Restaurants from the Past That We Miss the Most
It’s always hard to let go of old-time favorites, especially when they’ve been staple cravings for years and are suddenly taken away. Case in point: The buzz created by the phased-out Jollibee Champ has still got us reeling, unsure of what will come to fill the void. Such developments set the tone for a more heartbreaking experience—when not only specific dishes are stripped off a menu, but when a whole establishment has met its end and loyal patrons are forced to troop elsewhere.
This bout of nostalgia has prompted us at Esquire to come up with a list of well-loved restaurants through the years, those that still linger on in memory even after several years out of the business.
And while we love them and miss them dearly, this list does not include dining outlets in Metro Manila hotels such as Bahia, Café Jeepney, and Prince Albert Rotisserie in Hotel InterContinental Manila; The Tivoli and Paseo Uno in Mandarin Oriental Manila; and Flavors and Spices in Pan Pacific Hotel.
Childhood Fast Food Chains
It was in the '60s when popular American fast-food chain A&W made it to the Philippines, several decades after it first opened in California back in 1919. It was unlike other chains: Root beer floats and hotdogs put them on the map, not burgers, fried chicken, or fries like its would-be counterparts today. The floats and hotdogs weren’t enough to keep A&W around, however, and in 2004, the folks behind the brand finally decided to close shop, at least in the Philippines. As a lot of fans happen to crave for A&W root beer to this day, select supermarkets are said to carry it, and we’re certain it still pairs well with a hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Local fast-food chain Cindy’s is another no-fuss, casual dining spot we miss seeing around Metro Manila. It was a popular hangout introduced to the Manila crowd in the '70s, best known for its chicken barbecue, fried chicken, fries, and spaghetti. Cindy’s is still very much present in various locations across Central Luzon, but runs mainly as a bakery serving freshly made baked goods including ensaymadas, egg pies, and pandesals.
Other restaurants we miss: Carl’s Jr.; Orange Julius; Church’s Chicken
Authentic Italian cuisine
1| | Angelino’s
In the '90s, Angelino’s made rounds in Makati and Quezon City as a go-to for quality Italian fare, celebrated over family-style dining. Patrons particularly miss the restaurant’s bestselling appetizer, Angelizza’s, which are crispy discs topped with freshly cut tomatoes and a generous layer of melted mozzarella. Its pasta selection was notably ace too, and yummy thoughts of its lasagna, seafood buranella, and aglio olio remain clear as day. For present-day alternatives, do check out our top Italian restaurant picks.
2| Trattoria Uno Ristorante Italiano
Cubao-based Trattoria Uno, owned by George Araneta, was another favorite back in the day for one’s fix of Italian delights, especially those who frequented Araneta’s Ali Mall. The now-defunct Italian restaurant was Filipinos’ piece of Italy in Metro Manila, and was best known for its breadsticks, tagliata di manzo, pasta alla norma, and honest to goodness delicious pizza (our favorite was the Pizza Margherita).
3| Pepato Cibo di M/ Café Bola
Preceding Margarita Fores’ culinary greats Cibo, Alta, and Grace Park were Pepato in Greenbelt 2 and Café Bola in Araneta Center. The former was Fores’ more upscale take on Cibo, where she showcased ingenious dining concepts, combining parmigiano, foie gras, and truffle with more familiar tastes such as adobo and crispy pata. Café Bola, meanwhile, was Fores’ more laidback offering where diners were treated to toasts paired with tinapa pate and a collection of rice bowls accentuated with caramelized spam, spicy tuyo, or adobo flakes. Café Bola was also once home to a delicious flourless chocolate cake that was served with a delicate vanilla sauce, which allowed patrons to end their dining spree on a sweet note.
Other restaurants we miss: Paper Moon; C Italian
¡SPANISH FIESTA, AHORA!
Delicious tapas and paella
1| Minggoy’s/ Amalia’s Home of Fine Spanish Cuisine
If we could nominate another entry in our list of the best Spanish restaurants in Manila, Minggoy’s would have definitely made the cut. The upscale restaurant hailing from Magallanes was a favorite back in the day, and was said to have served a mean paella and one of the freshest and tastiest oysters you can find in Manila. Minggoy’s gained a second life through Amalia’s Home of Fine Spanish Cuisine, which had branches in Magallanes and Paranaque, though the latter followed had recently closed down.
Other restaurants we miss: Beso
OUI, S’IL VOUS PLAIT
Amazing French delights
1| | Au Bon Vivant
The late Nora Daza, author, TV food show host, and mother of chef Sandy Daza, opened the doors of French fine dining restaurant Au Bon Vivant in the '60s. It was the first restaurant of its kind in Manila, offering authentic French delicacies such as duck, soufflé, bouillabaisse, tarts, and crepes, amid a local dining scene inclined to American-style dining. At the helm of this posh restaurant were the best French chefs at the time, Paul Bocuse and Gaston Le Notre, who worked closely with the elder Daza in providing an extraordinaire dining experience. These restaurants continue to revel in the grandeur of French dining in Manila.
2| Le Soufflé
Another nod to authentic French cuisine in the heart of Manila was Le Soufflé, which was one of the first restaurants in the now bustling Bonifacio Global City. Before the era of cool watering holes and clubs, Le Soufflé was a noted hangout for celebratory get-togethers over food that displayed chefs Jessie Sincioco, Billy King, and Marc Aubry’s culinary prowess. Enter tender seabass, lamb in wine reduction, and chocolate soufflés. Post Le Soufflé, chef Jessie ventured into her line of restaurants (the most popular being the branch in Rockwell Club), chef Billy joined The Manor at Camp John Hay’s Le Chef restaurant in Baguio City, and chef Marc opened his own restaurant, Champêtre, which has now been rebranded to a new epicerie and bistro, Sagana.
Other restaurants we miss: The French Corner; Champetre; Cuillere; La Cabane
No-fuss gastropubs for every fancy
1| Tequila Joe’s Restaurant & Bar
Before chef Robby Goco’s string of successful dining concepts—Green Pastures, Cyma, Souv, and Charlie’s Grind & Grill—there was his first venture into the local culinary scene: Tequila Joe’s. The famous watering hole peaked in the '90s and was spread across seven branches in the city. It was a go-to for nightcaps until the early 2000s when new players entered the bar scene and shoved it further into the background. Good news, though: You can still get your fix of Tequila Joe’s iconic beef sloppy cow (its take on salpicao) at Green Pastures. The sloppy cow is a beautiful medley of tender organic beef, oyster jus, and mushroom glace.
2| Tia Maria’s Cantina
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Students who frequented Katipunan in the 2000s are likely to have had a Cantina memory at some point. The Mexican-themed bar was considered an institution among crowds who sought refuge in booze and company after a long day at school. Aside from Cantina’s specialty cocktails, students loved their take on nachos and quesadillas. Like its counterparts now, it was regarded as the default hangout for its affordability and consistency, perfect for guests living off allowances.
3| Mag:Net Café
Another Katipunan (and later on, BGC) mainstay that we miss is Mag:Net Café, which was the perfect artsy stop for day-to-night engagements. In the morning, the low-key nook took on a café format where you can sit down to read as you make your way through reasonably priced comfort food. Then, in the evening, Mag:Net was packed with artists and friends who got together over food, drinks, and celebrations such as book launches, poetry readings, art shows, film screenings, and rockeoke sessions.
Other restaurants we miss: Robot; Rocket Room
Desserts, and then some
1| Magnolia Ice Cream House
Seventies kids got a kick out of the Magnolia Ice Cream House in Quezon City, a small ice cream parlor known for special celebrations or after-school trips. It was situated right beside the Magnolia factory where children were often brought for excursions. While the ice cream shop reopened in the 2000s, many say the experience and ambience didn’t quite match up to the original format.
2| Passion by Gerard Dubois
It wasn’t too long ago when hearts broke over the departure of the quaint BGC café, Passion by Gerard Dubois, the brainchild of renowned Swiss chef who runs La Rose Noire patisserie in Hong Kong. The restaurant, which opened in early 2016, was a perfect addition to the roster of dining outlets in the Taguig business district. Office-goers had a feast over Passion’s display of fresh salads, bread, sandwiches, and confections, which could be grabbed to go. It was also a popular pit stop for afters, with its selection of mouthwatering selection of gelato, macarons, and tarts taken as perfect companions to warm cups of Joe or tea.
3| Le Coeur de France
As Passion by Gerard Dubois entered the local pastry scene in 2016, another player, Le Coeur de France, was set to close its doors for the last time that year. The bakery chain was a staple among Filipino households for 19 years, and was a favorite source for chocolate croissants, savory paninis, milk bread, and fruit tarts. One of the last standing branches of Le Coeur de France was located in Shangri-La Plaza Mall, where the smell of freshly baked bread and brewed coffee lingered in the main wing’s first floor, much to the delight of diners and passersby.
Other restaurants we miss: Botica Boie; Chez Karine; Da.u.de Tea Lounge; Gourmandise Patisserie; Karen’s Kitchen; Haagen Dazs; The Cake Club; Le Petit Cheri
An homage to the Filipino palate
1| Lolo Dad’s
It’s been six years since Lolo Dad’s, one of the most loved restaurants in Manila, halted operations following the sale of the land it stood on. The Ayuyao family, the lovely owners behind the fine dining restaurant, was known for its inventive takes on favorites such as duck, lamb, and oysters. The generous servings akin to Lolo Dad’s were meant to encourage guests to feast in the company of loved ones, Filipino-style. Now, award-winning chef Ariel Manuel, who headed kitchen duties in Lolo Dad’s, ventured into the trendy Poblacion scene with a three-restaurant concept space that includes Bistro Manuel. Of the three concepts, Bistro Manuel functions as the quiet hideaway that pays homage to Lolo Dad’s fare by also bringing to the table delicious culinary masterpieces, both sweet and savory.
2| Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant
Chef Giney Villar and partner Beth Angsioco had one goal in mind when they put up Adarna: to promote Filipino pride and culture through a rich collection of heirloom recipes. At Adarna, there was something on the menu for everyone—from Bicol express to adobo to kesong puti. Aside from the elevated comfort food served at this traditional Filipino restaurant, it doubled as a host for family celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and pamamanhikans. Adarna was also known for holding traditional tertulias where guests were encouraged to come in costumes as they gathered for socials. Read our picks for the best Filipino restaurants in Manila here.
Other restaurants we miss: Villa Café; Kabila Filipino Bistro