor get a free meal) endorsing these places, I think we had a really good experience in all of these places we mentioned here including Som’s, and a lot of people will agree too – including the many diplomats that eat at its Makati branch. I think as diners, if we find something not acceptable with our dishes, we should call the attention of the cook/chef/owner so that it can be corrected. I agree with your call on the Pandan Chicken (that’s why I never order it whenever we are there) and I am not a big fan of Tom Yum Goong either (whether it is in Som’s or other Thai places).

      Swagat meanwhile is and one of the most authentic places that offer Indian food, and they are owned, managed by Indians themselves (the cook is the owner). The large presence of Indians in the restaurant everytime we eat there attest that this is by far one of the most authentic places and a lot of other expats would agree with me. Indian owners + Indian cook + heaps of Indian patrons + a seal of approval from people who had been to India = I think that’s what make the resto different. Pay it a visit first before dismissing the place and if you don’t like it, well, sadly we can’t do anything about it, because even if you will be offered the most authentic dish in the world, it all boils down that taste is subjective.

      Cheers!

      Ryan

      • Chi says:

        Hi Ryan,

        Thanks for your email.

        At Som’s, I did ask for someone to address the disparity in the authenticity of the dishes and all they could do was shake their head and mention that they didn’t have it or cooked it that way. That doesn’t really address anything.

        I asked for Tom Yam Goong Nam Sai and they didn’t know what it was (It’s Tom Yam but in a clear stock base without coconut milk). They also did not cook it with straw mushrooms and used button mushrooms. I also asked for Pak Boong Phai Dang and they firstly had no idea what I asked for, then when I mentioned that it was kangkong fried with garlic, they then said that they didn’t know how to cook it that way. They only steam the kangkong.

        The red curry was loaded with sugar and very mild. I could not find a single piece of Thai basil in the curries nor in the soup and the flavour was missing.

        Mango salad, if you’ve been to Thailand, does not come loaded with sweetish chilli sauce. It’s a clear salad with coriander and basil and is quite spicy.

        The fact that the place is crowded only shows that the crowd doesn’t seem to know any better. Last evening, the entire crowd consisted of Filipinos. I’m not saying that Filipinos don’t know authentic Thai cuisine (or maybe I am) but perhaps the taste at Som’s has been modified to suit the locals. So if you intend to recommend places on your website you write as authentic and are not, you should be prepared from some critical feedback when visitors who go looking for a real authentic Thai restaurant, follow your recommendations and find that it is far from authentic. I have travelled all over Thailand for the past 10 years and feel that I would be remiss if I did not comment on this.

        As for the Indian place Swagat, I will try it this evening. If Indians go there, then it should be authentic. If it is indeed good, I will write so as well.

        Chi

        • Ryan says:

          Thanks for your inputs Chi! That was really helpful. I wonder probably that the taste was catered mostly to the foreigners then that’s why you noticed the disparity. Truth to tell, the last times that I went to Som’s, I noticed indeed that the food was sweetish. However, it is really difficult to a good Thai food in Manila. I mentioned authentic because I trust that it was the Thai chef that cooks it. Other than Som’s I think the only other establishments that serves Thai food made by a Thai chef/cook would be at Dusit Hotel (Correct me if I am wrong) among others. I am not of course an authority on cuisines, but in my opinion, it is as authentic as it gets (in Manila) on Thai food at a reasonable price levels.

          Let me know what you think of Swagat. I was just there about 2 weeks ago. Btw, you can choose how spicy your food would be – mild/medium/or Indian full-on spicy. Cheers!

  9. Wynn says:

    You should try Thai Resa for authentic and yet affordable Thai cuisine. And also Kanto Freestyle Breakfast for affordable gourmet breakfast. Happy Eating!

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