It’s hard for us to be objective in reviewing restaurants because Carol and I are both good cooks. We tend to be dissatisfied unless the restaurant is serving food than what we could cook for ourselves. For example, Carol likes the Kare-kare at the Cafe Laguna because it’s a very complicated dish to cook at home. On the other hand Carol makes a terrific Sinigang, a sour soup which is quite easy to make at home. If we have Sinigang in a restaurant, we can be quite critical of what really is competent but uninspired cooking.
Generally speaking, the best food in Iloilo is Filipino cuisine. There are those who denigrate Filipino cooking as beneath notice when compared to the world’s great cuisines. We disagree. There is good Filipino cooking and, when well done, it usually outshines local efforts to imitate European cuisine.
Naturally, Filipino cuisine has very strong Chinese and Spanish influences. This can be seen in a list of some of my favorite dishes: lumpia (egg rolls), arroz caldo (chicken rice stew), apritada, (a stew with tomatoes and pimentos), sinigang (a pork or seafood sour soup flavored with fresh tamarind), the many variations of pancit noodles such as mami, kalderetta (beef or goat stew), lengua (tongue stew), empanadas (pastry filled with vegetables and meat), bibingka (a coconut baked-good), guisadong mongo (a stew based on mung beans) and so forth. All of these can be wonderful if cooked by a great cook. Some of my best meals have been in local eateries called carenderias — and some of my worst.
Then there’s the great grilled dishes. Native chicken stuffed with lemongrass and tamarind and then roasted over charcoal. Marinated and grilled marlin, tuna and local fish such as managat. Squid stuffed with tomato, onion and herbs and then grilled. There are several restaurants which serve good grilled Filipino dishes.
Be sure to check the comprehensive Iloilo food and dining guide: Flavors of Iloilo They also have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Flavours-of-Iloilo/176936592390
Rappler recently published a nice photo essay on Iloilo food and dining.
I usually rely on the Trip Advisor website for recommendations, and often contribute my own reviews, but their recommendations for Iloilo City are not helpful. For example the JD Cafe, a low priced eatery which I like for what it is, is rated much higher than some of Iloilo’s famed seafood places such as Tatoy’s and Allan’s. Part of the problem is that the number of reviewers is so small.
Here are a few of our suggestions.
The Cafe Laguna at the SM City mall is a top pick for us. It offers gourmet Filipino cooking in an elegant setting with reasonable prices, given the food and ambiance.
We tried a couple of buffet restaurants recently, Freska in the Smallville area Emillion on General Luna Street. We enjoyed our meal at Emillion, Freska, not so much.
Speaking of Mang Inasal, this wildly popular chain is definitely at the top of the heap for true budget dining — an with good reason. For P105 you get really excellent BBQ chicken and unlimited rice. Mang Inasal has been bought out by JollyBee so we’ll have to see what this mean for continuing quality. So far no problems noted. Mang Inasal to so popular that getting a table can be very difficult at lunch time. It’s best to come before 11:30 or after 1:30. Our favorite branch is the one in the Robinson’s Mall parking garage.
Tatoy’s Restaurant on Villa Beach is probably the most famous restaurant in Iloilo City. The Ilonggo who returns to Iloilo often makes Tatoy’s his or her first stop. Reportedly, it’s a favorite of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she’s in Iloilo. Specialties include grilled fresh seafood of all kinds, marinated and grilled local chicken, if you like lechon baboy (whole roast pig) you’ll order it here. You have a choice of dining on the beach in a bamboo hut or in an air conditioned dining hall. Prices are moderate. Tatoy’s is easy to get to. Take any Villa jeepney. Every taxi driver should know where Tatoy’s is.
You can also take a stroll on the long sandy Villa beach. It’s easy to get to from Tatoy’s. I do not recommend night time beach walking at Villa.
Breakthrough Restaurant, also on Villa beach, before Tatoy’s if coming from Iloilo City. People argue whether the food is better at Tatoy’s or Breakthrough. One thing is for certain, Breakthrough is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. Breakthrough feels more “on the beach” than does Tatoy’s. A Villa jeepney will take you there. Even my wife and I argue about which is better. I prefer Breakthrough, Carol prefers Tatoy’s.
Ponsyon is another upscale restaurant serving seafood and Filipino dishes. See our review HERE
Roberto’s is a long-established local favorite. It’s in Iloilo’s “Calle Real” historic district in a beautiful old building on J.M. Basa Street, right next to a Jolibee restaurant. Roberto’s, founded in the 1960s, offers Filipino fare at modest prices plus the best siopao (steamed buns filled with chicken, pork or other fillings) you’ll find anywhere, as well as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers etc. I’m not convinced they are 100% beef, but they are good – in our view, better and cheaper than at the chain next door. Roberto’s very busy at lunchtime.
Joy Joy’s Restaurant is on the Coastal Road leading from Iloilo City to Dumangas. It’s a native seafood restaurant with good seafood at very reasonable prices. It’s busy on weekends.
Smallville Entertainment Complex. This newly sprouted complex of hotels, restaurants, and clubs is on a suburban-like strip accessed from Diversion Road in Iloilo City, near the SM City mall. It’s likely the hippest nightlife destination in the city. Restaurants include Krua Thai, Bourbon Street, Regatta and several others.
A pleasant downtown alternative to the somewhat manufactured ambiance of Smallville, is Buto’t Balat Restaurant on Solis Street in downtown Iloilo City. Just walk Solis street from SM Delgado toward the river and you’ll see it on the right. Its elegant-native outdoor dining is enjoyable. I’ve had the BBQ pork ribs there twice and they are good (but not as good as those offered by the Mooon Cafe or Bourbon Street), as is the seafood. We also tried the bouillabaisse, a seafood soup. It was another example that it’s always better to stick with good Filipino cooking rather than efforts at European cuisine. But such advice is always subject to contradiction. Peppy Thai is an example, at least regarding Thai cooking.
The Mango Tree Restaurant in Mandurriao on Guzman Jesena Street near Mandurriao Plaza offers a delightful outdoor dining environment and decent food. You’ll dine under a Mango tree in a large landscaped private compound. You can also dine inside if you prefer. Prices are moderate.
Peppy Thai Restaurant is a top pick Iloilo restaurant for us. Looking at the photos below, I hope you’ll get a sense of why. Peppy Thai used to be on Diversion Road, but it has moved to the new Plazuela De Iloilo next to SM City.
See our review of Cilantro http://myphilippinelife.com/cilantro-vietnamese-restaurant-in-iloilo-city-a-review/
Chinese restaurants in Iloilo City.
It surprises us that it’s so hard to find good Chinese cooking in Iloilo. You can give Kusina Tsina on the east side of Quezon Street near the Payless Plaza, not far from Gen. Luna. The restaurant has been remodeled and is now quite attractive. Check the daily specials. The seafood always seems very fresh. Try the dim sum platter for P168 (more than enough for two), steamed broccoli with special sauce and steamed fish, both less that P90. The seafood with noodles which serves two is also a favorite. Kunsina Tsina offers delivery.
Beef. If you want a good steak, give Bourbon Street in Smallville a try. Bob tries the hamburgers everywhere he goes and is generally disappointed. MacDonald’s is the best of a disappointing field.
Alan’s Talabaon Restaurant on the National Highway in Oton, just as you’re leaving town heading toward Tigbauan. This is an economical, very popular local eatery specializing in oysters. My wife is an oyster aficionado and says Alan’s are the best. There are other choices, whole BBQ native chicken stuffed with lemon grass and various kinds of grilled fish. The Pantat is especially good.