Pepe Samson’s Top* Restaurants of 2014

I love to eat out. I’d rather spend my money trying all the new restaurants than waste it on gadgets I never really need. Yes, while others go squealing over the new Z3 or stare lovingly at the new iPhone, I jump for joy when I see a restaurant update its menu, launch a promo, or introduce a new dish. We all have our luho—and mine revolves mostly around the stomach.

This year, we had witnessed a spectacular boom of new trends and concepts—it seems like the Philippine food industry has completely broken out of its shell and is now unafraid to try anything. From communal dining to craft beer to fusions to timeless cuisines, the below list showcases my favorite restaurants this 2014.

*Note: This list is composed of both new and old establishments—not just restaurants which opened this year. Basically, these are the spots I fell in love with at first bite, spots which are so good they demanded repeated visits and induced recurring dreams. The list is NOT ranked.

1. Todd English Food Hall

The first of its kind in Manila, Todd English introduced us to the concept of the food hall—a communal dining space where diners can order from a lineup of live-cooking stations. Pastas and pizzas are handmade daily; a salad and sushi bar showcases the freshest ingredients and catches of the day; an ostentatious dessert display lures diners to partake of some luscious sweets. I love TEFH because it manages to be classy but still casual enough to just enjoy delicious food.

Must-tries: Two-Way Duck, Homemade Cured Bacon, Goat Cheese Ravioli, Pork Chops, OMG Chocolate Cake, Nitro Ice Cream, Scallops

Tip: TEFH occasionally launches special menus, like the Truffle Menu last September, as well as some Blackboard Specials. Ask the servers for these kinds of offerings.

Read the full review here.

Todd English Food Hall
5/F Skypark, SM Aura Premier, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Operating Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00am-10:00pm
Twitter: @tefoodhallmnl
Budget: PhP500-PhP700/head

2. The Perfect Pint

I have lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned The Perfect Pint in this blog and in my Instagram feed—I simply, truly, madly adore it. As the first-ever craft beer pub which also puts emphasis on great grub, The Perfect Pint effortlessly stands out. With its trendy design, well-curated menu, friendly staff, and awesome local craft beer selections, I have to doubts that this restaurant will continue to hold its ground in the coming years. Cheers to more hoppy times and exciting food-and-craft-beer pairings!

Must-tries: Pivo Praha Dark Lager, Joe’s Brew Sierra Madre Wheat Ale, Crispy Kapal Muks with Black Pepper Rice, Sausage Sampler, Truffle Fries

Tip: Don’t be shy to ask which of their home brews are available for the day. Yes, the owners of The Perfect Pint makes their own beer too, so while you’re there, why don’t you sample some?

Plus Points for: Supporting local microbreweries like Katipunan and Craftpoint—and even those from provinces like Baguio and Palawan

Read the full review here.

The Perfect Pint
2/F Crossroads Bldg., 32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Operating Hours: 10:00AM – 2:00AM
Facebook: ThePerfectPintPH
Instagram: @theperfectpint_ph
Budget: around PhP500 for 1 dish and 1 drink

3. Linguini Fini

Linguini Fini’s different take on Italian food is perhaps its best quality. With its “nose-to-tail” philosophy that aims to utilize all parts of animal meat and unearth more spectacular flavors, the restaurant dishes out food that are fresh and truly delicious. But Linguini doesn’t stop there—its ambitions go beyond the food and even steer away from traditional Italian settings by throwing in some New York spunk and Filipino charm. Another Moment Group concept executed perfectly, if I may just say.

Must-tries: Longganisa & Scamorza Pizza, Porchetta, Papardelle "Nose-to-Tail" Bolo, the pickled chili

Read the full review here.

Linguini Fini
Level 3, SM Mega Fashion Hall, Edsa cor. Julia Vargas Ave., Ortigas, Mandaluyong City
Operating Hours: 10:00am - 10:00pm
Menu: click here
Facebook: LinguiniFiniMNL
Twitter: @LinguiniFiniMNL
Instagram: @LinguiniFiniMNL
Budget: around PhP500-PhP700/person – food is best for sharing

4. Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas

Nothing screams “comfort” like the goodness of a home-cooked meal, and at Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas, every dish yells out loud so. Traditional Spanish food makes up the menu: dishes that are familiar and nostalgic, food that we grew up eating—except that a talented chef elevates it a couple of times higher, while still allowing us to feel a sense of hominess and closeness. This is a restaurant that—had I been a selfish prick—I would keep to myself for fear that I wouldn’t have a vacant table waiting for me when I come in.

Must-tries: Paella Valenciana, Paella con Setas, Manchego y Trufa Esencia, Lamb Adobo, Caldereta, Crema Catalan, Sangria

Tip: Ask for their unlimited sangria promo! Their version is subtly sweet yet boozy, and perfect with the array of tapas available.

Read the full review here.

Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas
#12 East Capitol Drive, Kapitolyo, Pasig City
Operating Hours: Sun-Sat 11:30AM - 10:30PM
Facebook: Calderon
Budget: minimum of PhP500/head

5. Big Daddy Jay’s All-American BBQ

This humble ribs place in Quezon City is proof that great food doesn’t have to be pretentious and expensive. But the best thing about Big Daddy Jay’s is that even though they painstakingly cook their ribs (a 7-hour smoking process that requires shutting down the restaurant every Monday), the prices aren’t exorbitant at all. For a full-rack worth PhP880, you can get the best, smokiest, most flavorful, and most tender ribs you will ever taste in your Manila life. Perfectly worthy of a hike up north, Southern folks.

Must-tries: the ribs, Buffalo Wings, Honey Garlic Wings, Key Lime Pie

Read the full review here.

Big Daddy Jay’s All-American BBQ
61B 17th Avenue, Cubao, Quezon City (along P.Tuazon, near the CALTEX gas station in 17th Ave)
Operating Hours: Tue-Sun: 11:00am - 2:30pm, 6pm - 10:30pm (closed on Mondays)
Budget: PhP200-PhP400/head

6. Kimukatsu

After the Japanese blitzed us with different versions of pork cutlets, Kimukatsu arrived rather late to scene, but proving us all but we must save the best for last. With its multi-flavored mille-feuille style katsu, Kimukatsu changed the cutlet scene a bit—imagine indulging in ultra-tender katsu with fillings like cheese, spring onions, yuzu fruit, and sour plums. The best-selling side dishes like the kimutaku and ebi mayo are pretty much noteworthy too!

Must-tries: the 7-flavor katsu set, Kimutaku, Ebi Mayo

Read the full review here.

5/F East Wing, Shangrila Plaza Mall, Shaw Blvd. cor EDSA, Mandaluyong City
(02) 727-0333
Facebook: KimukatsuPH
Official Website: Kimukatsu
Menu: Click here
Budget: about P500/head

7. El Chupacabra

El Chupacabra is awarded as the Best Mexican Restaurant of 2014—and if you have been to this little place in Makati’s “red light” district, you will definitely understand why. The place serves the best street-style tacos—cheap but nothing short of spectacular. With Mexican grub paired with local beer sold at ridiculously cheap prices (considering its location), it’s impossible not to have an awesome time. If you’re all for great food, cheap booze, and a no-fuss ambience, this is the place to go.

Must-tries: all taco flavors in my opinion, the filling enchiladas, quesadillas, their signature cocktails

Read the full review here.

El Chupacabra
5782 Felipe Street, Bel-Air, Makati City
(02) 895-1919
Facebook: El Chupacabra PH
Instagram: @elchupacabraph
Budget: around PhP200-300/head for food only

8. Mesclun Bistro

The experience of dining in Mesclun Bistro is one that involves a lot of gushing, crying, and raving over food. Everything—and I mean EVERY SINGLE THING—I’ve tried from this French casual restaurant was unforgettable. The stylish touches like the decorative wine rack, chalkboard menu, and cozy lime green chairs all contribute to a relaxed, superb dining experience that threatens to throw all your manners once you get to taste the food; the interiors are awesome, and the food even more so.

Must-tries: Andre's Poke, the Flammekeuche, Chimichurri Chicken

Read the full review here.

Mesclun Bistro
G/F Serendra, 11th Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
(02) 954-2100
Facebook: MesclunPH
Menu: Click here
Budget: PhP700-800/head

What are your favorite restaurants?

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