Where to Find the Best Legit Carbonara in Manila
While Filipinos will never give up rice, our love for pasta cannot be denied. Ever since we learned how to substitute fennel-flavored pork sausage with slices of red hotdogs and pessata with ketchup (sounds horrific, but you know you love it), our soft spot for the starch in all its forms and incarnations have become deeply embedded in our culture.
While we clearly have a nostalgic attachment to the sweet red sauces of our youth, carbonara is the next-level pasta dish we all went for when we wanted something more “authentic.” When we think of carbonara, we imagine a cream-based sauce with bacon, perhaps mushrooms, too. A powdery shower of parmesan or shredded local cheddar finishes off the dish. However, as most pasta purists or more well-informed foodies will inform you, carbonara with cream (or mushrooms and smoked bacon) is not how the Italians would do it. (Also read: Best Italian Restaurants in Manila)
Carbonara—originally from the Lazio region of Italy—is composed of only four important ingredients: pasta, egg yolk, guanciale, and pecorino Romano. The creaminess of the sauce is derived from the marriage of golden yolk and freshly grated hard cheese, aided usually with a splash of starchy pasta water before the firm strands of pasta are incorporated.
Traditionally, spaghetti is the pasta of choice, but bucatini is acceptable. Nothing flat, like fettuccine. And, honestly, we don’t even know why penne has come into consideration. It is finished off by more pecorino and a generous sprinkle of black pepper, and that’s it. Then, this bowl of rich comfort needs to be served immediately before all that unctuous goodness gets cold and dries up.
It took a while, but some purists in the local dining scene have finally included authentic carbonara in their menus, just as you would find them in iconic trattorias around Rome. Here is a list of places in Metro Manila that will not disappoint and no, it's not ranked.
1| Da Gianni
This Cebu original that made roots in Alabang is the go-to of the area’s well-heeled foodies for decadent carbs. A tip from a well-traveled restauranteur, Da Gianni’s carbonara is as legit as it gets. He swears he does not eat carbonara anywhere else in Metro Manila. Diners are given free rein to choose the pasta, but if you’re going to go authentic, might as well go all the way and stick to spaghetti.
Westgate Center, Filinvest City, Muntinlupa
2| a mano
Probably the most successful restaurant opening of 2019, the Amado Forés-owned restaurant focuses on traditional Italian favorites done right. Ingredient-focused and technique-driven, its carbonara is a reflection of these principles.
Powerplant Mall, Rockwell, Makati
3| Elbert’s Pizzeria
Those who know chef Adrian Cuenca would know that he has long been an advocate of making carbonara as god intended. At brother Elbert’s pizzeria, he is finally able to share with diners how he prepares the popular dish at home. Luckily for us, chef Adrian believes the dish needs lots and lots of crispy guanciale. (By the way, Cuenca also has a creamy carbonara recipe.)
V-Corporate Centre, Salcedo Village, Makati
4| La Spezia
This Scout area cult classic sits pretty in its place with well-executed Italian classics. La Spezia might have taken some liberties with their carbonara—like using pancetta or guanciale and cooking egg sous vide in 63-degree Celsius heat until still runny—but the authentic flavors and textures remain.
Dr. Lazcano, Laging Handa, Quezon City
5| Wildflour Italian
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When the wildly popular cafe/bakery/restaurant decided to do an Italian concept, it made perfect sense. Its pasta dishes are bestsellers with good reason, and the carbonara is done right with a rich, yolky sauce that clings nicely to the thick and hollow bucatini.
The Finance Center, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
6| Va Bene
Don’t look for carbonara on the menu; you will not find it. Chef Massimo Veronesi is known for his fresh pasta, and therefore the spaghetti dish is not part of his usual repertoire. But, if you ask nicely, they will whip it up for you, and you can be sure it is the real deal.
2/F Petron Gas Station EDSA corner Pasay Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati; 3/F Central Square Building, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; www.vabenepastadeli.com
But, if you must go creamy, you will find the good ones in some rather unexpected places.
1| Gilarmi Lounge
While more known for its gin library and epic happy hours, Discovery Primea’s lobby lounge with the stellar Ayala Avenue view also serves up a decadent and creamy “carbonara.”
Discovery Primea, Apartment Ridge Road, Makati
2| Cartel Deli
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The Spanish deli’s version is rich, bacon-y, and quite well-priced. A great option for a quick yet heartwarming lunch.
G/F Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences, 119 LP Leviste Street, Salcedo Village, Makati; carteldeli.com
3| Bebe Rouge Patisserie
This bakery does its carbonara as you would expect from the Japanese—light, tasty, and straightforward. Save room for one of its canelés or a slice of its famed strawberry shortcake.
Sacred Heart Street, San Antonio Village, Makati
4| Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza
Untraditional by Italian standards, but completely comforting and familiar for us Filipinos. This is probably how most of us were introduced to “carbonara”—fettuccine swimming in a yolky, eggy sauce with lots of crispy bacon.