A foodie’s guide to Baguio City’s best-kept secrets - TrueID

A foodie’s guide to Baguio City’s best-kept secrets

Coconuts ManilaOctober 6, 2022

Another weekend, another trip to Baguio City. Weekend warriors from Manila love making the drive to the northern city for cooler air, the plethora of pine trees weaving into its cityscapes, and the food. Oh, the food.

That Baguio is practically a foodie haven should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. Its cooler climate and high elevation allow many of the country’s fantastic and diverse produce to thrive, bringing life to the city’s brimming and distinct food culture. Add to that a rich, intact highland heritage of the Cordilleras and the various melting-pot cultures that have arrived in the years since, and you have a city exploding in flavors.

As someone who has regularly visited the City of Pines in the last 12 years, bypassing its tourist traps and making a beeline to its best-kept secrets, my ideal weekend in Baguio is always the same. It begins and ends with a trip to the local public market, where you get to see the Cordillera region’s freshest goods and ingredients up close: vibrant, leafy vegetables, sacks of freshly roasted arabica beans, jars of ube and strawberry jams, bottles of the local rice wine, tapuey, and much more.

Around Baguio, some of the city’s most passionate culinary minds utilize these ingredients to create a wide array of tantalizing dishes, interpreting them with the flavors and influences they know best. It’s all very much keeping in the spirit of this UNESCO Creative City.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Baguio’s best (some relatively popular establishments and clear icons have been left out), but its aim is to draw attention to a few underrated gems — some new, some not-so-new — that deserve your tastebuds’ attention the next time you make a trip to the city.

Agara Ramen

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

In Baguio City, every day is ramen weather — and this local joint serves some of the best umami bowls you can slurp down in the city. Agara Ramen is a 14-seater ramen bar with largely straightforward operations. The menu is relatively limited with just eight bowls to choose from, along with a few side dishes such as karaage and the gyoza — which are good, but not great. They pale in comparison to the firm noodles and thick and juicy slices of chashu in every bowl of Agara’s ramen, the clear stars of this joint.

The bowls arrive nearly as quickly as you order them, and the bar-like seating (and the queue snaking outdoors) may have you in and out of the restaurant as soon as you down the last drops of broth.

Coconuts recommends: The Chuka Soba ramen, a balanced and earthy mix of pork, chicken, and vegetable broth. For ramen lovers who love rich and flavorful noodle soups, give the Tonkotsu Shoyu a go – it features an intense and garlicky soup so thick you can feel the collagen as you smack your lips.

Engineer’s Hill, G/F Rancho Guillermo Building, 80 North Dr, Baguio. Visit their Facebook page here.

Yes Pho

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Yes Pho doesn’t just serve the best Vietnamese food in the city; its tiny space, tucked just beside a bank, is home to superlative Vietnamese dishes that could rival Manila’s better-known establishments. Their signature dish, Pho Bo (Beef Pho), has a clear yet strongly flavored stock, made even better with the tender meat and the fresh Baguio herbs that cut through its subtle richness. The rolls, all filled with succulent local veggies, have a nice and firm bite to them, made even better by their dipping sauces. Also, they serve excellent banh mi, thanks to their baguettes that are soft and crunchy at once.

Coconuts recommends: You won’t go wrong with anything at Yes Pho, but don’t skip its signature dish, the Pho Bo. Also, the Roll in a Roll sees the classic fried egg roll wrapped into a fresh Vietnamese spring roll, an ideal choice for indecisive diners. The Smoked Bacon Banh Mi features locally smoked bacon by That Mountain High — the embodiment of Vietnamese-meets-Baguio cuisine.

S. Building, Upper Session Road ext., Engineers’ Hill, Baguio City. Visit them on Facebook here.

Himalayan Nepalese Cuisine

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Don’t be put off when you pull over by what seems to be a plain apartment — it’s part of the hidden charm of this restaurant, whose name hardly needs explaining in terms of what cuisine you’re about to expect. Baguio is home to a number of immigrant communities, among them members of the South Asian diaspora hailing from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, to name a few. Still, Himalayan Nepalese Cuisine holds plenty of room for surprises. This cozy and welcoming 10-seater space, which resides in an apartment unit, is home to an assortment of authentic and fantastic South Asian eats.

Coconuts recommends: Buffalo momo, minced buffalo meat inside a dumpling (think Chinese dim sum but gamier), a true fusion dish that represents its geographical borders; chicken butter masala, with moist chicken and a silky-smooth curry sauce that is both bright and deep in flavor; mutton biryani, excellently cooked with its crispy skin coating tender and flavorful meat, served with fragrant basmati rice and pickled vegetables; and paneer pakora, springy white cottage cheese fried in a light, crispy batter and served with mint chutney.

49 Upper Malvar, Trancoville, Baguio City. Check their Facebook page here.

Cathy’s Fastfood

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Cathy’s is peak local eats. It’s located along a busy sidewalk near the Baguio Public Market area, so don’t come expecting parking spots. In fact, the restaurant may be fairly easy to miss – its most distinguishing features are the stark green accordion gate that flanks most market-side establishments and its worn-down interiors of yellow and red. Neither fully Chinese nor Filipino nor Cordilleran, this hole-in-the-wall is an iconic go-to for locals in the area; from the neighborhood’s business owners and clients on a lunch break to market-goers coming from the next block over, all coming to enjoy Cathy’s institutional dishes. The place has a hurried, no-nonsense approach to dining, with dishes coming out in mere minutes after you’ve ordered — so know what you want, order as certainly as possible, and stay out of the servers’ way.

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Coconuts recommends: The Garlic Buttered Chicken, which more than holds a candle against the version served at that other well-known Chinese Filipino restaurant in the area; Lechon Rice, a tasty heap of fried rice that goes well with everything else; Chopsuey; and Nido Soup. If you’re coming alone, order Cathy’s Fried Rice, an all-in-one plate of fried chicken, vegetables, and a fried egg — something of a signature dish in Baguio.

24 Diego Silang St, Baguio City

Gypsy by Chef Waya

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

While Manila diners may be familiar with Gypsy along Maginhawa Street at the Teacher’s Village in Quezon City, this outlet gains a certain charm from being in the City of Pines. Chef Waya creates soulful dishes with an eclectic range of influences, while also making sure the ingredients shine.

Coconuts recommends: Mushroom Arancini and Peruvian Pulpo Ceviche for starters — the arancini had a light crisp on the exterior and a well-seasoned, fluffy interior that will have you ordering more servings, while the ceviche was bright, acidic, and peppery, delivering on a medley of flavors. For mains, try Gypsy’s take on Indonesian rendang, a rich, spicy, and filling dish that should warm you up.

Also, look out for Gypsy’s occasional pop-ups at Hot Cat Coffee, a third-wave coffee shop.

6 Quezon Hill Road 2, Bgy. Quezon Hill, Baguio City. Visit their Facebook page here.

Valencia’s Restaurant

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Just a few meters away from the popular (and crowded) Lemon and Olives is Valencia’s Restaurant, a newly opened family-style eatery that is poised to become a new classic. Situated in a tastefully refurbished midcentury modern home, Valencia’s serves generous and bang-for-your-buck continental fare that blends Spanish and European influences into local dishes – perfect for families and large groups.

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Coconuts recommends: For cocktails, begin with Dad’s Pride, the restaurant’s take on the Old-Fashioned that promises a dinner and a show as it’s dramatically smoked with maple wood chips; for mains, order the set that comes with Paella Valenciana, a generous heap of rice cooked with chicken and chorizo bilbao; Bangus a la Pobre, a large serving of open-faced fish with heaps of garlic and chilies, and their take on Pinakbet, served with French beans and cherry tomatoes. Also, request seating by the outdoor area to get a gorgeous view of the mountains.

30 Outlook Drive, Baguio City. Check out their Facebook page here.

Ozark Diner

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

In the quiet neighborhood of Bakakeng on the outskirts of downtown Baguio is Ozark Diner, an American-style diner and bed and breakfast overlooking the gorgeous field and pine trees of a university campus. Owned by Albert and Kevin Mize, the diner offers authentic and soulful American Southern food based on Chef Kevin Mize’s upbringing in Arkansas. Plus: they are extremely pet-friendly.

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Coconuts recommends: The Nashville Hot Chicken & Biscuits for a true Southern classic (they can modify the heat level based on your preferences); the Fried Chicken Plate, which comes with mashed potatoes, collard greens, biscuits, and mashed potatoes; and the Cheeseburger, with a flavorful meat patty and addictive French fries. Ask to sit by the veranda if it’s available as it overlooks several pine trees and the normally peaceful track field of the SLU-Bakakeng campus.

2 Bear’s Trail corner, 6 Bareng Drive, Baguio City. Inquire on Facebook here.

Highland Smokehouse

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

By the basement of midcentury modern house-turned co-working space Calle Uno is Highland Smokehouse, which serves American-style smoked meats and Southwest-style sides such as soft tacos, corn elote, and patatas bravas, alongside the usual mac and cheese and homemade potato crisps. They only make limited batches a day, so come early for some soulful, bang-for-your-buck goodness.

Coconuts recommends: The Smoked Brisket, Pulled Pork, and Smoked Chicken didn’t leave us wanting for more smoky goodness; and their range of tacos, including Birria and Fish varieties, provided the Tex-Mex fix we didn’t know we needed.

here.

Mangiamo Ristorante and Pizzeria

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Headed by an Italian chef and located in the newly opened pet-friendly Giraffe Boutique Hotel. Mangiamo is raising the bar for authentic pizza, pasta, and other Italian finds in the city. There’s a low-key yet elegant vibe to the place, a nice mix of old-school white-tablecloth service and a come-as-you-are atmosphere. Aside from the brick-oven pizzas, they offer fresh and dry pasta — an overall sublime experience.

Coconuts recommends: Everything at Mangiamo sounds promising, but for first-timers, order the signature Mangiamo pizza. With a mouthful of toppings (mozzarella, truffle oil, scrambled eggs, ham, asparagus, pepper, and parmigiano reggiano) from the menu, it may sound like an overpromise — but the medley of ingredients work well without overpowering each other. Mangiamo also shines in their simpler dishes — like the aglio olio e peperoncino, tossed in olive oil, basil, and peppers — where each element comes through beautifully.

No. 5 Cor Arellano Street and Moran Street, Purok 6, Gibraltar, Baguio City. Visit them on Facebook here.

Publiquo

Images: Coconuts Manila / Sam Beltran (@samzbeltran)

Baguio City is also home to a burgeoning nightlife scene that locals and student crowds frequent. While Publiquo is, in many respects, a run-of-the-mill gastropub for the city, there are a few items that may surprise the average pub-goer. Take for instance the Truffle Herbed Potato Fritz, also known as a potato pavé, but perhaps more famously known as the thousand-layer potatoes that have gone viral on TikTok. They’re crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, seasoned with salt and truffle oil. They’re painstaking to make but they manage to create and serve them consistently (we went twice for the potatoes — and fine, some whiskey, too).

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