The restaurant game has changed. It's not so much about the type and quality of your cooking or the promise of a good ambiance anymore; it's about the crazy, picture-perfect presentation, the persistent presence on social media, the sheer coolness of being seen in that eatery. We're not saying those places aren't good, but they do know to prioritize salesmanship over anything else.
We'd like to champion the marketing underdogs—the restaurants that leave the talking to the food. Sure, they fly under the radar, but finding them is part of the fun.
Chef Francis Lim and the Naval brothers serve a modern interpretation of Thai food in this Kapitolyo haunt. The good chef tweaks things here and there but manages to come up with dishes that are still recognizable and relatable. With his penchant for pronounced flavors, his pad thai becomes pad thai-er, his tom yum tastes tom yum-er, his laksa laksa-er. Trust us, it'll make more sense when you actually make your way to the restaurant. Nav Thai has enoigh of a cult following that they actually have a satellite branch at the SM Food Hall.
The Alley, 16 United Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig City
Duck & Buvette and Apéro
Like its predecessor Café Provençal, Duck & Buvette attracts a loyal following from their quiet corner in Shangri-La Plaza. The current owners took over from their parents and appropriately revised their strategies to fit the demands of today's diners. The style is still French not just in terms of cuisine but more in terms of style. Everything is cooked from scratch, slowly and carefully prepared, and beautifully presented. Duck is the specialty, but you need to try the roast beef.
If duck isn't your poultry of choice, the owners and chef have also come up with Apéro, which boasts the same slow-cooked, no-shortcuts approach, but with the focus on chicken.
Duck & Buvette
Duck & Buvette is at G/F Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City; Apero is at White Plains, Quezon City.
If you've ever been curious about Canadian food, all your questions will be answered at Main Street. Here, Canadian food, according to Canada-trained chef Adam Tan, translates into comfort food and you'll find some of the most underappreciated fried chicken, eggs benedict, and baked mac and cheese. The specialty? Poutine, fries swimming in thick gravy. They come in different toppings. The flagship branch at BGC has closed, but fortunately, it found renewed interest in Pasig.
10 East Capitol Drive, Kapitolyo, Pasig City
L'Entrecote is one of those restaurants that you'll continue to overlook until that fateful day when you notice it...then you'll never forget it again. Their menu of steaks is great thanks to their supply of quality beef, but they're made even better with the unlimited fries, thinner-than-usual potato batons that make the deliciously salty seasoning stand out more.
Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City
Ticks Dula Laurel first opened Mama Rosa (named after her mother) in Quezon City in 1999, but shut it down in 2006. Ten years later, with all the restaurants mushrooming in and around the metro, she reopened her restaurant with a refreshed menu (forget binagoongang baboy and just have some binagoongang bacon) but with the same level of comfort and warmth. The menu is short, but you'll end up over ordering because everything looks mouthwatering. A meal is just like a visit to lola's house, you'll leave loved and stuffed.
9 East Capitol Drive, Kapitolyo, Pasig City
Mongelica Pares and Mami Hub
Those who think there's nothing that can't be improved in the pair of garlic rice and beef soup just haven't been to this side of Citi Golf.
City Golf Plaza, Julia Vargas Avenue, Ugong, Pasig City
Rural Kitchen of Liliw
Where do we even begin? The bonete? The crispy squid? The mechado? The fact that the chef is a 30-year-old prodigy who made something incredible from his lola's recipes? Rural Kitchen is actually the Manila iteration of Mio Kusina, the Sarabia family's restaurant in Los Baños. The food is Filipino (with emphasis on Laguna specialties) and the style home-cooked, with a little touch of polish. In 2015, it was included in The Daily Meal's list of Asia's 101 Best Restaurants, ranking at no. 64.
HRC Centre, 104 Rada Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City; 6060 R. Palma Street, Poblacion, Makati City
Those familiar with Chef William Mahi's work at The Tasting Room should venture to his BGC spot. Here, the French chef veers away from high-end meals to come up with his version of refined comfort food. In fact, he describes this shift as "fine dining to fun dining." The name is a reference to what Chef William believes is the perfect roasting temperature (roasted chicken is his specialty). You can get a set meal if you feel like celebrating, but the a la carte options are perfect for sharing, which was his original intention. Whichever you chose, make sure you get The Egg, potato mousse with creamy egg yolk.
Icon Plaza, 25th Street corner 6th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
The two-year-old Indian restaurant on Bolanos Street isn't top of mind when it comes to a curry craving, but it should be. Highlighting North Indian fare, Mantra Bistro works their charcoal tandoor oven overtime and most of their dishes give off a characteristic smoky flavor. Also worth noting is how they have bigger portions compared to the standard Indian eatery.
Grand Midori, Bolanos Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City
The Pigpen and The Black Pig
Chef Carlos Garcia has always chosen to fly under the radar so it's no surprise that his restaurants are just as low-key. His dishes, however, are as vibrant as the chef is humble. He and co-chef Tricia MacDonald are geniuses when it comes with coming up with combinations that will surprise you (sisig papadum, anyone?). They first wowed us with the Muntinlupa favorite The Black Sheep and followed it up quickly with a more casual but nonetheless playful The Pigpen in Nuvali. The Pigpen concept was then introduced to Manila in 2017, kicking off a trend of chef-driven, light-hearted restaurants.
The Black Pig
The Black Pig is at Commercenter, 1780 Commerce corner Filinvest Avenue, Filinvest City, Muntinlupa City; The Pigpen is at Eton Towers, 128 Dela Rosa Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City.