Food & Drink

Best Holes-in-the-Wall for People Who Don't Like Holes-in-the-Wall

These off-the-beaten-path spots offer good food without burning a hole in the pocket 
IMAGE INSTAGRAM/ @tambai_snackhouse @caphesaigonph
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You’re all too familiar with those days. You crave a particular kind of grubone that’s probably greasy, flavorful, and sinful all at once. You think about it all day and wonder if you’re willing to spend a couple of hours in traffic just to get to it. And just before midnight, you head on over and order one too many dishes off the menu. You’re done. You’re satisfied. You spent way less than if you ate at any of those new fancy restaurants. Your little jaunt feels guilt-free. Your secret spot is safe.

Everyone has a favorite hole-in-the-wall. It could be one that offered the most authentic version of a dish you can find in the city. It could be one that serviced you with gracious hospitality akin to international standards. It could be one that made you feel carefree and even adventurous. There’s always that hole-in-the-wall that you keep going back to.

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Here, find an A to Z (or W, rather) list of holes-in-the-wall that Manila’s most discerning frequently visit. They promise not only fantastic eats but also exemplary experiences that are hard to replicate anywhere else. And, yes, they’re worth the long drive and that parking mishap.  

1| Ababu

Anyone who studied near Katipunan has fond memories of Ababu as the go-to spot after partying the night away. It’s fuss-free and unpretentious. There’s nothing that Ababu’s shawarma rice can’t curefrom hangovers to heartbreaks. And don’t forget about that ox brain. It’s absolutely mind-blowing!

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Shawarma Rice
  • Ox Brain
  • Chelo Kebab Ghafghazi 

75 Xavierville Ave., Quezon City

 

2| Beni’s Falafel

Photo by INSTAGRAM/ @benisfalafel.

The closest you’ll get to a proper falafel in Manila is by Beni’s Falafel. Beni’s has been an institution in the Poblacion area for very good reasons. The golden, crunchy nuggets are absolute flavor bombs! You can have them tucked inside a warm pita, with fluffy rice, or just over a plate of hummus. Its other Middle Eastern offerings are absolute hard-hitters, too. Ever heard of Jachnun or Bourekas?     

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Beni’s Falafel
  • Vegan Sabich
  • Shakshuka

5343 General Luna Street, Makati City

 

3| Bulalohan sa Laon Laan

Found yourself hankering for something hot and steamy on a cool, rainy night? Bulalohan sa Laon Laan’s Filipino comfort food is what you’re looking for. Its Bulalong Baka is comparable to or arguably even better than those offered by popular restaurants in Tagaytay. The meat is tender and the broth is just amazing. Don’t sleep on the other bestsellers like the Sisig ng Nueva Ecija and Boneless Bangus with Toppings, too.

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Bulalo Baka
  • Sisig ng Nueva Ecija
  • Boneless Bangus with Toppings

2154 Laong Laan Street, Sampaloc, Manila

 

4| Ca Phe Saigon

Photo by INSTAGRAM/ @caphesaigonph.

These days, it’s hard to find a restaurant with a menu whose prices range from a mere P100 to P200. The most expensive item on the menu is already Crispy Fried Shrimp at P290. But what you’re really here for is the P150-per-bowl beef or chicken pho. The meats are tender, noodles al dente, and soup soothingly flavorful. On the side, you can have a green mango salad, Vietnamese fried rolls, and tamarind chicken wings. Ca Phe Saigon may have a stall in the Corner Market, but the original has endless charm.

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Beef Noodle Soup
  • Vietnamese Fried Rolls
  • Tamarind Chicken Wings

14 Red Cedar Street, San Roque, Marikina City

 

5| Ebi 10

There was a time when one can only get authentic tempura from high-end Japanese restaurants with Japanese chefs manning the kitchen. Not anymore. Ebi 10 offers a wide-range of tempura varieties, from the classic jumbo shrimp to scallop popcorn to stuffed mushroom and Hokkaido oyster. Accessibility and affordabilitythat’s what Ebi 10 is doing right. 

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Jumbo Shrimp
  • Stuffed Mushroom
  • Asohos

5779 Felipe Street, Makati City

 

6| El Chupacabra

Photo by INSTAGRAM/ @elchupacabraph.

So many taquerias have sprouted around the metro, yet El Chupacabra still reigns supreme. What it offers is an uncomplicated experience of enjoying street tacos by the actual streetside, replete with the whole shebang. Many of the so-called holes-in-the-walls in this district aren't really holes-in-the-wall, but El Chupacabra, one of the original establishments before Pob's gentrification stays away from pretense. It’s hard to find a favorite among the dozen taco varieties only because they’re all worthy contenders. Then there are the wings, burritos, and sisig. It can get confusing!

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Carne Asada Tacos
  • San Francisco-Style Pork Sisig
  • Lord of the Wings

5782 Felipe Street, Poblacion, Makati City

 

7| Goto Monster

The one thing you should fear when visiting Goto Monster is not having enough stomach space for all the delicious items on the menu. It does lugaw, tokwa, and silogs just as other gotohans around Manila, but what makes Goto Monster stand out is the creativity it injects into these humble dishes. Lugaw can be topped with bagnet and shiitake mushrooms. Tokwa can be ordered with talong chips or chickcharon. Then you can pair that with a refreshing cucumber mint slushie, bibingka ice cream drop, or champorado waffles.

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Goto Beef Tripe
  • Tokwa with Bagnet
  • Champorado Waffle

Primo de Rivera Street corner Pablo Ocampo Street Extension, Makati City

8| Hermanos Taco Shop

If you want to experience Mexican food beyond tacos and nachos, then Hermanos is the perfect choice for you. To start, make sure to order its refreshing horchata, a classic Mexican drink of sweetened rice milk and cinnamon. Then move on to perusing the menu filled with authentic fare like child-friendly taquitos, hearty enchiladas, spice-filled tamales, and tripe-based Mexican menudo. Don’t miss out on the churros dusted with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with caramel sauce. Viva Mexico!

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Carne Asada Burritos
  • Horchata
  • Churros

436 Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City

 

9| Hummus Elijah

The first thing you have to know about Hummus Elijah is that it’s open until 3 a.m. That means you can have your fill of its amazing hummus after an excruciating overtime at work or after binge-drinking with the gang. Its hummus is a beautiful blend of spices and creamy chickpeas and ace olive oil. Try it topped with mushrooms and pine nuts! Don’t forget to order extra pita bread. 

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Hummus Elijah
  • Hamshuka
  • Burekas

7850 Makati Ave., Makati City

 

10| Krung Thai

What looks like a panciteria or a humble turo-turo by a corner of the Marikina Public Market is actually a destination for authentic Thai food. Its unassuming look offers a contrast to the powerful flavors that fill up the menu. Here, you can enjoy many of your favorite Thai dishes, as close to how they’re really done in Bangkok, served generously but priced fairly.

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Bagoong Rice
  • Tom Yam
  • Krung Thai Fried Chicken

Marikina Public Market, W Paz Street, Santa Elena, Marikina City

 

11| Lan Zhou La Mien

If you’re looking for the best Chinese noodles in town, then it doesn’t get any more authentic than at Lan Zhou La Mien. The noodles are tender yet offer a bite, staying true to the art of hand-pulling. They’re either stir-fried, tossed with fresh ingredients, or simmered in a delicate broth. Aside from the noodles, must-tries include squash hopia, steamed dumplings, and egg chao fan.

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Esquire Recommends: 

  • Beef Lamien
  • Tao Chow Guisado
  • Squash Hopia

818 Benavidez Street, Binondo, Manila

 

12| Little Store

Its name is almost misleading because the Little Store has so many big things to offer. What welcomes you upon entering are the many dried goods, Chinese condiments, and imported snacks on sale. To the left is a shelf filled with fresh vegetables and hard-to-find ingredients. Toward the back is where you’ll find a display of food on offer. Ordering here is both harrying and confusing: You try to catch the attention of the lady behind the counter as you point to your food of choice. It gets served to your table and that’s when the fun begins.      

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Fresh Chinese Lumpia
  • Tofu Teriyaki 
  • Maki Mi 

2 Jose Abad Santos Street, San Juan

 

12| Patpat’s Kansi

Craving authentic Negrense dishes? Your best bet is to troop to Patpat’s Kansi in Makati. It's most popular for its kansi, a beef soup similar to bulalo but more hot and sour. Order that and copious amounts of steamed white rice and find your soul soothed and satisfied. Don’t forget about the inasal and the fresh lumpia, too. 

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Kansi Bulalo
  • Chicken Inasal
  • Fresh Lumpia

8809 Sampaloc Street, San Antonio, Makati City

 

13| Same Same

A couple of sticks in hand, a cold beer on the other. Chill nights await you at this Kapitolyo hole-in-the-wall. The sticks here refer to the succulent, flavorful meat skewered, grilled, and served with peanut sauce. Same Same’s satays come in pork, chicken, or isaw, and they’re best paired with traditional Thai fried rice or pad Thai. End it all with an order or two of Mango Sticky Rice. Good times!

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Satay Sampler
  • Traditional Khao Pad
  • Pad Thai 

6-B San Rafael Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig City

 

14| Suzhou

Driving along the street adjacent to Shaw Boulevard, it’s easy to miss Suzhou. Tucked in one corner of A. Mabini is this little gem offering mostly Taiwanese grub sans any pretentions. Here, you can try numerous flavorful dishes without breaking the bank. Start off with some xiao long bao and dumplings, move to some stir-fried noodles and steamed beef, and end with some fun banter with the servers. 

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Soy Sauce Steamed Beef
  • Fried Noodle with Beef
  • Scallion Pancakes

837 A. Mabini Street, Mandaluyong City

 

15| Swagat

Just like Filipino food, the best Indian fare can only be had at homes where mothers lovingly prepare them for their brood. Luckily, Swagat in Makati offers that same homemade goodness to anyone hankering for good, authentic Indian food. It’s the time that is spiced properly, sauced generously, and cook excellently. Warm, homey, comfortingthat’s Swagat for you.  

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Butter Chicken
  • Rogan Josh
  • Paneer Pakora

G/F The Columns Legazpi Village, Makati City

 

16| Tambai

Photo by INSTAGRAM/ @tambai_snackhouse.

Hanging out with friends to welcome the weekend is made more rewarding at Tambai. If you’re one to shy away from eating streetside, as in inhaling fumes and hearing loud ruckuses, then better skip to the next option. Sorry for you, you’ll be missing out on Tambai’s tasty yakitori sticks of beef isaw, chicken liver, and U.S. pork. Give it a chance and find yourself converted.

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Beef Rib Finger
  • Kimchi Fried Rice
  • Roast Garlic Basil

5779 Felipe Street, Poblacion, Makati City

 

17| Tapsi ni Vivian

Oh, Vivian! Why does your tapsilog have to taste so good? Forget about your diet and treat yourself to a plate of its most beloved tapa with a side of runny sunny-side-up egg and garlicky sinangag. That’s just for appetizers. Move on to a serving of tender, hard-hitting bulalo, crispy hipon, and chicharon bulaklak. Plus more rice, of course! The total damage? Just around P500 for all that. Winner!

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Tapsilog
  • Bulao
  • Crispy Hipon

6 Lauan Street, Duyan-Duyan, Quezon City 

 

18| Wai Ying

No one goes to Binondo without making a stop at Wai Ying. This Chinatown institution is best known for offering a bevy of tasty Chinese dishes, ranging from HK-style roasts to dimsum to generous rice toppings. Imagine: You can enjoy a meal of wanton mami, hamsoikok, and roasted duck for a fraction of the price if ordered at a mall-based restaurant. 

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Esquire Recommends:

  • White Chicken
  • Chiu-Chao Dumplings
  • Roasted Duck and Asado Rice

810 Benavidez Street, Binondo, Manila

 

19| Warung Indo 

For the uninitiated, Indonesian food can be quite confusing. Good thing Warung Indo in Makati has made it a mission to introduce authentic cuisine to the Filipino market. Here, you can have a taste of Jagung Perkedel (crispy corn fritters), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), Pecel Lele (crispy catfish), Bakmi Goreng (fried noodles), and Teh Botol (the popular bottled tea). Soon, you will realize that these flavors hit close to home and there are so many reasons to love Indonesia’s delicious offerings. 

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Esquire Recommends:

  • Beef Rendang
  • Pecel Lele
  • Sate Ayam

G/F LPL Manor, 116 Leviste Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City

 

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