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An Insider's Guide to Manila

No longer just a gateway to the islands, the dense, kinetic Philippine capital has become a destination in its own right. By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI. Photographed by FRANCISCO GUERRERO.

Published on Mar 15, 2018


Map by Autchara Panphai.

IF YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TO MANILA in a while, you're due. This is a town on the rise; it's near impossible to recognize the cityscape. Case in point: one neighborhood, Bonifacio Global City, commonly known as BGC or The Fort, sprung from basically nothing and has evolved into a major hub, with skyscrapers and tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly streets filled with some of the hottest tables in town. Even the old Makati CBD has gotten a facelift. The rise of Uber and GrabTaxi has also altered the landscape, rendering some previously difficult-to-reach districts now fully accessible. Poblacion, for example, which used to be downright dodgy, is now an exciting enclave where young restaurateurs and entrepreneurs have set up shop, attracted by the low rents.

This is but one way urban life is rapidly changing, for today's Manileño has become far more discerning and cosmopolitan, preferring unique concepts to big brands, franchises and malls. Locals are not only embracing new cultures via their cuisine and art, they also proudly support homegrown brands, many of which are designed to go global. More and more expat Filipinos are returning and, along with the influx of young foreigners deciding to make Manila their home, there's an incredibly vibrant exchange of ideas and creative energy. On the following pages we try our best to illuminate the new corners of élan. Strap in; this is a guide as dense as the city's, yes, still quite terrible traffic.


Stylish and convenient stops on the map to lay down your weary head...

+ Astorla Greenbelt Well-appointed, well priced and extremely well located. doubles from P3,000.

+ The Henry Hotel This converted 1950s home with vintage appeal and Mid-century décor is a true boutique, as decorated by Eric Paras, whose showroom is on site.; doubles from P4,000.

+ La Casita Mercedes Charming B&B in a renovated pre-war colonial house in central Makati, a stone's throw away from the hip district of Williamsburgos.; singles from P1,700.

+ The Peninsula The stunning lobby is the most prestigious meeting place in town, and the food and service are always impeccable.; doubles from P7,000.

At The Peninsula, a most impressive lobby.
At The Peninsula, a most impressive lobby. Courtesy of The Peninsula Manila.

+ Picasso Surrounded by small restos and bars in Salcedo Village, the minimalist rooms of varying sizes—from studios to lofts—and friendly staff are perfect for long stays.; doubles from P4,000.

+ Raffles Gorgeous, generous suites with that classic, old-world Raffles touch. Smack in the middle of in the Makati CBD.; doubles from P12,000.

+ Shangri-La at the Fort The luxurious "town hall" of the BGC is bursting with fab food and drink options, a huge gym and a kids rec center, walkable to many of the hippest places in town.; doubles from P12,300.

+ Sofitel Beautiful bay views, Technicolor sunsets and an excellent buffet (see: cheese room and foie gras station).; doubles from P7,000.

Sofitel Manila
Beautiful bay views, at Sofitel. Courtesy of Sofitel Philippine Plaza.


For the special night out in Manila, book with these guys well in advance.

Blackbird The most beautiful restaurant in town is in the Nielsen Tower, one of the few pre-war buildings left in the center. The menu mirrors its structure's origin as an airport, taking you from Italy to Vietnam. It's a perfect spot for diners with opposing cravings, plus top-notch service and great cocktails.; P3,500.


M Dining The best ingredients combined with a classic approach make up the menu of this Manila favorite. Whether it's the homemade taglioni with bottarga, the fluffiest cheese soufflé around, or lamb rib with cauliflower purée, the execution is always stellar. They have one of the best-curated wine lists in the country.; P5,000.

M Dining
M Dining.

SALA Starched linens, five-star service and creative Continental cuisine make this jewel box of a restaurant the ultimate finedining establishment in the capital. With just 40 seats, this is the best place for an intimate dinner or a dressy lunch.; tasting menus from P2,900 per person.

Mecha Uma If you manage to land spots on the 10-seat counter, you must relinquish all control to the young and talented chef Bruce Ricketts, who will dazzle you with a Japanese-style omakaze made with the freshest possible ingredients and his own equally fresh twist.; tasting menus P3,600 per person.

Mecha Uma
Mecha Uma.


As the city becomes more cosmopolitan, the cuisine deliciously follows.

 FRENCH  210 Degrees Kitchen+Drinkery Chef William Mahi named his new bistro after both the perfect roasting temperature and his more than 180- shift from "fine dining to fun dining." Serving dishes that he would like to eat on his day off, he offers bold exotic flavors like the roast octopus with Ras-el-Hanout and piquillo mayo, and fried chicken with his own secret spice mix, but he doesn't ignore his Gallic roots, making French classics such as frog legs and toprated sole meunière. Take advantage of the stellar sommelier and start (or end) the evening with a cocktail at the bar.; P3,000.

210 Degrees Kitchen + Drinkery
At 210 Degrees Kitchen+Drinkery, steak tartare.

 GREEK  Souv! There is no shortage of delicious spit-fired meats here. Chicken, pork, lamb and beef souvlaki are the highlights of this modern Greek eatery but they share the spotlight with the mezzes and other offerings. Do not miss the cheese saganaki with peppered fig jam or the grilled sous vide octopus. For vegetarians, health-conscious chef Robby Goco cooks up hearty options like saffron cauliflower rice with tahini, or zucchini kroketes.; P1,500.

 SPANISH  Txanton This wine and jamon shop is an epicurean haven. Specializing in the best Iberian ham in the world, Txanton offers jamon Iberico tastings and delicious pork dishes. Pick out a bottle or two of wine and take over a communal table for a great wind-down at the end of the day with friends. Order nibbles like the jamon pâté and progress into the evening with a grilled secreto Iberico or txuleton.; P3,500.


 PERUVIAN  Samba Fresh, zingy and muy caliente! are the best ways to describe both cuisine and ambience at Samba. Peruvian chef Carlo Huerta Echegaray takes full advantage of the Philippines' bountiful oceans in his menu of his native classics like leche de tigre, ceviche and tiraditos. Boldly flavored dishes like the Peruvian pork adobo or the slow-cooked lamb shank with sarza criolla are beautiful. a few pisco sours and the party in your mouth will definitely move down to your feet. Shangri-La at the Fort; P2,500.

 SOUTHEAST ASIA  Any Any Brainchild of Chef Nicco Santos, the man behind the Southeast Asian eatery Hey Handsome!, Any Any is a street-food-classics stall with the best nasi lemak and roti prata in town. Devour a satisfying lunch of his renditions of murtabak stuffed roti prata with hearty fillings like caramelized onions and cheese or beef rendang. Hole In The Wall, 4F Century City Mall, Kalayaan Avenue, Makati; P500.

Roti prata at Any Any.
Roti prata at Any Any.


Pig out on the local flavor.


MANAM From streetballs and chicharon to pork shoulder sinigang and pancit palabok, this modern eatery does street food and home-cooked faves using the best ingredients. A dichotomous menu offers parallel creative versions of the classics: Think beef short ribs and watermelon sinigang or deep fried chorizo and white cheese lumpia. GF Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, BGC; P700.


Toyo Eatery

TOYO EATERY Chef Jordy Navarra's philosophy is not to re-invent traditional dishes but to create new ones based on his childhood memories and new inspirations. Have all the veggies found in the local nursery rhyme Bahay Kubo in one bite, or try an indulgent version of street food favorite, pork barbecue. The Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati; P3,500.



If college kids and EDM mash-ups don't appeal, head to these exemplars of the city's nightlife, catering to a more mature set. Neither nightclubs nor moody bars, these joints embody the idea of a shimmy and shake.

+ Chotto Matte Whiskey highballs and tracks from the 90s and early aughts, from the Raintree team, behind the successful concepts of M Café and Rocket Room, Chotto Matte is not about pretension or posing; it's just simply a great place to hang out. Most people converge around a table but no one will bat an eyelash if you start dancing by the DJ booth.

+ 20/20 A gritty space in a reconverted warehouse with cement walls covered in tattoo-like murals, this is the smoking-hot, of-the-moment place to be. From world music to deep house, reggaeton and even a little Mariah Carey, the party vibe is infectious. Order their Gin Basil Smash—it's the perfect way to hydrate and intoxicate at the same time.

Courtesy of 20/20.

+ Yes Please In this self-styled dive bar with a foosball table and neon signs, blaring funk, blues and a touch of disco, it's all about the mingle, thanks to ample couches and throwback concoctions like the guava absinthe–laced Devon Sawa. Elbow-rub with models and It girls, entrepreneurs and creatives. Strict about its maximum-capacity, so come early and grab a bite to secure a spot.






Mireio Terrace
A perfect match at the Mireio Terrace. Courtesy of Raffles Makati.

Enjoy the Manila skyline awash in fuchsia-orange hues with French canapés (think veal and prawn tartare on crispy rice), a cheese board or homemade terrines on the terrace of Mireio. A bottle of cold Côtes de Provence rosé will match your mood to the sky. Mireio at the Raffles Hotel;; a bottle of rosé and a cheese board P3,300.

  Wild Poppy
Burger at Wild Poppy.

An enclave of independent eateries and bars sprouted organically in central Makati, and its über cool underground-meets-boho vibe has earned the nickname "Williamsburgos"—a mash-up of the hipster haven in Brooklyn with the local red-light district of Burgos where it is. Within walking distance of one another, among Korean minimarts, motorcycle bars and girlie clubs are fun craft cocktails, super sandwiches, Malaysian spicy chicken wings, tasty tacos, gourmet yakitori, and more tequila than anyone sane could handle. While the scene is cool, the climate is not: most places are not air-conditioned. It isn’t for the precious, so trade in your loafers for a pair of sneakers and put on a ratty t-shirt, and you’ll fit right in. Walk down from Felipe Street, across Kalayaan Avenue to Don Pedro Street where much of the action is. The neighboring lanes hold great gems. Favorite newcomers are WILD POPPY (5666 Don Pedro), with a bright terrace, modern Asian bites and refreshing cocktails, and OTO (GF 5880 Enriquez St.), a contemporary music room with a record library and a state-of-the-art sound system.




If college kids and EDM mash-ups don't appeal, head to these exemplars of the city's nightlife, catering to a more mature set. Neither nightclubs nor moody bars, these joints embody the idea of a shimmy and shake.

 Aphro Living Art and Design  From sculptural artisanal pottery to quirky one-of- a-kind furniture, this space is equal parts gallery and retailtherapy haven.

 Archivo 1984  This cache of collectibles, art, old movie posters and records is driven by an obsession with vintage Philippine memorabilia and culture. The place for non-kitschy souvenirs.

 Bellas Artes Outpost  The satellite space of Bataan-based Bellas Artes Projects features non-profit, not-for-sale exhibits in art, architecture and design, reflecting the work done in their school and community. Founder Jam Acuzar offers space for contemporary creatives to be immersed in traditional craftsmanship and an outlet to exchange and exhibit with artists from all over the world.

 Provenance Art Gallery  Husband and wife team Joanna Preysler and Raul Francisco curate shows from news and established artists. Think large showstopping pieces that would look stunning in any living room.

Provenance Art Gallery
Courtesy of Provenance Art Gallery.

 Pinto Art Museum  With antique doors and carved windows in bright colors, and a weathered patina in the hills of Antipolo, this is one of the most Instagrammed places in Metro Manila. Founded by art patron and collector Dr. Joven Cuanang, the museum has one of the largest collections of Philippine contemporary art.

 Silverlens  Champions of photography and mixed-media by both local and regional artists.



Tired of the malls? Check out one of the two outdoor weekend markets in the heart of Manila's CBD. Visit Salcedo Market on Saturdays or Legazpi Market on Sundays for a well-curated selection of produce, plants, local products like virgin coconut oil or fermented tonics, and some great artisanal handicrafts like colorful woven baskets and mats. These markets are also known as hatching grounds for the next big culinary trends, so try one of the numerous food stalls. They are great places for weekend brunch—just bring a hat! For a more authentic experience, make the trek to Cubao Farmers' Market for rows of flowers, vegetables and fish so fresh they're still swimming. Dine at one of the many eateries where they will gladly cook up your purchases for you.

Salcedo Market
Salcedo Market.


These shops sell covetworthy souvenirs to show off your own style as much as that of the Philippines.

Lanai Manila
Lanai Manila.


LANAI MANILA Hear the retail angels sing as you enter this enclave of all things chic, from here and around the world. Hand-blown crystal, vintage silver, hand-painted Moroccan plates, brass earrings in the style of indigenous tribes, and hand-embroidered tunics by local designers. The list goes on. The perfect place to pick up a gift or two… for yourself!



FAH Macky Fah designs and curates a lust-worthy selection of bling. Bijoux Fah offers wearable fine jewelry like goldwire wrap rings studded with oddly shaped diamonds, as well as the affordable-luxe silverdipped- in-gold pieces with fun accents. Inquire about the bespoke services. And pick up her delicious-smelling beeswax candles and coconut-oil-based soaps.


PHILUX HOME Their BGC outlet carries an elegant selection of home accessories by Filipino artisans, including copper barstools, marble cheeseboards and throw pillows embroidered with tropical birds. Warning: You’ll be tempted to drop a fortune on their stunning contemporary pieces that embrace Filipino craftsmanship and design.




Nico Blozico & Solenn Heussaff
Courtesy of Nico Bolzico & Solenn Heussaff.


The entrepreneur husband and celebrity wife show us a hot night out in BGC:"We usually start with dinner at Las Flores []. We like the ambience because it's cozy and away from everything. Then we would end with drinks at Tomatito []. It's not as dark as a regular bar and you can actually still see faces and have a conversation without having to scream. You still get that night out vibe with the Latin music. It puts us in a good mood."



The lifestyle blogger, model and embodiment of #momgoals shares her favorite family-friendly fun: "With five galleries—Atom, Earth, Universe, Technology and Life—no matter how old you are, the Mind Museum [] is something the entire family can enjoy. Being in BGC , it's very accessible. If venturing out more, try indoor theme park Dreamplay by Dreamworks [] or the Sta. Elena Fun Farm []."

Nico Blozico & Solenn Heussaff
Courtesy of Mikaela Martinez.
Chef JP Anglo
Courtesy of chef JP Anglo.


The TV host and chef at Sarsa Kitchen+Bar eats his way through his day-off: "Go to Bacolod Chicken House Express [114 Savana Market, Metropolitan Avenue, Makati]—the inasal is so good and very authentic to the ilonggo style. Get the garlic rice, the paa (leg) and the gizzard. Aysee's [Cityland Townhouses, 17 Martin's St., Pasig City] sisig is also a must. It's very buttery, very indulgent and an authentic carinderia experience. If you're less, adventurous try El Cirkulo's [] crisp, addicting version in a luxurious setting. And for dessert, the ginumis of Via Mare []."



Bespoke suits, tailored shirts and specialized grooming will satisfy the dandy in you.

+ Felipe and Sons Barberdashery "Clean Cuts, Close Shaves, Custom Clothing, Cold Beer"—their website says it all.

+ Spectre The lifestyle concept store includes bespoke suits by local tailors using imported fabric; a barbershop; imported leather goods and accessories; solid scents; and, of course, a selection of single malts to complete the experience.

+ Signet Vintage specs, handmade Spanish footwear, silk pocket squares and tailoring pop-ups with Neapolitan tailors—definitely worth a stop even if it's just to pick up some specialty shoe polish.



Trade in Metro Manila's urban jungle for some real nature.

Go on an easy hike up one of the numerous nearby mountains, or experience the crystalline waters of Mt. Pinatubo's crater. Trail Adventours can organize hikes for beginners, including one that's adapted for children, as well as more intense full-day trips, such as camping expeditions with stunning views and inviting waterfalls. You can join a group or schedule a private climb.; packages from P1,600 per person.

Go under the sea at Anilao. A 2½-hour drive south of Manila's center is the dive town Anilao, which is teeming with protected reefs and is perfect for a daytrip or a longer escape. Aiyanar Diver Resort brings the R&R—reef and relaxation, that is—with a stunning infinity pool and well-appointed seaview rooms.; beginner's PADI courses from P4,200 per person, and rooms at twin sharing starting P9,000 per night inclusive of breakfast; for dive and stay packages, contact the resort directly.

At Aiyanar Diver Resort, in Anilao.
At Aiyanar Diver Resort, in Anilao.



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The gallery/ shop Aphro Living Art and Design.
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