Whether or not you’re familiar with the nightlife and food scene in Davao, it may seem a bit uncanny at first: One of the city’s coolest places to drink sits on the ground floor of an old heritage house inside a nondescript compound, on the corner of two streets that—at least to an impudent native of Imperial Manila—seem fairly unremarkable. The place itself, however, happens to be one of the region’s most happening: Huckleberry Southern Kitchen and Bar, nestled discretely in the heart of Davao City’s “old barrio.” It opened in 2014 and has since become a stalwart in the local scene.
Huckleberry’s fare is Southern American—good old-fashioned “soul food from the Creoles to the Carolinas.” It’s a novel coincidence, perhaps, that Davao happens to be a southern region of the Philippines, but not one that suggests any less of Huckleberry’s authenticity and truth-to-form. The specialties will speak for themselves: Slow-roasted Beef Belly, Huevos Rancheros Chili, and Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles. In fact, the entire menu is an ode to American classics: Jambalaya, Po’Boy, Gumbo, and Cajun Fries, stand out among others, each given its own modern twist.
More impressive still is that a lot of Huckleberry’s dishes are made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients; some entirely homemade. They smoke their own bacon, sausages, and jerk chicken; bake their own muffins; blend their own Cajun sauce; and even source their oysters from Aklan. The food here is original and authentic in that sense: Southern America by way of the Philippines, if you will—foreign cuisine with a homegrown touch.
But beyond its sumptuous menu items lies Huckleberry’s real pull: the drinks. Their bar selection is top-notch, and likely the only one of its league within the area. They carry a fine selection of tequila—some of which, they claim, cannot be found in anywhere else in the country: Tequila Ocho, Tres Agaves, and Siete Leguas, all flown-in directly to Davao. These share the shelves with rare whiskies, including all your favorite Japanese single malts: Yamazaki, Hibiki, Hakushu; and of course, your Southern American bourbons and straight ryes: Michter's, Templeton, and Willet. Even the most discerning drunks will find something to suit their tastes here.
Huckleberry also has an excellent cocktail menu, which was put together with Enzo Lim, the restaurateur and mixologist behind two of New York’s foremost Filipino restaurants, Maharlika and Jeepney. And like their food, a lot of Huckleberry’s cocktails are also made with their own ingredients. One of the signature drinks, the Huckleberry Hound, is a mix of sili-infused rum, house cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and orange bitters—fruity with a kick. They also have other flavors of infused rum, all of which they make themselves and use in other cocktails: mangosteen, santol, cacao, mango, pineapple, and ginger. And if it ever happens to be a beer sort of night, they’ve got an array of draft and local handcrafted brews as well.
But all the best watering holes have an atmosphere about them that makes the whole even greater than the sum of its parts. Huckleberry’s is that of a relaxed neighborhood pub: warm light on distressed brick walls, some art, and a couple of clippings and posters that bring home an Americana sort of vibe to suit the food. They also have a small second bar deeper inside, which, in the style of an old-world tavern, is scarce in light but high in ambience; plus an outdoor garden space for some al fresco inebriation. The crowd on any given night is a healthy mix of both young and old, with the occasional Ellen Adarna tossed in; and the music is always smooth. It’s all very straightforward—cozy, charming, and conducive to good times.
It’s rare that you find a good place to drink that gets all the elements right, especially if you’ve developed a selective palate for fine liquor. Finding one in these parts is especially exciting for both locals and visitors. Luckily, Huckleberry Southern Kitchen and Bar lives up to its namesake, Huckleberry Finn, and the American idiom that he became—it’s just the right one for the job.
Huckleberry Southern Kitchen and Bar (@huckleberry_davao) is at the Oboza Compound on JP Rizal Street corner Bangoy Street; open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then again from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.