If you’ve been paying attention to global foodie culture over the last few years, you know that Filipino cuisine is primed to be the next big thing.
New York City is now home to several restaurants that make Pinoy (slang for “Filipino”) food more accessible, like Jeepney and Maharlika by James Beard-nominated author/chef duo Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad.
For his novel take on his childhood cuisine, Filipino-American Tom Cunanan of Washington, D.C.’s Bad Saint was named Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic at the 2019 James Beard Awards.
The team behind the Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table even dedicated an entire episode of its newest show, Street Food, to Cebu, Philippines, highlighting the province’s unique roadside offerings, from stewed eel to lechon (spit-roasted pig).
But even with the love the cuisine is earning on an international level, there is still nothing quite like the food that comes from the homeland, especially in Manila. From humble home cooking to its elevated form in fine-dining establishments, Filipino cuisine is robust in flavor, seasoned well and always teetering somewhere between savory and sweet.
Follow our foodie guide to savor some of the best local bites the next time you’re in the Philippine capital.
It’s obvious why late chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain fell in love with this classic pork dish during his first trip to the Philippines. Sisig is a spicy, smoky concoction made of chopped-up parts of a pig: ears, face and innards.
On paper, it doesn’t sound so appetizing, but one taste will make you understand why Bourdain fell in love with this outlandish fare. It’s usually enjoyed with beer, but no one will shame you for having a side of steamed rice to go with it.
The best place to try sisig is in its birthplace: Angeles City, Pampanga (roughly 90 minutes from Manila), specifically at roadside eateries Aling Lucing’s and Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy. While you’re here, stop by homegrown restaurants Cafe Fleur and 25 Seeds, where local celebrity chef Sau del Rosario serves his signature sisig paella.
If you can’t travel outside Manila, there are still several iterations of this popular pork meal within the metro area. Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Marco Polo Ortigas Manila serves classic Pinoy bar chow with a cosmopolitan twist at Vu’s Sky Bar and Lounge. Top your sizzling sisig with an egg for a creamy kick, and ask for it extra crispy.
Another crowd-pleaser comes from Manam Comfort Filipino, where crispy sisig is served with chunks of crunchy chicharon (pork cracklings) bursting with umami.
Tip: Sisig (especially the sizzling version) is the kind of dish with an aroma that will stubbornly cling to your clothes, so it’s best to enjoy it on a night out, not before an important meeting.
Another classic Filipino favorite is this spit-roasted whole pig stuffed with herbs and spices. Always unapologetic about his tastes, the late host of Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations announced to the world that lechon is “the best pig ever,” in 2009 when he went Cebu — it is, after all, the self-proclaimed lechon capital of the Philippines.
But you won’t have to travel too far to sample this porcine delight. Cebu-born lechon restaurants like Zubuchon (the one Bourdain tried) and Rico’s Lechon also have opened storefronts in Manila.
However, one of the most famous makers of this proverbial Pinoy fiesta staple is Dedet de la Fuente of Pepita’s Kitchen. She’s so renowned for her roasted pork that she’s known as the “Lechon Diva.”
Tip: Since lechon requires roasting an entire pig on a spit, make sure you place your order a couple of days in advance. Some restaurants also offer lechon manok (roasted chicken) or lechon baka (roasted beef).
This succulent pork belly often is served grilled or fried to a golden crisp. The popular cut lends itself well to both methods of cooking because of its high fat ratio, imparting maximum flavor before going dry.
At Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Conrad Manila, order the sinugba or barbecued version, seasoned with herbs and spices grown on the property’s own rooftop garden.
If you’re looking for the fried variation, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila serves crispy pork bagnet (pork belly boiled in salted water until tender and fried to golden perfection) as part of its Continental Club Lounge Heirloom Menu.
This rich peanut stew is a mainstay at town celebrations and family gatherings for a good reason: it’s intoxicatingly good. Kare-Kare is often made with oxtail and tripe, but nowadays you’ll find variations containing other kinds of meat, too — some establishments even provide a vegan variant. It is customarily served with a side of bagoong (fermented shrimp paste) to offset the creaminess and innate sweetness of the dish.
At Four-Star Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, you can enjoy traditional oxtail kare-kare featuring housemade ingredients like roasted peanut butter and homemade rice flour (to thicken the sauce).
Marco Polo Ortigas Manila also puts kare-kare in its buffet hall Cucina and on the room service menu, so you can try this classic with housemade bagoong anytime the craving hits.
Four-Star Raffles Makati gave the traditional peanut stew its own bent, making it more indulgent with the addition of lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork), crispy pork belly, bok choy and string beans.
Restaurant-museum 7107 Culture + Cuisine serves one of the metro area’s best versions with its KKK (Krispy Kare-Kare) made with authentic bagnet (pork belly) from the Philippine’s northwest Ilocos region and peanut sauce from Quezon Province.
And if you can swing a trip outside Manila, chef Sau del Rosario delivers a hauntingly delicious macadamia kare-kare with crispy pork belly in his Angeles City restaurants.
This traditional sour tamarind stew is the kind of dish that will make you cringe, pucker and ask for more. It comes with vegetables like white radish, tomatoes, water spinach and your choice of beef or pork. But one of the most crowd-pleasing variations is sinigang na hipon (shrimp/prawn sinigang).
Raffles Makati’s culinary team once again amped up its creativity and came up with sinigang na hipon sa buko (prawn sinigang served in a coconut). The coconut gives the tamarind broth a new dimension of sweetness and mingles perfectly with the prawns, radish, okra and tomatoes.
For a more traditional take, try Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila’s prawn sinigang, made with old-school cooking techniques like using seafood stock made from crushed prawn heads for a more concentrated flavor and rice wash instead of water as a base to give the broth a deeper richness.
If you’re looking for something playful and new, Manam Comfort Filipino has a sinigang with short ribs and watermelon. The watermelon mellows the sourness of the broth, which makes the dish even more inviting, especially for first-time diners.
Some say adobo is the Philippines’ national dish, but in reality, the archipelago has dozens (if not hundreds) of variations with each province boasting its own recipe — as long as it contains meat that’s marinated and stewed in vinegar, garlic and (usually) soy sauce, it’s considered adobo. The most widely recognized version of the dish is chicken and pork adobo.
At Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, the meat is marinated overnight to make sure the flavors permeate every single fiber, resulting in one of the most satisfying plates of chicken and pork adobo in the metro region.
If you’re hankering for more, visit beloved Filipino restaurants with their own take on adobo, like XO 46 Heritage Bistro (soyless adobong baka sa bawang, or beef adobo in garlic) and Via Mare (chicken and pork adobo with a breakfast spin, served with eggs and fried rice).
Another not-to-be-missed dish is renowned local chef Margarita Forés’ lamb adobo rice. Go to her farm-to-table restaurant Grace Park to dig into fried rice topped with tender lamb adobo and a generous helping of fried garlic.
This hearty beef broth dish is one of the main reasons tourists flock to Tagaytay, a cooler part of the island roughly 90 minutes south of Manila. Beef shank, boiled for hours until the meat falls off the bone, creates a flavorful soup — a great way to warm up on a chilly day in Southern Luzon.
Some of the best bulalo is found at the city’s Mahogany Market, void of all pretensions and fuss, just unadulterated goodness. But for a little pomp, pop into Balay Dako, a homey restaurant in Tagaytay where you’ll find bulalo na baka, an extremely tender nearly three-pound beef shank served on a piping-hot platter with mushroom broth on the side.
Back in the capital, Conrad Manila serves bulalo at its buffet restaurant Brasserie on 3. It’s best enjoyed with a side of patis (fish sauce) and a squeeze of calamansi (a small citrus fruit ubiquitous in the Philippines).
Now that you’ve had your fill of savory fare, it’s time to indulge in this iconic Pinoy delicacy. Literally translated, halo-halo means “mix mix,” which is exactly what you do when you order this refreshing shaved ice dessert.
Five-Star The Peninsula Manila gives halo-halo the royal treatment with lavish toppings of Pinoy sweets like leche flan (egg yolk custard), macapuno (rare young coconut), ube (purple yam), mango ice cream and toasted pinipig (popped rice). The best part: this famous summer refreshment is available year-round.
Another go-to source for halo-halo is Milky Way Cafe in Makati City. More than 50 years of service has made this no-fills venue a crowd favorite, especially with housemade ice cream as its topping.