Quick Bites: Pho-nomenal Asian Eats

Chang Thai

According to my not-so-humble opinion, this is the best Thai restaurant in Manila right now. They were more well known as a food stall at the Salcedo Weekend Market, and now they have a full-service restaurant. I rarely praise Thai places here, so you better believe me. The food by Chef Aof Suwannalert tastes authentic and is straightforward and no-frills—no need for fancy garnishes and to me, that screams confidence. The menu is a good mix of Filipino crowd-pleasers (pad thai, pandan chicken, bagoong rice) and harder-to-find dishes. Those that are meant to be spicy, such as pad kra pao and laab, MUST be ordered spicy in my opinion, so get the “almost-Thai” level to really appreciate them. My favorites, other than the two aforementioned, are the Tom Kha Kai, Yum Woon Sen, Beef Shortribs with Spicy Lime Sauce, Khanom Tako, and Luk Chin Tod (meatballs). Chang Thai is still on soft opening so pack some patience. As with any other Thai restaurants here, sometimes people (both cooks and customers) are afraid of spice so it would be better if (1) you, as a customer, specify your preference and (2) the servers be trained to consistently ask.

Nam Nam

Arriving at Nam Nam in Maginhawa feels like stepping into a café in Hanoi or Hoi An. The distressed yellow walls, overgrowth, and wooden tables and benches will truly transport you—the only thing missing is the throng of passing motorbikes. I ordered their specialty, Bun Bo Hue, which is a noodle soup dish originating from Hue in Central Vietnam. While I have doubts about its authenticity (I expected a different dish—because of what they called it), I can’t ignore the fact that it’s very delicious and comforting. The sate (Vietnamese chili sauce) is served separately. I would order this again, but I am curious what Vietnamese expats or other people who have been to Hue would think of this dish. I also enjoyed their fried spring rolls but found the ca phe sua da a little too strong on the coffee—I rarely wish my coffee is sweeter, but in this case, I wished it was.

Vina Café and Xin Chao

Another Vietnamese restaurant? Why not! Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows how picky I am with Viet coffee and I loved the ca phe sua da at Vina Café. Finally, I don’t have to go all the way to San Juan (The Coffee Library) for my sua da fix. Vina Café is the more laid-back sister of Vina Trang restaurant, offering a smaller menu as well. I highly recommend their Seafood Pho, which has salmon, shrimp, and fish cakes—it’s lighter but just as comforting as the beef version. Right beside the café is Xin Chao, a bar which offers Vietnamese-inspired cocktails! I love the Rum Ca Phe which consists of rum, Vietnamese coffee, condensed milk, and soya milk. They can also make bespoke drinks—I tried one with whiskey and housemade ginger shrub and it was great! The bar is popular among the younger crowd so if you want to sit down and relish cocktails, you better arrive early.

Nikkei Robata

Nikkei’s outlets (Nikkei, Nikkei Nama Bar, Nikkei Robata) have mixed reviews among people—including my friends—but I personally have never had a bad meal here (disclaimer: never had a “sponsored” meal either). Their latest concept, Nikkei Robata, incorporates the Japanese style of grilling, and so expect a lot of grilled items in the menu. I visited the Newport Mall branch and had the Grilled Salmon Belly with Mushroom Risotto—the fish was savory, smoky, and melt-in-the-mouth while the risotto was creamy, cheesy, and rich, riddled with assorted fresh mushrooms. The tiraditos, which are my favorites at Nama, are unfortunately not available at Robata. Fancy a drink? Try the Harajuku Daiquiri which features rum, yuzu, and simple syrup—straightforward but incredible.

Zhenbao Hotpot

I’m not the best person to talk about hotpot since I rarely go out for that, but I recently visited Zhenbao in One Bonifacio High Street with my officemates and we really enjoyed it. The restaurant has 2 options at PhP799 and PhP999—both unlimited and the latter offering more seafood choices. The cheaper option is good enough considering that it includes USDA beef, pork, lobster ball, cheese ball, fish ball, beef ball, pork innards, sausage, luncheon meat, tofu, fresh mushrooms, vegetables, and greens. You can order rice or a selection of noodles as well. The plain broth is good but I prefer the spicy one (of course). There’s a condiments station where pre-made sauces are available, but feel free to whip up your own!

Which ones from this list have you tried?

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