The Best Restaurants of the Decade
In the last 10 years, Metro Manila has become a culinary destination because of the number of international franchises that have come in. Competition has only made restaurants better, hence the 2010s has been a great time for restaurateurs and diners. In the past decade, we've seen beloved eateries come and go, but many have stayed and grew from strength to strength. These are those restaurants, the best Manila restaurants of the decade.
Gallery by Chele
In 2013, Gallery Vask opened to critical acclaim, a molecular gastronomy restaurant that reflected the current tide of the world's most important restaurants—most of which happened to be in Spain where the good chef Chele Gonzalez is from. Years later and after being recognized by Asia's 50 Best, the restaurant has evolved to Gallery by Chele, showcasing the affable cook and his team's assimilation of Philippine cuisine. Not only does Gallery by Chele showcase the depth of Philippine culinary culture, presenting it via its trademark anthropological cuisine, the team has also become self-sustaining, from developing its own sauces and kombucha to running its own rooftop farm right next to the dining hall.
Clipp Center Building, 39th Street Corner 11th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; (+63) 917-546-1673
Wildflour is one of those restaurants that just can't seem to do anything wrong, from pastries to waffles to chocolate cakes. Established in 2012 by Ana Lorenzana De Ocampo, sister Margarita Lorenzana, and Margarita's award-winning chef-husband Walter Manzke, the brand has expanded to include Wildflour Italian as well as the local franchise of Pink's Hotdogs.
It's pretty difficult to choose the restaurant that represents Bruce Ricketts, the culinary prodigy who first made waves with Robot and Sensei Sushi. Mecha Uma comes from the word mechakucha or a "great mess" and ooma, which means "delicious." The menu is predominantly Japanese, but Ricketts takes his inspiration mainly from the best ingredients available. A chef-driven restaurant to its core, Mecha Uma is where you go when you want to be blown away by food (his tasting menu is tops). In 2016, the restaurant was even included in the World's 50 Best Discovery Series.
RCBC Corporate Center, 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City; (+63) 917-855-7230
Helmed by Esquire's Chef of the Year Jordy Navarra, Toyo Eatery was the only Philippine establishment included in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. A year earlier, it was the recipient of the Miele One to Watch Award. Its charm doesn't rest on stellar cookery, world-class interpretation of humble Filipino cuisine, the unforgettable silog, and its accolades alone. Toyo Eatery is noteworthy for its excellent team dynamic, lead by Navarra and his wife May. Both are always quick to attribute the restaurant's successes to the crew that works in the restaurant day in and out. That's modern-day bayanihan right there.
The Alley, Karrivin Plaza, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City; (+63) 917-720-8630
Asia's Best Chef 2016 Margarita Fores has always been a trendsetter, as seen in her Italian cafe chain CIBO to her oft-referenced and missed signature restaurant Pepato. Grace Park, her farm-to-table Italian nook in Rockwell is no exception. The first restaurant in the Philippines to make farm-to-fork dining fashionable, Grace Park was created to address her desire to share cleaner culinary practices. When it opened in 2013, it launched a trend of similar restaurants that promoted local farmers.
One Rockwell Building, Rockwell, Makati; (+63) 939-934-7223
Not all great restaurants have to be upscale. Some can be all over malls, with prices that are meant for daily dining. They say the Japanese have perfected everything, but Yabu proves to be the Filipino tonkatsu chain that could, beating actual brands from Japan and conquering the hearts and taste buds of panko-covered meat fans. The clamor for katsu may have slowed down through the years, but Esquire's Game Changer Michael Concepcion's Yabu, which is run to his exacting standards, continues to attract long lines thanks to its steadfast service and flavors.
Once upon a time, Va Bene was a little-known Italian secret at a gas station. Now, it is one of the most popular Italian restaurant chains in the metro, with a couple of branches placed in seemingly random locations (including near the BHS Cinemas). A perennial Italian favorite, Va Bene, which curates regional specialties from the boot-shaped peninsula, is run by Italian chef Massimo Veronesi whose resume has taken him through several Michelin-starred places. Prior to opening Va Bene, he also headed Mi Piace, the old Italian restaurant at The Peninsula Manila.
Petron Gas Station, EDSA corner Pasay Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati; Central Square Building, Bonifacio High Street Central, Taguig; vabenepastadeli.com
Who doesn't love food on a stick? No one does pintxos quite like the mestizos of Bar Pintxos. Miguel Vecin, the self-declared kusinero, and his partner Tinchu Gonzalez have grown their humble Southern bar into a sprawling franchise of almost four (they're opening a branch in Greenbelt soon). From basic tapas to pintxos, Vecin has quickly expanded his range, creating more experimental but nonetheless delicious ways to wow the palate with Spanish delicacies.
Gesu Building, Don Jesus Boulevard, Cupang, Muntinlupa; Paseo Parkview Tower, San Augustin corner Sedeño Street, Salcedo Village, Makati; Fairways Tower, 5th Avenue corner McKinley Road, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Al Galang's steamed burger alone is enough to warrant this former drive-by a space on this list. Sweet Ecstasy, or Sweet X, started out as a small stall in Cubao Expo selling milk and cookies. One day, Galang decided that he wanted to make burgers instead. Being one of those annoyingly talented people who are good at anything they do, Galang created filler-free juicy burgers that are cooked only upon order to ensure freshness and maximum flavor. There's not a lot of gimmick on the menu. It's just lettuce, tomato, cheese, and spot-on flavors. Sweet Ecstasy is also included in Esquire's Best Burgers in Manila.
We've been fans of Josh Boutwood since he emerged as the 26-year-old wunderkind corporate chef of The Bistro Group in 2013. Prior to that, he had a somewhat cultish following from his Boracay-based Alchemy in 2010. It was in 2017, however, when we once again saw what he could really do in the kitchen. Boutwood opened Test Kitchen in Makati, creating a space for himself to flex his culinary muscles. The tiny space showcased his flair for using few ingredients to maximum effect. It shut down in 2018 only to reopen in One Rockwell in 2019, this time with renewed vitality and a la carte options.
One Rockwell East Tower, Rockwell Drive, Makati
Choosing the best Filipino restaurant in the Philippines will always end up in a debate (let's have that conversation here). Manam may not be your favorite Filipino restaurant, but you can't deny that its food and concept are both delicious and consistent. For its Filipino flagship, The Moment Group introduces classic and modern takes on Filipino dishes in sizes for lonesome diners, large groups, and the in-between. With a menu headlined by crispy sisig, watermelon sinigang, and University Fried Rice, Manam deliciously democratized Filipino food, turning it into something that everyone can enjoy at any point in their life.
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The ramen at this Southern joint has some serious pedigree: It used a recipe is based on Koji Tashiro’s. Tashiro is considered the son of Japan’s Ramen God Yamagishi Kazuo. Since 2015, chef Hideaki Aoyama has taken over the reigns of the kitchen, creating 99% of the menu.
Over six years old, it is still drawing crowds from various parts of Metro Manila. Ramen Yushoken is an extremely focused ramen-ya, featuring only a choice number of menu items, headlined by the tonkotsu ramen that it excels in. Ramen Yushoken's success also inspired another topnotch restaurant Mendokoro Ramenba.
Molito Commercial Complex, Alabang, Muntinlupa; (02) 880-874-24
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There are several impressive taco stalls in Metro Manila and we could take years arguing which one has the better al pastor. But El Chupacabra is special, a descendant of Mexicali, one of the first Mexican restaurants in the Philippines, it was one of the first eateries to not only establish street-side dining, but also draw crowds into the then newly hip Poblacion.
5782 Felipe Street, Poblacion, Makati; The Garage, City of Dreams Manila, Entertainment City, Parañaque
Friends & Family
This Raintree restaurant was lauded by many industry insiders to be the best restaurant of 2018. While it is a Filipino restaurant, it does so much more than offer the usual kare-kare and lechon kawali. Friends & Family embraces Filipino culture and its influences on food. Think hotdogs and marshmallows, mango sago, lumpia shanghai, birthday spaghetti—dishes that aren't really Filipino per se, but definitely Filipino in spirit.
Bonifacio High Street Central, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; (+63) 917-891-7053
Let's get this out of the way: Blackbird remains to be one of the most picturesque restaurants in Metro Manila. At the peak of the restaurant boom, Blackbird showed the way of merging amazing food, amazing service, and amazing ambiance. A lot of restaurants lean toward gimmicky crutches, but Colin McKay doesn't need any of that to be memorable and stay memorable.
Nielson Tower, Ayala Triangle Gardens, Salcedo Village, Makati
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A must-try since 2014, this non-traditional izakaya is run by real-life couple Gab Bustos and Thea de Rivera. The premise revolves around small plates that are big, bold, and imaginative. Bustos likes weaving narratives in his tasting menus, creating one that transitioned from raw to cooked as you made your way through the dishes. The theme is Japanese, mostly, but the artist-turned-chef can take inspiration anywhere. The tiny restaurant is also strong with the cocktails, so make sure to pair your degustation with booze.
7635 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City; (+63) 915-663-2823
Locavore's one of those restaurants that seems to have been around forever. It actually opened only in 2014, and even back then, chef Mikel Zaguirre was already a seasoned chef at 27. Locavore wowed with its bold flavors, thanks to the owners and chef's signature way of coaxing out local flavor using French techniques. You could call it fusion, but we just call it downright delicious. Five branches later, Locavore continues to stay relevant, with Zaguirre just getting bigger and better.
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Sure, there are many modern Spanish tapas bars now, but we have to thank Rambla's predecessor Las Flores for one of the firsts. Following its predecessor Barcino, Las Flores impressed in 2012 with its stunning industrial interiors and mismatched furniture against whitewashed walls—it always feels like the kind of home you want to live in. The cuisine is Spanish with Catalan and Mediterranean touches. Eventually, it paved the way for Rambla, which is a tricked-out, modern version that plays with Catalan delicacies. (The group also runs Tomatito, BCN, and Churerria La Lola—all remarkable restaurants in their own right.)
Joya Tower, Joya Drive, Rockwell, Makati; Tordesillas Street corner Bautista Street, Salcedo Village, Makati
Once called Masseto, M Dining continues to be a stronghold of classic fine-dining in the country. In 2016, it closed for 10 months only to reopen in a new location, just as strong, if not stronger. Together with chef Tippi Tambunting, executive chef Tom Bascon managed to craft and maintain a menu that marries timeless and modern techniques. On top of its stellar cheese souffle and beef cheeks, it also has an excellent wine menu, boasting over 400 varieties. Though we missed it, its revivals and revisions through the years only helped the restaurant evolve through the times.
2294 Chino Roces Ave, Makati; mgroup.com.ph
Ah, the Korean invasion, taking over our screens, our earphones, and our palates. In a sea of Korean grills and unlimited samgyeopsal, Masil stands out for its consistency and, let's face it, quality. The side dishes (the restaurant has nine varieties) are generous and the beef of good caliber. For the overly particular, the restaurant is relatively clean and neat, and you won't leave smelling like a you went through a haze of smoke. It's hard to avoid Korean barbecue; it's become a huge part of the Filipino dining culture, especially in recent years, but if we must choose one, it's got to be Masil.
Tiendesitas, Frontera Verde, Ortigas Avenue corner C5, Pasig; Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong; Unimart, Capitol Commons, Pasig
Hole in the Wall
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While most of us have taken a shine to The Grid, it's undeniable that this love affair for upscale food courts, or, excuse us, food halls, started with 2014's Hole in the Wall, the first in the metro to introduce a chef-driven omnibus dining concept. Here, we've seen the likes of JP Anglo cooking shawarma, Jeremy Slagle peddling cured meats, Miko Aspiras baking cookies, Nicco Santos cooking Singaporean, and more famous chefs presented in a more accessible setup. While the most delicious food hall is relative, Hole in the Wall is definitely the most important.
Century City Mall, Makati
The Black Pig
Underrated it may be, the Black Pig is no lightweight when it comes to producing showstopping dishes. Spanish chef Carlos Garcia leads the culinary calculations, designing a kind of third-culture cuisine that breaks barriers like geography and traditions. "There really is no definition for my food,” he once told Esquire. “All I really want to do is focus on quality food and quality ingredients.” The menu is hard to explain: egg yolk confit mingles with charcuterie open-faced crab ravioli. There are pintxos, too, and tapas. Black Pig is one of those restaurants that makes perfect sense once you put the food in your mouth.
Commercenter, 1780 Commerce corner Filinvest Avenue, Filinvest City, Muntinlupa; (+63) 917-845-0744
Though relatively new, the tiny restaurant on Katipunan Avenue already has everyone clamoring for a seat. Hapag is Filipino, elevated and prettified via fancy techniques, and turned into picture-perfect artwork on a plate. What Hapag succeeds in doing is keeping the sincerity and humility of Filipino food, in spite of all this. That's a tough balancing act, and Hapag does so effortlessly. The restaurant is run by three 20-something chefs who represent the future of the culinary scene—which we're pretty sure is in darn good hands.