(Dolly was the editor of Flavors magazine for 14 years and has since turned freelance writer, editor, cookbook author and food stylist. She writes for Asian Dragon, Tribune, and her own weblog, flavorsoflife.com.ph.)
The cities of Makati and Taguig are two of the busiest in Metro Manila when it comes to dining options. Long known as a food haven, Makati keeps reinventing itself every time a new mall rises. It signals the opening of new restaurant concepts and new branches of well-loved chains. The latest food hub that has been attracting certified foodies is Poblacion, which is not a mall but a district where original-concept, stand-alone restaurants find their home.
In Taguig, Bonifacio Global City never runs out of new restaurant hubs to offer. Beyond the series of Bonifacio High Street complexes and commercial buildings with restaurants on the ground floor, Uptown Mall and Uptown Parade beckon to the dining public with its interesting restaurant options.
But what kind of restaurant do most food lovers look for? And which restaurant has made the most impact? Our favorite chefs weigh in on their own favorite restaurants.
Chef, founder and president, Café Ysabel/
Center for Asian Culinary Studies (CACS)
I like Izakaya Kikufuji best. It may not have the best charm of a small izakaya, but the offerings and service come close to the Japanese tenets or standards. Service can be familiar if one is more or less a regular there, as the waitresses tend to your needs and remember your favorites. The standard menu gives you an idea of what is traditionally served in drinking places or an izakaya; for those who wish to dine in a place with good standards, go for tempura, yakiniku, teriyaki or sukiyaki.
This sushi bar, located at Little Tokyo near Arnaiz Ave. in Makati, has seasonal items such as fresh akagai (geoduck) in their aquarium plus a selection of flown-in items from Japan. Its Japanese chef, who is now well-versed in Filipino, once recommended Kikufuji’s newly flown-in stock of fugu (or pufferfish), processed in Japan. It made me throw caution to the wind and had everyone in the bar stare and wait for me to croak.
Little dishes, such as grilled Japanese peppers, chori-zu (or sausages), soft chicken bone, bacon-wrapped mushrooms, tender wagyu saikoro, are good. For a more exotic fare, I normally order ankimo (monkfish liver), tuna natto, grilled hokke (partially cured fish), tako wasabi, ikashiokara (squid with fermented seafood viscera), and rich grilled sanma (pacific saury fish), to name a few.
The bar is well-stocked with a good variety of sake and shochu.
Chef and owner, Guevarra’s by Chef Laudico/Chef Laudico OK Café
My favorite place to go to in Makati when I’m hungry is Little Tokyo near Makati Cinema Square. It has many small Japanese restaurants with a nice courtyard inside. It closes quite late, so it is perfect for late, after-work dinners. My favorite restaurants there are Kikufugi, Seryna and Nodasho, to name a few.
In Taguig, I like Ogawa and Rico’s Lechon, both at The Fort Strip. Ogawa serves very authentic Japanese food. I go to Rico’s for the lechon, of course, and other Pinoy dishes that we love.
JACKIE ANG PO
Pastry chef and owner, Fleur de Lys Patisserie; host, Del Monte Kitchenomics
I have three favorite restaurants in Makati that I keep going back to, especially when celebrating special occasions in my life with family. One is chef Ariel Manuel’s Bistro Manuel in Poblacion; another is Pablo Bistro at The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences; and the third is Ikomai, which serves Japanese street food and comfort food on HV Dela Costa St., also in Salcedo Village. They are the go-to places for perfect food and drinks.
The restaurants in Bonifacio Global City and Taguig are great for winding down after a hard day’s work. I like going to Chotto Matte (Japanese and Peruvian food, and cocktails), Locavore (exciting Filipino food), and Back Room (1920s-themed speakeasy bar at Shangri-La at The Fort). Most of the restaurants that I like going to with my friends have all that—good food, good drinks and good music—because our purpose is to relax.
When I’m with my husband and our kids, though, my choices would be totally different.
SAU DEL ROSARIO
Chef and owner, Café Fleur and 25 Seeds, Pampanga
My favorite restaurant in Makati is my neighbor, Rambla. It is the complete restaurant for me — great food, impeccable service, intensive wine list and creative cocktail concoctions (my favorite ones are the vodkas!), not to mention the proximity of its location to me. Parking is abundant. You can park anywhere around the Rockwell community, even in Power Plant Mall’s parking area.
My favorite dishes at Rambla are the squid ink paella, octopus carpaccio, and its foie gras with pineapple empanada is not to be missed. Prices are actually just right for the quality of ingredients that the restaurant uses plus the overall experience.
When in BGC, there are many good restaurants to choose from. One must-try place is Samba. The place makes you feel like you are in Peru. The interiors are impressive, the servers are attentive, and parking is never a problem since it is located at Shangri-La at The Fort.
Food, however, is the main reason why you must visit Samba. The restaurant’s ceviche selection is like music to my ears. I love seafood and I like eating cold and citrusy food. One item that I always order is the tuna ceviche, which has leche de tigre, corn and sweet potato. It reminds me of my favorite Peruvian place in Pacifica, San Francisco. Samba’s signature salad is yummy and never disappoints. It has heart of palm, artichoke, lettuce, avocado puree, crispy pecan nuts and Manchego cheese.
For mains, Samba’s almost-a-kilogram sous-vide prime rib is buttery, velvety and melts in the mouth. The taste of roasted sweet potato and the earthy beetroot match the slightly spicy, salty peppercorn sauce. Yes, it is a bit pricey, but I don’t mind paying P2,500 for a very healthy and delicious meal.
Executive chef, Taal Vista Hotel, Tagaytay
People’s Palace in Greenbelt is my favorite restaurant in Makati. I have been going there since I arrived in Manila in 2009. The food there is consistently good, and the service crew is attentive. My favorite dishes there are crispy catfish salad, roast duck curry, and chicken and basil.
In Taguig, I like dining in Green Pastures at the Net Park Building in BGC. I enjoy its avocado toast, Korean fried cauliflower, penoy egg, terra natura salad, and braised suckling pig.
EDWARD DAVID MATEO
Chef and owner, La Royale Patisserie
If you are looking for an authentic taste of Mexican food in Makati, try El Chupacabra, which is one of my favorite restaurants. I recommend the carnitas tacos, classic Mexican-style roast pork, and chili con carne and tortilla chips.
If you are looking for a next level dining experience while in Taguig, remember Helm in BGC. You will definitely enjoy because you can sit, relax and watch the chef cook your orders. The food is incredibly tasty!
Executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions
In Makati, I always bring visitors to Milky Way Café along Pasay Road because this classic Filipino restaurant never fails to impress. If I go in the afternoon, the dinuguan with puto and guinomis are a must. For lunch or dinner, I always order crispy hito with mustard greens, kare-kare, baby crispy pata, and adobong pusit.
Ikomai is another favorite. I love the lunch specials, such as tochi don lunch set, which is like a chirashi with raw tuna, salmon and other ingredients cut into large dices and arranged on top of rice, and it comes with its signature miso soup and some pickled vegetables. I also like the tuna poke, karaage and the extensive dessert menu. I always make it a point to bring home an assortment of tochi cookies.
I also like Shinjuku Ramen House in Little Tokyo for its affordable and value-for-money Japanese comfort food. I always have the gekikara ramen, which is like a spicier version of miso ramen. Order a side of kakiage, and also try the marbo tofu, ebi tempura, chahan, butakakuni (braised pork belly) and gyudon.
In BGC, Savage is a standout. Almost the entire menu has something cooked using old-fashioned wood and charcoal grill. Must-tries include heirloom tomatoes and burrata with an extra order of bread and butter, salad of grilled pears with capicola and rocket leaves, holy basil chicken, King Edward porkchops. Finish off with toffee pudding.
My two other favorites are Little Flour (for its burger with fries, lasagna, and grilled cheese sandwich) and Mendokoro Ramemba (for its tan tan mien, shio ramen, and gyoza).
TIMOTHY DECKER GOKIOCO
Chef consultant; food entrepreneur, Ahma’s Chili Sauce
My favorite restaurant in Makati is Izakaya Kikufuji in Little Tokyo. I discovered it online because people were raving about it. It has a secret dish — spicy soft-shell crab. Imagine spicy tuna sashimi deliciously dressed in spicy mayo mixture but replace the tuna with deep-fried soft-shell crabs. So good! It has really good food, value for money and huge servings.
I also recommend the special California maki (eight big slices of overloaded California Maki with spicy tuna or salmon sashimi, topped with mango slices and ikura); tendon (a huge rice bowl of two pieces of prawn tempura, two pieces of fish, one piece squid and vegetables, served with miso soup); kawa-ebi (like nilasing na hipon); and enoki bacon or any yakitori. Just order it ahead of time because it takes time for them to cook it in the grill. Japanese cold tea is free, so be sure to ask for it.
In BGC, my go-to place is Persia Grill. It offers sizzling ox brain (ox brain chunks sautéed in tomatoes and onion, served with calamansi). I always order it with a chelo tikka meal. For me, the restaurant has the best garlic yoghurt sauce in the metro. A tip: Always ask for chilled garlic sauce, which tastes much better than the room temperature sauce.
LLENA TAN ARCENAS
Chef and culinary services manager, San Miguel Pure Foods Co. Inc.
In Makati, the Poblacion area is thriving, and I enjoy dining at Kite Kebab Bar (for its array of skewers), love the novelty of Tambai (US Beef isaw and US beef rib fingers), indulge in the delicious comfort of El Chupacabra (for its tacos!), and The Mess Hall (whose food offerings carry that familiar taste but given a creative twist, like Housemade Corned Beef Belly).
In BGC/Taguig, I love Ogawa (because Japanese cuisine is love), I’m enthralled by Tomatito (which has wonderful sangrias and delish tapas), comforted by Crystal Jade and Texas Roadhouse (where I would always go for crispy chicken salad and grilled bone-in porkchops).
What makes me go back to a dining spot is not just the menu offering, though, but a number of other things—value for money, ambiance, good service and, yes, ample parking space.
JON PHILIP CHUA
Chef instructor, Magsaysay Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Arts (MIHCA)
When we find ourselves in Makati, my family would always go to Bulgogi Brothers for an excellent meal. The service is impeccable. Free WiFi is a plus. The food is great, considering that it’s not that authentic as a Korean restaurant. The Friday’s group really did a great job there. The meats are of excellent quality. We usually order the sets since it’s better if you’re dining in a big group. Since my family is into K-pop and K-drama, watching Korean videos while eating is a plus. Every time we visit, I would normally be in charge of cooking and grilling the meats on the table. If you are not fond of the grill smell sticking to your clothes, the staff can cook it for you in a separate area for your convenience.
My family does not normally dine in the Taguig area because it is quite far from our place, but when we do we go to Texas Roadhouse Grill at Uptown Mall. It reminds me of the time when I was living in the US while working on my Culinary Arts degree. My ninong would bring me frequently to this place in south Hayward near San Francisco and we would enjoy the hand-cut steaks and freshly baked bread with cinnamon butter, plus all the peanuts you can eat. I choose this resto because it is a family-style resto and, as a father of three kids and a nephew, I always see to it that the kids would have a blast with the food. The quality of the breads and steak is the same here in Manila. Service is excellent. Ambiance is cool since it’s cowboy style. Food is fantastic, and parking is not a problem since it is inside the mall.
Eastwood Richmonde Hotel
My favorite restaurant in Makati is Kitchen (now defunct) at Greenbelt. I especially like its Back Burner (tutong soup with seafood) and Duck Adobo. The service is good and the ambiance is simple, romantic and casual.
In Taguig, my choice is Bondi and Bourke. It serves pasta, salad and steaks. The lamb is good, the menu features simple, straightforward Australian cuisine. The place always looks clean, and the servers are great.
Chef consultant/food stylist
In Makati, I like eating at Kai in Greenbelt 5. The food is a refreshing take on traditional Japanese food, and my personal favorites are Cauliflower Tempura (order it with less sauce) and Oyster Tempura. I go there almost every week.
In BGC/Taguig, I go to Ogawa for my fix of traditional Japanese food, plus the restaurant offers the freshest seafood flown in from Japan. Don’t forget to try the lobster tempura. Another place that I like is Fowl Bread for that craving for greasy chicken sandwich with extra chicken skin partnered with garlic noodles.