Culinary discoveries are such an important part of any travel. Food definitely adds a distinct character and memory to a place and it definitely connects travelers to culture and its people.
I’m going to make this article pretty short and simple. Why? Because as I’m writing this, the photos are taking me back to the taste, place, people and memories that I had in Iloilo. In short, nakakagutom po (it makes me hungry) and I feel a bit of “sepanx” (separation anxiety).
I know that there are still a lot to discover in Iloilo when it comes to FOOD. But in this brief but special post, I’m listing down the top 10 FOOD AND RESTAURANT experiences that I personally enjoyed and would definitely, DEFINITELY try again.
From the smallest and tastiest bibingka (rice cake) to modern / fusion restaurants, from some 45 pesos caramel macchiato to luscious dinners, THE BEST native chicken and generations of well-preserved local treasures, here’s my list of what you HAVE TO TRY WHEN IN ILOILO (in alphabetical order):
Kaun na ta! Let’s eat!
You can find this cutest and tastiest bibingka near Molo Church. Our blogger friend Jorry made sure that we won’t miss this tiny treasure on our last day in Iloilo. Best eaten hot (straight from the old-fashioned oven) while enjoying the crisp (on the outside) and chewy (or malaggit on the inside) with some buko strips rice cake. The best afternoon treat as you pause from visiting the Molo Church and Molo Mansion.
- BREAKTHROUGH Seafood Restaurant
The perfect restaurant to eat fresh seafood with the beach view. I noticed that this has been our go-to place every after a tiring walk around the city. There’s something relaxing about the ambience of this place and of course the food (lutong bahay and turo-turo style).
- CAFÉ PANAY
Besides being greeted with the impressive mural that was done by a local artist in just 1.5 hours, Café Panay is one of the places where you can try Ilonggo favorites that will bring you back to your childhood merienda days with your lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma).
I like what Ms. Mae Tamayo-Panes (Iloilo Tourism Development Advocate) said during our chat that more than a business, their group’s advocacy is to have a place where people won’t just enjoy their local food but will also help and give opportunities to the local entrepreneurs through the products that they display and sell at the café.
Visit them at Molo Mansion. (Click photo for their Facebook page.)
- CAMIÑA BALAY nga BATO
I don’t think I’d ever get tired of visiting this place. It’s like a home away from home. And I like how Ms. Minviluz Camiña supports locavore. From our merienda spread to our dinner buffet, they served local and we ate local. It’s high time that we support our locally grown and produced food more in the Philippines.
Make sure to book in advance if you want to experience a wide array of locavore for lunch or dinner at Camiña Balay nga Bato. I also recommend their merienda after having a tour at their heritage home.
“The simpler, the better.”
Surprise! We were definitely surprised to discover one of the nicest modern brunch café that you can visit in Iloilo City. From its interiors to the food, one can stay and chat with friends for hours! A resto that brings comfort through food.
- JO-ANN’S FISHBALL & FISH LUMPIA
Another must-try street food that serves fish ball for generations near Molo Church. What we loved about this food cart wasn’t actually the fish ball (though it was also good) but the fish lumpia (fish spring roll). It was so good that I wanted to order a cup of rice with it (haha)! You also have three choices for their sweet sauce – mild, hot or very (very) hot. (I actually lost count of how many sticks Jorry has had.)
- MADGE CAFÉ
This is the iconic coffee shop at La Paz Public Market that we missed during our fist visit in Iloilo. Finally, we were able to not just try their Php 40-45 coffee options but we also got to chat with the third generation owner of Madge Café, Mr. Peter de la Cruz.
We found out that their café actually started through their lola’s passion about halo-halo. Eventually, they served different native coffee innovations with Ilonggo coffee as its base. This place is also well-known as the coffee shop where different personalities like some of our former presidents and politicians visit. They also have a very long list of loyal patrons.
Since Madge Café has a lot of regular customers, Peter decided to give them the privilege of having their own personalized mugs (with their names on it) that they can use whenever they’re at the café. Feels totally like home!
- MANGO TREE
Perfect for those spontaneous or special night outs! The last time we visited this place there were even couples dating around us. Just goes to show that besides their sizzling bulalo and gambas, this restaurant’s ambience is perfect for those who want to relax and enjoy their loved one’s company after a long day.
- NETONG’S LA PAZ BATCHOY
Okay so this is kind of controversial because some people say that Netong’s was the first and original La Paz Batchoy in Iloilo, but there’s also Ted’s and Deco’s. (Ilonggo’s what can you say about this?)
But whether it’s Netong’s, Ted’s or Deco’s I just like enjoying local stuff (especially with sabaw or soup) at places like the wet market (La Paz Market). And wherever this local favorite started, thank you Iloilo for bringing La Paz Batchoy to the Filipino people.
10.TATOY’S MANOKAN & SEAFOODS
Finally we arrived at one of the best places to end your trip to Iloilo – Tatoy’s Manokan (the one near the airport)!
I think it’s already becoming a habit for me and my friend to drop by Tatoy’s before our flight back to Manila. I can say that it’s the best native lechon manok in the world! My number one choice for chicken after peri-peri, Max’s and Jollibee ChickenJoy (haha)!
(If you want to bring home a whole order of chicken, make sure to order it right away because they can go really fast!)
What makes Tatoy’s chicken so good?
(Source: My first blog about Iloilo. Click photo above for the link.)
Besides the chicken being thin (because it’s native and organic) and long-legged like me (I wish), they only use “Darag” (what they call their native chicken), which they marinade in native vinegar, calamansi, salt and stuffed with tamarind leaves (which I saw on my chicken) and lemongrass. This litsong manok is also charcoal-roasted (complete with its head, don’t look into the poor thing’s eyes) while smothered with achuete or annatto oil.
This recipe and the amazing story of its owner Mang Tatoy, makes it one of the best and healthiest chicken in the country! It’s aromatic, the meat is left very tasty with enough crisp skin on it, and it’s made with love. And since they use organic chicken, it means it has less fat but high in protein and rich in potassium. (Just like me again – less fat, high in energy and rich in love. :p)
Eating Tatoy’s at the airport as our last hurrah was definitely a perfect way to end our memorable trip to Iloilo. It was a satisfying trip with every thing that I enjoy – history, architecture, food, great friendships and a love story that are all worth the visit and experience in this progressive city.
Here’s a quick video about our Food and Resto picks in Iloilo:
ILOILO Series | Food
(Special thanks to Jonathan Balonso for his editing prowess and for collaborating with me for this series. 🙂
Would you like to learn more about the stories behind the restaurants and restaurant owners featured here? What are your own Ilonggo food and restaurant favorites? Would love to know about them. 🙂
I hope that this list will help you experience the different and diverse culinary treats that Iloilo can offer. 🙂