The Philippines is best known for its white beaches, but a trip to the archipelago would be incomplete without a taste of the local cuisine. Filipino food draws on Spanish, Chinese, and Malay influences, which makes the resulting taste profile – sweet, salty, and sour with the occasional fire – very distinct. While Filipino food does not yet share the limelight enjoyed by its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, it is as (if not more) memorable.
Below is a list of must-visit Filipino restaurants in Manila that represent the Philippine spirit extraordinarily well.
1. Toyo Eatery
2316 Pasong Tamo ExtensionToyo Eatery might be the pinnacle of Filipino cuisine in the country. It was heralded as the Best Restaurant in the Philippines in 2019 and has remained on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list since.
Toyo Eatery was named after the Filipino word for soy sauce, which is a staple in most Filipino dishes. It is also a play on words on the popular saying “May toyo sa ulo”, which translates into “Soy sauce in the brain”, an idiom for crazy people. True to the restaurant’s name, Chefs Jordy and May Navarra use traditional cooking methods to highlight local flavors in modern ways. The result is a tasting menu that is subtle, striking, and strangely familiar.
Prefer ordering à la carte? We highly recommend the Bahay Kubo, a salad dish that plays on a local nursery rhyme. The dish incorporates the 18 vegetables mentioned in the children’s song and is an absolute masterpiece of taste and execution.
Two years ago, Hapag opened with the promise to serve “Filipino food in its highest and purest form”. Today, Hapag is known as one of the top restaurants in Manila. While the pandemic changed a lot about the way the restaurant is run, it also gave chef-owners Thirdy Dolatre and Kevin Navoa time to revolutionize their menu. These days, Hapag’s ten-course degustation leans heavily on reimagined local flavors. The Snack Box, which houses a chicken-shaped inasal cracker, a generous spoonful of champarado at tuyo, a keso at kabute tarlet, and a soy caramel kutsinta, is Instagram-famous.
In 2021, Hapag was included in The Essence of Asia 2021 list for “preserving culinary traditions, honoring authentic flavors, and providing a vital link to the community”. Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself in Manila: Find a seat in front of Hapag’s open kitchen, and help yourself to some black rice sourdough, miso-glazed grilled prawns, and fermented rice with pineapple and chili jam.
Several branches nationwide
Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, but if you have yet to find a Filipino friend who will adopt you for dinner, then Manam Comfort Filipino might be your next best bet.
Manam is among the roster of restaurants handled by the Moment Group and is considered one of the go-to restaurants in Manila. It is best known for offering Filipino classics and inventive renditions of these classics. Favorites include the signature house crispy sisig, sizzling pork jowls and cheeks served with a generous helping of chicharon; the gising gising, vegetables cooked in coconut cream, chili, and bagoong – a local delicacy made of fermented shrimp paste; and the sinigang na beef short rib with watermelon, a hearty beef rib stew with notes of tamarind and sweet fruit.
4. Milky Way Cafe
Milky Way Café is an institution and one of the must-visit restaurants in Manila. If you’re looking for a Filipino restaurant where the waiters are on a first-name basis with the regulars, then this is the place.
Milky Way Café was initially designed as a casual neighborhood haunt, which explains the nostalgic Narra walls, solihiya chairs, and black and ivory flooring. It has since become the meeting place for people from far and wide. Order the crispy hito with mustasa salad, a whole fried catfish with vinegared mustard greens; the kare kare, stewed ox tails in a sweet-salty peanut-based sauce; and the Milky Way Halo-Halo, the quintessential Filipino dessert consisting of shaved ice, milk, sweet beans, leche flan, and ube ice cream.
Had one too many servings? Cross the street onto the Greenbelt complex of malls, and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring one of the busiest shopping districts in Metro Manila.
Lampara, which means lamp or light, is tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript apartment building in Poblacion. The restaurant can be reached past a flight of dimly lit stairs. But step onto the threshold, and you’ll find that the space is as inviting and comforting as the food. Start your meal with the Ensalada, a modern and very Filipino salad made with roasted eggplant, salted egg, lato, and fermented fish paste; have the duck leg adobo or the veal steak in tomato as your main; and save room for dessert because the yema at tsokolate is a showstopper.
Like most restaurants in the area, Lampara is also known for their cocktails. The restaurant uses local liquors, such as the award-winning Don Papa rum, in their concoctions. The Gasera ni Simoun, a rum-based drink mixed with grapefruit juice, rosemary, and absinthe, is one of Lampara’s most ordered cocktails.
Manila Is A Culinary Destination
Without a doubt, the restaurants on this list are exceptional. They represent the pièces de résistance of the best Filipino restaurateurs of this generation. Take one bite out of any of the dishes mentioned above, and you’ll understand why. If you’re waiting for a sign, then this is it; book that plane ticket. A table is always waiting for you in Manila.