There are two things that any visitor to the Philippines raves about, regardless of where they go: The incredible warmth and friendliness of the Filipino people and the amazing food! And while most countries in Asia claim amazing, local food, the Philippines is the only one where the expression for “hello” is “have you eaten?”!
Filipino food is the original fusion food: Take a base of ingredients similar to Malaysian or Indonesia food, add the influences of hundreds of years of Spanish colonial history and Chinese migration and top it off with a dash of American cooking, and you get a unique kind of food you won’t find anywhere in Asia.
Many of the traditional Filipino dishes, like Chicken/Pork Adobo, Beef Salpicao, Chicken Inasal and others can be found at pretty much any local restaurant. Even international restaurants will often have a page of local specials at the end of the menu, behind the steaks, the pizza or pasta! And you can enjoy them at any budget – my all-time favorite is a homemade Bistek Tagalog. In more than 15 years of visiting and living in the Philippines, I have not found a single restaurant that can beat Madam Didi’s secret recipe! So, give that busy stall at the market a try – chances are, you’ll like it better than the fancy restaurant at the mall! My favorite Filipino restaurant in Manila is Cafe Romulo in Makati City. From the great food to friendly service and a beautiful ambiance, all at reasonable prices, it’s hard to beat! Good alternatives are a number of small chains like Lorenzo’s Way, Sentro or Abe. Even simple restaurants can serve great tasting, local food, like my favorite for BBQ, Heaven in Bonifacio Global City!
What makes Manila stand out among other Asian cities is that it does international food exceptionally well. You can find pizza and pasta anywhere you go in Asia – but often it is just very average. Here, you’ll find authentic cooking, sometimes with a fusion touch, that can compete with the best you find in the heritage countries in Europe, Asia or the US! For Americans, Manila is the perfect place to enjoy a burger after weeks of rice dishes. I’ve had better burgers here than in 20 years in California. One of my favorite places is the very basic 8cut, with outlets in Makati, Ortigas and Bonifacio Global City. Brotzeit serves some of the best and most authentic German food outside Germany. Mangotree offers great Thai food and Motorino makes some outstanding thin-crust pizza. If you have traveled a while in Asia and are craving for some Western food, Manila is the best place for it and you will surely enjoy it!
Ever since Starbucks in the US, there has been a renaissance of coffee shops around the world, with big chains and little independent shops. Coffee lovers rarely have to go without a great coffee in any city. In Manila, hardly a gathering of family or friends or a business meeting can happen without food. And many coffee shops have adjusted to that by offering food and drink around the clock, some literally open 24h! My favorite coffee shop is Single Origin in Bonifacio Global City. You have a choice of countless beans from around the world and brewing methods, from Expresso style or French Press to German filter coffee, making the perfect cup of joe just for you! There are also small chains, like Toby’s Estate or Wildflour that serve great coffee, pastries and hot breakfast, as well as lunch and snacks later in the day.
Street food, food stalls and food markets are a budget option for food from around the world. If you are tempted to try street food, I’d suggest to go during busy lunch/dinner times and find a stall that is doing brisk business – it’s more likely that way that your food is freshly prepared. In most of the business districts, you’ll find carts along the side streets serving local favorites.
The food courts at any of the large malls are less risky option for budget meals. You can have a good meal for $5 and you get to do lots of people watching in the process. Even the most expensive malls will have a reasonably priced food court, so there are plenty of choices.
Happy hour is another favorite – you’ll see large groups of locals heading out after work for some drinks and snacks. Most bars and restaurants offer a special in the late afternoon. From 2-for-1 to buckets of beer or cocktail specials, the options are endless. Sometimes you’ll also find pica pica, small snacks as part of the happy hour. One of my favorites is at the upscale Greenbelt mall, with a great indoor/outdoor setting, at Spicy Fingers with cocktails under $2 all evening.
I also am a big fan of nice views at sunset, so you can try the beautiful Rooftop Bar at the Seda Hotel, which offers a free food buffet till 7pm with any alcoholic drink as well as a wine buffet. If you are planning on sightseeing in Intramuros, you can combine it with the Skydeack Viewbar at the Bayleaf Hotel – views over Manila Bay are included for free!
Many of the places I have mentioned, from 8Cut to Brotzeit, from Toby’s to Wildflour, as well as the Filipino restaurants, will have multiple outlets in the main business and shopping districts, including Makati, Bonifacio Global City and Ortigas. Because traffic is so heavy, many restaurants that find success in one of the districts, will quickly open outlets in the other areas as well. So, ask your hotel or check Google to find the closest one near you.