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10 of the Most Authentic Menus and Oldest Restaurants in Manila

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After living in the city for 30 years, EC moved to the countryside. He writes about life in the mountains, dogs, plants, and cooking.

Filipinos are known for their love of food and enthusiasm for cooking. They are natural gastronomic adventurers. Almost all of their life's most memorable moments are accompanied by astounding foods in their favorite restaurants. For Filipinos, even simple occasions such as a payday or above-average school grades could result in an impromptu dine-out dinner or fancy take-out.

Filipinos food lovers are extremely loyal. Typically, a restaurant that survives for a long time in the Philippines is one that has gathered a devoted following and is beloved by many. This is the case with several of the restaurants that I'll mention in this article.

What inspires such intense loyalty? Delicious food, of course! An authentic ambiance, charming and hospitable service and reasonable prices also help. These four magic ingredients are found in the oldest eating establishments in Manila. Don't forget the magic fifth factor: good, sound management.

And when asked about their secret to success, one owner offered a succinct reply: consistency. People want the flavor, consistency, and texture to be the same every time they come back. I believe that tongues have a very long memory when it comes to recollecting scrumptious food! The original ingredients from the original recipes must never be changed (especially not for cost-cutting reasons). The only exception to that would be if the ingredients were found to be detrimental to public health.

Every payday, my late grandfather used to bring home hot beef noodles and giant siopaos from Ma Mon Luk. And I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this restaurant still exists! The restaurants below were beloved by our parents and grandparents, and they still serve the original dishes from their golden days. Let's figure out where we're going for dinner.

10 of the Best Restaurants in Manila

  • New Toho Food Center
  • Ambos Mundos
  • Ma Mon Luk
  • Ramon Lee's Panciteria
  • Aristocrat
  • Boy Ching Woo
  • Ongpin Manosa Restaurant Co.
  • Max's Restaurant
  • Little Quiapo
  • Savory
New Toho Food Center

New Toho Food Center

1. New Toho Food Center

The Cantonese word "toho" means "everything is good." The New Toho Food Center was formerly called the "Toho Antigua Panciteria," where the Philippines' national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal was known to dine on their famous dishes: pancit canton and lumpia shanghai.

In 1888, the original Toho Antigua Panciteria in Binondo was built and operated by five Chinese friends. One of the owners, Tai Tang, was left behind. His family has run the restaurant since then.

Their specialty dishes mainly include Chinese food, but there are some Filipino dishes that may be served upon request. The menu's bestsellers are lumpia shanghai, ampalaya, pork asado, and pancit canton—both dry and with sauce.

My favorite thing to eat here is the lumpiang shanghai. Lumpia is a lot like an egg roll. It is made of ground meat, pork, or chicken; mixed with minced carrot and onion; and then wrapped in rice paper. The elongated, wrapped meat mixture is deep-fried just before serving. The dipping sauce is made of vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper with just a bit of orange food coloring and cornstarch. So crispy and so yummy!

CuisineChinese

Specialties

Toho Chicken & Rice / Soup

Business Hours

9:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 201 & Up

Specialty Foods Served in the ToHo Panciteria Antigua

Specialty Foods Served in the ToHo Panciteria Antigua

Ambos Mundos

Ambos Mundos

2. Ambos Mundos Restaurant

The Spanish phrase "ambos mundos" means "both worlds." The Ambos Mundos Restaurant was aptly named because the dishes served here are mainly a combination of Filipino and Spanish cuisine.

A Spanish immigrant named Gaudinez built the Ambos Mundos Restaurant in 1888, along the Palanca Street in Recto, Manila. Touted as the "Philippines’ Oldest," this restaurant serves the famous paella ambos and the popular afternoon snack asado roll.

A member of the Ambos Mundos’ Gaudinez family married a Chinese girl named Leung, whose family built the Wah Sun Restaurant (formerly Sun Wah) in 1955.

These old-world restaurants, Ambos Mundos and Wah Sun, face each other in Florentino Torres Street near Recto Avenue.

Whenever we went to Ambos Mundos, we sampled their famous paella ambos. The serving is so big that everyone in the family gets a share of the seafood: namely, shrimp, mussels, crab, and other shellfish. My husband and I wrestled over the crab laughingly. I ended up with the fleshy part because I don't have the patience to crack the arm shell. My three kids were content with the shrimp and mussels.

CuisineSpanish / Filipino

Specialties

Paella Ambos / Asado Roll

Business Hours

8:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 299 & Up

Ambos Mundos

Ambos Mundos

Ambos Paella

Ambos Paella

Ma Mon Luk

Ma Mon Luk

3. Ma Mon Luk Restaurant

In 1920, a Cantonese school teacher immigrant to the Philippines named Ma Mon Luk built a restaurant by the same name. He started as a vendor who popularized a noodle dish called "gupit" (Filipino word for "cut"). Ma used scissors to cut the noodles and chicken before serving it to customers.

He built the first Ma Mon Luk Restaurant in Quiapo, Manila, a few meters away from the historical Quiapo Church. The ambiance is still simple and very Chinese. What made the Ma Mon Luk restaurants distinctive was always the aroma of something cooking that wafted around them.

Some Filipino balikbayans admit to looking for Ma Mon Luk when they want a taste of nostalgia.

This restaurant reminds me of my grandfather, who would always buy pasalubong for his four grandchildren. He would bring home noodles and wake us up with this surprise. The aroma alone was so delicious we woke up hungry. Oh, I missed my grandfather!

CuisineChinese

Specialties

Seafood, Noodles, Siopao, and Dimsum

Business Hours

8:30 AM to 10:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash

Price Range / Person

Php 199 & Up

Ma Mon Luk's Specialty Dishes

Ma Mon Luk's Specialty Dishes

Ma Mon Luk's Special Mami

Ma Mon Luk's Special Mami

Ma Mon Luk's Special Siopao

Ma Mon Luk's Special Siopao

Ramon Lee's Panciteria

Ramon Lee's Panciteria

4. Ramon Lee’s Panciteria

Ramon Lee’s Panciteria is among the few eateries that survived the two world wars and remained popular in the Sta. Cruz and Quiapo Districts of Manila.

Built in 1929, the famous panciteria has consistently built a reputation of serving simple but sumptuous dishes like the special pancit canton. Filipino food lovers still seek this restaurant out because the food has consistently lived up to their slogan (which is plastered on a neon sign): “Since 1929. First among the best. Tender, juicy, tasty.”

If I felt like having pancit canton after visiting Quiapo Church, which is my least favorite dish, Ramon Lee's Restaurant is the go-to place. The recipe is guarded and tastes the same every time you have it. Scooping up the noodles and tasting them will transport you back to the first time you had them.

CuisineChinese

Specialies

Fried Chicken, Noodles

Business Hours

10:00 AM to 10:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash

Price Range / Person

Php 200 - Up

Ramon Lee's Specialty Dishes

Ramon Lee's Specialty Dishes

Ramon Lee's Pancit Canton

Ramon Lee's Pancit Canton

Ramon Lee's Lumpia Shanghai

Ramon Lee's Lumpia Shanghai

Ramon Lee's Original Comida China

Ramon Lee's Original Comida China

Aristocrat Restaurant

Aristocrat Restaurant

5. Aristocrat Restaurant

The Aristocrat Restaurant has a humble beginning. In 1936, a Filipina with a pioneering spirit started serving Filipino dishes from a simple snack mobile. Through dedication and hard work, Engracia Cruz-Reyes and Justice Alex A. Reyes slowly built the first Aristocrat Restaurant into a world-renowned food enterprise.

The Aristocrat has earned its reputation as “The Philippines’ Most Popular Restaurant” through specialties like barbecue chicken, honey chicken, crispy pata, dinuguan, kare-kare, lumpia, pancit canton, and rice.

Today, the Aristocrat manufactures sausages, cured meats, bagoong, achara, and other native-Filipino foods for local and export markets.

I love the crispy pata, or deep-fried pork leg. The leg is tender and juicy on the inside, and the skin brown and crispy on the outside. My favorite part is the toe. You don't get any flesh there, just the crispy skin. It is easy to prepare crispy pata, but nothing beats the Aristocrat Restaurant's version. You just boil the pork leg with some herbs until it's tender. Then, you hang it overnight to let any excess liquid drip. In the morning, you deep-fry it. Crispy pata is served with different sauces: catsup, vinegar with pepper, lechon sauce, or achara (pickled, grated papaya).

CuisineFilipino

Specialties

Chicken Barbecue, Kare-Kare, Chicken Honey, Crispy Pata, Pancit Canton, Dinuguan, and Lumpia

Business Hours

10:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 201 - Up

Delivery

Minimum of Php 700.00. Delivers in 45 minutes.

Boy Ching Woo Restaurant

Boy Ching Woo Restaurant

6. Boy Ching Woo Restaurant

Known as the "oldest Chinese restaurant in Caloocan City," the Boy Ching Woo Restaurant was built in 1939. It has ordinary offerings, but the taste of the food is quite exceptional.

The two most famous dishes are the buttered chicken (deliberately spelled wrongly on the menu as "battered") and the lechon con tokwa. The secret must be in the way that the chicken is cooked and the vinegar dip for the lechon. Whatever the secret ingredients are, they will surely tickle anyone's palette—especially a Filipino's!

We stumbled on Boy Ching Woo Restaurant one night after work. We were ravenous and decided to stop] at the first eatery we found. We steered clear of the "battered" chicken even though the server explained the misspelling. We settled for the lechon con tokwa, and—whoa—it is yummy! We were hooked! Whenever we were in the area, we try to make sure we stop here.

CuisineFilipino / Chinese

Specialties

Lechon con Tokwa, Battered Chicken, and Pancit Shanghai

Business Hours

9:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 199 - Up

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Snack

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Snack

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Dishes

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Dishes

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Dishes

Boy Ching Woo Specialty Dishes

Ongpin Manosa Restaurant Co.

Ongpin Manosa Restaurant Co.

7. Ongpin Mañosa Restaurant Co.

Built in 1940, the Ongpin Mañosa Restaurant Co. has an incredibly distinctive specialty dish customers continually come back for. It is called Mah Kih (or "maki"). It is a brown-colored, gooey-looking soup. It's topped with tender pork chunks and chopped leeks, which contribute to some of the soup's flavor, but other seasonings can be added to suit your individual taste. Another specialty dish is the giant siomai. Each meatball-sized siomai piece will literally melt in your mouth.

A branch in Banawe, Quezon City, is called the Mañosa Noodles, Seafoods, and Chops. This caters to more hip customers. If you want a more Chinese ambiance, you go to Ongpin Mañosa Restaurant.

The famous soup, Mah Kih, has always been dear to my heart. I discovered leeks as an alternative flavoring for my "Nilaga" dish, a pork or beef soup that is boiled until tender. Before, I flavored it with onions and pepper. But since I tasted leeks in the Mah Kih dish, I didn't use onions anymore. I steered clear of copying the gooey appearance though. The Chinese are fond of using cornstarch in their soupy dishes.

CuisineFilipino / Chinese

Specialties

Mah Kih / Siomai

Business Hours

10:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash

Price Range / Person

Php 199 - Up

Max's Restaurant

Max's Restaurant

8. Max’s Restaurant

Max Gimenez was a guy who befriended many GIs following WWII. His profitable food business started out as a simple hanging-out routine at his house. The Americans loved the home-cooked meals that Ruby—Max’s niece—prepared, and soon they all insisted on paying for the drinks and the food.

In 1945, Ruby opened a restaurant that mainly served fried chicken and named it after her Uncle Max. The menu offerings expanded, but Max’s fried chicken remains the restaurant's main specialty since the place is widely known as “The House That Fried Chicken Built.”

Max's Restaurant is our go-to place for Christmas and graduations. The family tradition started when our eldest daughter graduated from elementary school. We decided to eat there because we thought the restaurant was classy and pricey. Well, it has class, but the prices were reasonable. We ordered fried chicken, of course, lumpiang ubod, and kare-kare.

Lumpiang ubod is not deep-fried, like the lumpiang shanghai. The vegetables are mainly coconut heart or the softest part of the coconut tree, and turnip, both cut into strips. This means that there is one less coconut tree every time a customer orders the lumpiang ubod. But our server assured us that they don't use fruit-bearing trees. The lumpiang ubod was served in a thinly fried egg-batter mixture wrapped with a lettuce leaf and poured over with a thick and brown sauce. The dish was sprinkled with ground, roasted peanut.

And now, the kare-kare dish. It is a mixture of beef meat, beef tripe, and beef skin boiled until tender, which is then sauteed with achuete and peanut butter. Rice flour is added with water to thicken the stew. After the flavor is well-blended, vegetables like pechay, long-string beans, eggplant, and banana heart are added. I don't care if it's healthy or not, but we just love kare-kare!

CuisineFilipino / Asian

Specialties

Max's Fried Chicken, Ruby's Favorite Kare-Kare, Pancit Canton, Crispy Pata, Fresh Lumpiang Ubod Sinigang Baboy, Sinigang Hipon, Bicol Express, Tokwa Kininchay and Asparagus with Tofu, Adobo Flakes, Max's Tapa, Max's Tocino, Chicken Sisig and Hototay

Business Hours

9:00 AM to 10:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 250 - Up

Delivery

Central Delivery Number: 7-9000

most-authentic-and-oldest-restaurants-in-manila-philippines
Max's Restaurant Specialty Menu

Max's Restaurant Specialty Menu

Little Quiapo Restaurant - CREDIT - www.spot.ph

Little Quiapo Restaurant - CREDIT - www.spot.ph

9. Little Quiapo Restaurant

Since 1949, the Little Quiapo Restaurant had steadily built quite the reputation as a place that serves tall glasses of cold refreshments, such their famous special halo-halo. When the restaurant expanded their menu, they included both Filipino and Chinese dishes. The old location was in España Avenue, but the new location in Quezon City had no problem luring the clientele to both the QC and Parañaque branches.

For more than 50 years, Little Quiapo served their special halo-halo beverage in tall parfait glasses with long-handled spoons. This may be old-fashioned, but it could be the secret behind their success.

My sweet tooth could never resist any establishment's halo-halo. I have become a halo-halo connoisseur over the years. So when we stumbled on Little Quiapo, we didn't expect how special their halo-halo would be. Of course, I should have been ready when I saw that it is served in a tall glass. The first mouthful of their sweet concoction was cool and delicious. There were sweetened plantain slices, beans, and more in it. All making me crave more. We go there every summer when the weather is too hot and halo-halo is too good to pass up.

CuisineFilipino

Specialties

Halo-Halo & Pancit Palabok

Business Hours

10:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 201 - Up

Little Quiapo's Palabok

Little Quiapo's Palabok

Little Quiapo  Restaurant Interior

Little Quiapo Restaurant Interior

Savory Chicken Restaurant

Savory Chicken Restaurant

10. Savory Restaurant

The Savory Restaurant was built by the Ting brothers in 1950. It was originally named Tops Café in Binondo. When Tops Café became Savory (located in Quiapo), the main specialty dish was anise- and garlic-flavored chicken. Savory also served lomi, a Chinese noodle dish with a thick sauce. This was very much a Chinese dish. Vicente, one of the Ting brothers, loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. When he hit the right recipe for their fried chicken, their business started growing rapidly.

Fifty years after, the Savory Restaurant was christened with a new name "Classic Savory Chicken." There is a planned expansion that would add more than 20 branches to different malls in the future.

Lomi is my husband's favorite Chinese dish. It is thick and soupy, and it has lots of vegetables and chicken bits he can chew on. It is served hot, so he perspires a lot before the dish is consumed. I munched on their savory chicken while watching him. It was amusing to see him eat with such gusto.

CuisineFilipino / Chinese

Specialties

The Savory Chicken

Business Hours

9:00 AM to 12:00 MN

Payment Methods

Cash & Credit Cards

Price Range / Person

Php 250 - Up

Savory's Chicken

Savory's Chicken

Savory's Specialty Dishes

Savory's Specialty Dishes

Comments

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on April 28, 2012:

Delicious hub my queen. So, consistency has been the magic secret all through the years. I love to cook but I've never been so good with cooking. I'll be trying the tips, you've put up the details clearly, thank you. Would love to plan a trip for those oldest restaurants. Thanks again, voted up across the board except for funny. I'm proud of you young foodie queen. Keep up!

ignugent17 on October 11, 2011:

Love your hub and the pictures. It is really true in all the things we do we do it in eating. Thanks.

kerlynb from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on August 13, 2011:

WOW. Chock-full of information. Very useful. Thank you for this.

EC Mendoza (author) from Philippines on September 23, 2010:

Hello, jill of alltrades! Haha! I'm envious! And a bit ashamed because I was born and raised in Manila but I was very surprised to learn about the rich history behind the restaurants that most of the young generation tend to ignore. I plan to go to Ambos Mundos this coming October for a family celebration. Hope it'll not be a busy night then. Thank you for the visit and the nice comment :D Mabuhay!

jill of alltrades from Philippines on September 23, 2010:

Wow! What a truly delightful and comprehensive tour of these restaurants. I am happy to note that I have eaten in almost all of them.

You have made me hungry and now I feel like visiting these restaurants especially the ones that I have not been to yet.

Thank you very much for sharing! Rated up and awesome!

EC Mendoza (author) from Philippines on September 08, 2010:

Thank you very much for the warm appreciation, Mr. Handsome Quicksand :D

quicksand on September 08, 2010:

Your Majesty, the aroma of all this food is driving me crazy! :)