At least I managed to cover some of the restaurants on my list before this trip ended. En route I discovered some more local hotspots that I’d be visiting on my return–Calle Zaragosa, Jose Karlos Cafe, Josephine’s Smoke Station among others. But for those that I was able to visit the last time, here’s my go-to list in order of (personal) preference.
1. Yolanda’s. I stopped by this humble restaurant after stepping off the plane, just a few kilometers from the DZR Airport. While I already grabbed a heavy breakfast at the Manila airport, I was obliged to take an even heavier second breakfast here. Fresh seafood can’t get any fresher here. This is a popular “bagsakan” among local fishers where some tourists stop by for an after-flight meal or buy fresh seafood to take to their vacation place.
I ordered tinolang lapu-lapu and kilawing gata. The kinilaw was interesting because it was made with gata, the first time I tasted something like it. Pretty good, if I may say. But the tinola was a different story. It was the best version of tinola I’ve ever tasted. For one because the fish was very fresh, and they used small local tomatoes with the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness that made the broth very very flavorful.
I always say you can’t go wrong with fresh ingredients, but Yolanda’s took this cliche a notch higher. This is by far the best restaurant in Tacloban for me. Everybody who goes to this part of the Visayas should dare not miss this place.
2. Ocho Seafood Grill. Ocho is my downtown favorite. It’s a few blocks from the banig stalls that I frequent and from the Grand Tours terminal where I take the van to Northern Samar. It’s a modern restaurant with a seafood paluto theme. They have a display area of fresh (well some are frozen, like the scallops) seafoods that you purchase per 100 grams and request to be cooked the way you want. Their specialty is inihaw na tonto, which I consider a comfort food meant to satisfy any craving. Perfectly grilled fish, in a light inasal-like marinade, that’s very fresh to the palate and without the fishy taste. Again, very well recommended.
I was also able to try lato with calamansi, singaporean chili crab, crispy scallops, crispy shrimps and tinolang pampano but nothing came close to the grilled tonto. Ocho is perfect for casual get-togethers, with well-lighted and clean interiors, plus good food at an affordable price.
3. Julio’s Buffet & Jazz Bar. Julio’s came out as a surprise winner on my list. The reason I went into this place was because it was located across my hotel and the “jazz bar” part sounds fairly attractive. Inside it looked like a poor jazzman’s bar, dimly lit, with underpreserved photos of famous artists on the walls. I almost stepped out if not for the soothing music that played inside. Sadly, there was no performer when I dined but even canned music in Julio’s sounded authentic to my untrained ears. They even sold CD compilations of hard to find recordings that I promised I will buy on my return.
Food took quite a while to serve so be sure to have someone with you for a relatively lengthy conversation. And while the menu resembled something like Dencio’s or Gerry’s Grill, the quality of the food they serve was much better. Freshly cooked, that’s why it takes so long, light on the flavor but big on the texture, it was a worthwhile dining experience.
4. Giuseppe’s Ristorante Italiano-Filipino. Sadly, Tacloban’s most famous restaurant came last on my list. Maybe because there were too high expectations–by me, the Italian food lover and people saying a lot of nice things about Giuseppe’s. The house wine was good, mind you. But for a restaurant that claimed authentic Italian cuisine, food was not even close to Bellini’s. Sorry Giuseppe, but Mr. Bellini beat you to it ten times over.
I ordered sage ravioli and shrimps ala genovese. The ravioli was okay but it just didn’t have the oomph. I was even excited for the sage filling, it’s one of my favorite herbs, and cream-based ravioli is such a comfort food. But the flavors were lacking and weren’t balanced. The bacon on the shrimps was way too salty. Although it was served with an excellent siding of grilled eggplant with balsamic vinegar, something I’d want to try cooking at home.
What I liked about Giuseppe’s was the ambience. It wasn’t trying to bring too much of Italy into a 50-sq.m. room. It was able to successfully blend the downtown Tacloban look outside with the very casual dining atmosphere inside, with a touch of Italian and food. Giuseppe’s is still worth a try for food explorers but when time is limited, you can easily cross this out from your itinerary.