A History of Aristocrat, Home of Chicken Barbecue, (And Why It's In Deep Sh*t)

A brief history of the legendary restaurant.
IMAGE Majoy Siason

While many reports claim that the original Aristocrat on Roxas has been shut down, management has told us that they continue to be open 24/7. The DENR's order (as of the moment) is only for the restaurant to cease their sewage system. Their food, they assure Esquire (and their customers), is still 100% safe.

The branch is under investigation, amid claims by authorities that the restaurant has been dumping untreated wastewater into Manila Bay.

The move signals a shift toward Filipinos being more environmentally conscious, and the need for cultural institutions to keep up.

The flagship branch has been in operation since the 1930s. Lovingly known as Manila’s famous restaurant, Aristocrat’s success belies its rags-to-riches beginning. The Roxas Boulevard branch, with “Home of the Best Chicken Barbecue in Town” emblazoned across its front, is a testament to the hordes of friends, lovers, and families who come in for barbecued chicken drumsticks dipped in “secret sauce,” to be eaten with java rice and atchara.

Bakit, nahihiya ka ba sa mga aristokrata mong kaklase sa Ateneo?” is the question Engracia ‘Asiang’ Cruz Reyes first asked her son Andy when it came to naming her mobile canteen. Asiang wanted to name the canteen after her eldest son Andy, who was hesitant to give his name to a small canteen along Luneta. This comeback gave Aristocrat its current name, carrying with it the philosophy that comfort food and food fit for royalty are not mutually exclusive.

Aristocrat’s famous barbecue chicken also follows a similar work-with-what’s-there trajectory. The restaurant continued to expand into Cubao, Ermita, and even a beach resort in Las Piñas. Problems arose at the beach resort, however, when Asiang noticed that patrons took her cutlery away with them.


IMAGE: Majoy Siason

This petty thievery led to the birth of Aristocrat’s now-famous chicken barbecue. Placing the tender meat cuts on skewers reduced the need for utensils, fully encompassing the homestyle food experience of eating with your hands.  

In 2013, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines officially recognized Aristocrat as a historic site, placing marker at the Roxas Boulevard branch.

Many Filipino families from all walks of life have one Aristocrat story or another. So wide is the brand's reach that even imprisoned soldiers dream of having Aristocrat food.

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Gaby Flores
Gaby Flores is a contributing writer for Esquire. She likes postcolonial literature and spicy food.
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