Today we’re starting with our Table for Two series, a roundup of our food picks from the places we’ve been to around the country. And it’s only fitting that we start with Cebu, no doubt one of the best places you can go to for a food trip.
You will never go hungry in this province (even if you tried), and you’re not going to break the bank when pigging out either.
Since Cebu is very accessible, you might want to fly there and taste for yourself why everyone keeps coming back to this place to eat. Here’s our list of favorites and must-tries:
CEBU’S ORIGINAL SPICY LECHON BELLY
What we love: the best freakin’ lechon in the whole of the planet
Expect to shell out: between P200 and P500 for two (that is, if you’re too hungry)
Where to find: Parkmall Mandaue and Maxwell Hotel (Escario)
What we love: lechon, biko, grape shake, kamias shake
Expect to shell out: Between P500 and P800 for two
Check out some of their other dishes here
Cebu is the home of lechon, so it’s not surprising to find it served everywhere—from posh malls to roadside eateries all the way to the airport.
Zubuchon skyrocketed to fame because of Anthony Bourdain, who travels around the world to eat (best freaking job in the world, eh?). During Bourdain’s visit to Cebu, he ate lechon and wrote a three-word sentence that would later find its way to the chain’s paper mats & seal its place in the country’s (and probably the world’s) gastronomic scene—>
Lechon (P450 per kilo)
The lechon is flavorful—period. You won’t need any of the sweet brown gooey thing you typically eat lechon with. Their lechon is stuffed with homegrown herbs and spices and contain no MSG—something the chain is quick to qualify. It’s not oozing with fat either, although you’re really going to get your hands dirty whenever you eat some.
Update (Sept2013): We just came from three weeks of pigging out in Cebu and we realized that this isn’t really the best pig for us. Three words: spicy lechon belly from Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly, located at Parkmall Mandaue & Maxwell Hotel at Escario St. No, they did not pay us to say this.
The restaurant recommends their Kamias Shake to neutralize the salty lechon—and you’d be damned not to try it. It was our first time to encounter a kamias-flavored drink, let alone enjoy it. Think green mango shake but with an even better taste (and slightly sweeter aftertaste). We’d go back to Zubuchon especially for this.
And while we’re on shake-speak, let’s not forget their Grape Shake. It’s equally refreshing, but it doesn’t make the idea of making grapes into a shake any less weird than kamias. Even then, you’d know these guys have given a lot of thought to their menu. All it takes for you to enjoy them is to eat with an open mind (and of course, in true Bourdain lingo, an empty stomach).
Zubuchon claims their biko is one of the best in Cebu. We don’t know about other bikos in Cebu as we haven’t tried any other yet, but Zubuchon’s is by far the best-tasting we’ve had ever (and to think we’re not very particular with biko in the first place). They serve a huge slab of this sweet rice cake piping hot, thankfully not covered in anything so you can dig in straight away.
Order these three and you’re going to have a hard time accepting that Zubuchon doesn’t have a branch in Metro Manila. Unfortunately, they fly only their pigs for now.
What we love: Handuraw Special Pizza, Chicken Fingers, Chocolate Ice Cream Cake, and the awesomest below-zero beer in the Philippines
Expect to shell out: P300-P600 for two
We’ve written about Handuraw on a previous post, so we won’t go to great lengths to explain here why we love it. A new favorite though is their yummy chicken fingers, all tasty and hearty and perfect with their pizza. And we’re never missing their dreamy chocolate ice cream cake for the world.
We order Handuraw for delivery when we can’t visit their Gorordo branch, and thankfully they have other outlets all over Cebu too. Check out their Facebook page here.
What we love: Halaan Soup & Lechon Kawali
Prepare to shell out: P500-P700 for two
Laguna Cafe is one of Cebu’s well-loved old family haunts serving Pinoy dishes. Even with two branches at Ayala Center Cebu, the place (both of them) is always full, and there are always one or two groups waiting to be seated. Since we didn’t know what to expect, we played safe and ordered a big bowl of their Halaan Soup—a light and refreshing one, perfect when you’re sick—as well as their lechon kawali (when in doubt, order lechon kawali :P). We loved both dishes, and since they came in hefty portions, they were worth every penny too.
What we love: Buffet (Who doesn’t love buffets? Perhaps only hypocrites.)
Prepare to shell out: P900 each; P1,800 for two (kids eat at half off, but quoted rates do not include drinks)
This is an expensive buffet, but certainly worth it if you know how to make yourself hungry enough in time for the opening of any of the three rounds they do every day. We went there for lunch, and realized we fared poorly when it came to pigging out and getting our money’s worth.
Even then, Marco Polo’s lunch buffet is known for having one of the widest selections (and we heard their ensaimadas are to-die-for too): you have every imaginable delicacy except seafood, which they only serve on weekends. But there’s lechon, roast chicken, peking duck, dimsum; halo-halo and every ingredient you could possibly think of; sashimi and maki and mounds of wasabi; noodles, baskets of fresh fruits you could practically cart away, ice cream in at least five flavors; cakes and tarts and a chocolate fountain for good measure. It’s a buffet alright—and an excellent one at that. As we said, whenever you pay as much for a buffet, you have to be ready to get down and dirty. Each lasts for three hours (lunch is at 12NN to 3 PM).
What we love: hot chocolate + mangoes and suman
Prepare to shell out: P200-P500 for two
Adventure Cafe is located in the town of Balamban, somewhere in the highlands of Cebu (45 minutes by car). This environment is perfect for outdoor activities, and you can try some of them right at the cafe: they offer a zipline for P150 (that’s two rounds, since you’re going to return to your starting point via zipline too) and rappelling for P100 (very cheap compared with rates of others). They also arrange tours to the nearby caves.
This whole outdoorsy vibe makes the prospect of eating in more appealing, if not downright weird: aside from carb-rich fare to fuel those who want to get rough, they also serve quaint food such as this well-loved Cebuano snack:
The place could get quite cold—no doubt the perfect companion to a hot cup of chocolate. Since the dining area opens up to the mountains beyond and the zipline above, you will have an unobstructed view of anyone who takes on the zipline from your seat. It’s a pretty cool place, and we’d love to return on our next Cebu jaunt.
Check out their Facebook page here.
What we love: Organic mountain food (including freshly picked blackberries)
Prepare to shell out: Meals can be arranged with the staff, but subject to availability of ingredients from the farm
Located in Brgy. Taptap, still in the highlands of Cebu City, Gov. Leyson’s Peak is like a weekend slash retirement home right on the mountains (right across is Mt. Manunggal, where the late President Magsaysay’s plane had crashed).
The expansive property has some very interesting cabins where visitors can sleep for P1,000 a night per person. One cabin, called the Japonesa, was done in painstaking Japanese detail, from the interiors all the way to the roof. Another cabin, a short walk from the Japonesa, was cowboy-themed, from the doors to the heavy wooden furniture and the bar inside.
No less interesting is their food: all-organic, homegrown ingredients are used, and everything from blackberries to peppers to corn are harvested from their farm.
Should you wish to head there, there are jeepneys or motorcycles for hire at JY Square along Gorordo Avenue at the city proper. Transportation costs may be anywhere between P50 and P100, plus the P50-entrance fee at Leyson’s Peak.
BLUE ICE RESTAURANT
What we love: Seafood Rice, Chili Crab, Thai Stir-Fried Prawns, Grilled Katamba
Prepare to shell out: P600-P1,000 for two
Blue Ice is one of the many restaurants lining Sta. Fe’s main street in Bantayan Island, but it’s the only one we ate at during our two-night stay. We love our seafood more than our lechon, and we had some of our best meals here. Their Seafood Rice would put to shame all others of its kind: the ingredients were never skimped on, including the whole shrimps and squid rings. We loved everything we ordered—the chili crab, the grilled katamba fish, and the Thai stir-fried prawns were all heavenly, and the serving size was just right for two hungry persons. We miss this place already.
Where to find: everywhere (average P30 a pack)
You don’t need to head to the town of Carcar to get their chicharon, because it’s all over Cebu City (we bought some from street vendors beside the Sto. Nino Basilica). Even vendors selling inside buses sell some of these (that’s actually how we got our first taste too). This chicharon looks more like pork chop deep-fried a hundred times because every piece is as solid as no chicharon could ever be, not even Lapid’s. There’s a reason they come in small packs: you can’t clog your arteries too much.
PUSO (HANGING RICE)
Where to find: everywhere (P7 apiece)
You have to try eating pusó at least once when you’re in Cebu. When dining in the city, you can actually choose to have the pusó instead of the cup of rice (plus the pusó is cheaper). To make your experience more interesting, try eating one while inside a moving bus, with barbeque on one hand. We did—and it was fun. :P