Restaurants go mainstream. It's part of their life cycle. One day, they're this sweet little corner shop that you deem your special secret spot, then next they're at a mall with dozens of branches and more coming. But the number of of outlets isn't the only measure of success, some restaurants are able to stay afloat by banking on a destination status and keeping everything simple. You might be rushing through a list of all these trendy new eateries, but here are some reliable ol' places that you shouldn't overlook.
With all the commercialization going on, it's amazing how this little dumpling shop manages to stay exactly the same through the years. The tiny space is essentially the restaurant and the kitchen, with diners sharing space with cooks folding chive-and-pork filling in thin wrappers in quick, practiced strokes. It's a round-the-clock operation, keeping up with customers' insatiable appetite for their fresh and delicious dim sum. You don't need to go corporate when you have xiao long bao like theirs.
642 Yuchengco Street, Binondo, Manila
This little stall at the far end of Pioneer St. Market when Lucy, who is Indonesian by way of West Java, moved to the Philippines after marrying Gershwin Garcia. It feels like the usual story: She cooked the flavors from her home for her friends, who prompted her to open her own place. This was reinforced by her father who also loved to cook. Lucy gathered recipes from different parts of Indonesia to develop the stunning and strong flavors of Bakmi Nyonya. Their bakmi, (or "meat noodles") alone deserve to be put on a pedestal; special shoutout to their shrimp cakes (udang) and their peerless rendang.
Pioneer St. Market, HMR, Mandaluyong City; Buendia Food by the Court, Gil Puyat Avenue corner Bautista Street, San Isidro, Makati City
Naan Indian Street Kitchen
It's styled exactly like the street-side eateries you'd find in India, and if it were two years ago, people would be flocking to it for regular doses of curry. But Kapitolyo competition is tough business, with food parks, upcoming malls, and more and more commercial developments. If you're in the neighborhood craving Indian food, make sure to sniff this one out.
United Alley Food Hub, 16 United Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig City
Uncle Mao's Authentic Hunan Cuisine
Set your taste buds on fire when you make your way to this Neptune haunt. Similar to its Sichuan cousin, Hunan cuisine sets out to assault your taste buds with all different iterations of heat. When you're sweating it out over their sliced beef swimming in hot chili oil and fried pork with green chilies, just remember that this was taken a few down on the Scoville scale. The prices are to share and so are the portions.
Assi Building, Neptune Street, Bel-Air, Makati City
There are many levels to Beni Falafel's appeal. It's essentially a sandwich shop but you'll never taste a sandwich that's quite like this—as if the people behind the tiny restaurant knew that to get by with such standard fare was to create something revolutionary. The simplicity of its chickpea patty, slaw, tomato and garlic sauce blend fits in so well with its no-nonsense venue. At Beni Falafel's, you just get what you expect. It may have branched out to Mall of Asia, but we still treasure the original Makati location in our hearts.
A.Venue Mall, 7829 Makati Avenue, Makati City; South Wing, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City
It's not a hole-in-a-wall, but people should be sitting up and paying attention to this BGC joint—or at least to their burgers. Grind is owned by chef and former hotelier Stephen Carl and his sommelier wife Cristina and together with their precision-trained kitchen team, they make sure that everything they come up with is spot on in terms of quality. The cuisine represents American bistro (read: comfort food), but with a gourmet edge. Even if items like foie gras mangoes (off-menu, you're welcome) mingle with big beef burgers, nothing feels out of place because everything is so good. What's extra special about Grind Bistro is that, despite being in an extremely commercial space like BGC, the Carls make sure to keep the neighborhood atmosphere, making friends with their regulars and just creating such a nice and inviting space. It makes sense. The whole concept was patterned after their own home dinners.
Netpark Building, Fifth Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
A few years ago, Black Sheep in BGC was on top of everyone's must-try list. When the restaurant moved to Chino Roces Extension and kept the setting more bare bones (but not the flavor, mind you), the hype sort of fizzled out. It's a shame. Its current chef Patrick Go, who transformed the modern Filipino menu into eclectic Asian, is more than up for the task of wowing you with his cerebral interpretations on Pinoy memories and dishes. His innovative culinary stylings are already attracting major industry bigwigs so it should be enough of a lure for you, too.
2230 Chino Roces Avenue, UPRC1 Building, Bangkal, Makati City
Atoy's Pork Chop House
Funny enough, the specialty isn't porkchop. Though that's definitely on the menu, you'll find all sorts of -silog meals here. This narrrow space is sparse, brightened by its insane green, orange, blue and yellow walls. Still, despite its humble look, Atoy's is famous for being an equalizer among social classes. Their less-than-P100 meals are proof that delicious food can unite everyone.
195 Aguirre Street, BF Homes, Paranaque City
It looks more like a house than a restaurant, which is probably why it's easy to overlook. Plus, it's usually covered by cars looking for parking for another eatery across the street. Its rustic setup downplays the things that come out of the tiny kitche: gorgeous steaks, perfect pastas and a burrata we just want to take home.
90 Scout Lazcano Street, Tomas Morato, Quezon City
This place is closed during the day and it's just as well. The paintings on foldaway stall doesn't catch that much attention in the daylight (in fact, it looks a bit abandoned). At night though, the owners switch on neon lights that make it look like a shining beacon of amazing Filipino-Mexican food. Think kare-kare burritos, longganisa tacos, and peri-peri chicken rice.
Mapagkawanggawa corner Mahabagin Street, Teachers Village, Quezon City
This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.