8 Restobars That Shaped the '90s Dining Scene
First, what could be a more '90s term that "restobar"? Before the gastropub dictated that bar food had to be elevated into some form of haute cuisine, the college kids and yuppies of 1990s Metro Manila were perfectly happy having their Blue Ice beers and Weng-Wengs with cheese sticks and salpicao. These restaurant-slash-bars were the ideal watering holes which provided thirsty 20-somethings refuge before tackling the troublesome drive home (can imagine how tedious that 30-minute drive from Katipunan to Greenhills was back then?).
A restobar was the perfect venue for taking the edge off before a particularly rigorous Philosophy oral exam since people wouldn't necessary judge you for having a bottle of Red Horse with your rice meal. The vibe was easy and casual, the food straightforward and good. Way before social media, that was really all you needed to have a good time.
Both the Makati Avenue and Katipunan branches were popular hangouts for college kids looking for cheap booze, dark corners, and tasty Mexican (ish) fare. For many, those pitchers of Zombies made last period bearable, if you actually made it at all. The beef and chicken fajitas were great at soaking and throwing off that scent of alcohol.
Feeling fancy? Angelino's was the place to take your high school sweetheart on your first date. The Kenny G CD on loop provided the fitting ambience, and those angelizzas—essentially fried wanton rounds cupping sweetish ground beef, cheese, and tomato salsa—were somehow addicting hors d'oeuvres to the rich and eggy gnocchi carbonara. More authentic Italian establishments have flushed Angelino's out of our consciousness, but it will always be a local '90s icon.
While most might (hazily) remember Ponti as the bar where they might have passed out in the bathroom after shots of their infamous Azzuri, it actually served really good pizzas. In hindsight, maybe those pizzas would have saved you from passing out on the first place. While most Gen-Xers and Xennials will always have a soft spot for the Italian resto bar, they knew it was time to move on after they overhead girls talking about prom dresses in the ladies room of the obscure Salcedo Village establishment.
Before it became the huge franchise that launched a multitude of resto-grill copycats, the original Dencio's on Katipunan was a dive where college conyos and truck drivers alike would sit in nipa huts to have sizzling plates of their famous sisig. The crunchy chicharon over the usual gelatinous diced pork face is the perfect mix that is largely responsible for making the kapampangan classic into the current front runner for national dish.
“I always went there because everyone was there,” says one Gen X conyo. The original Jupiter Street hangout already served their famous all-you-can-eat Mongolian bbq bowls, which of course was great with the cold beers. Here, those tisoys knew they could let loose and head-bang to '80s hair bands like Van Halen, Guns n Roses, and Def Leppard.
Taste of LA
This Roces Avenue old timer continues to draw in a diverse crowd thanks to its pugon-roasted lechon belly, extra-thin crust pizzas, and classic cocktails. The dim lighting and subdued music is perfect for mature conversation- or not. Either way, Taste of LA offers the tried and tested formula that has always worked well in those parts- straightforward good eats, reasonable prices, and a relaxed, retro ambience.
What's not to love about meaty fried rice drenched in Knorr and topped with a greasy omelet? Their mish-mash was the stuff of legend and the go-to remedy of the '90s barfly nursing a hangover or hoping to prevent one. The original one along Arnaiz Avenue truly captured the narrow capsule of the old-school San Francisco cable cars, with a second floor housing several billiard tables.
Before the pizza chain became a family casual dining joint, Shakey's was actually a proper beer garden serving pitchers of draft pilsner and offering live entertainment in the evenings. The thin-crust pizzas were an obvious match to the flowing draft brews, and the fried chicken had a peppery kick which is absent from the current child-friendly version.