When the big lady boss asked me to survey all the new establishments that I had eaten at over the past year, and come up with a list of my favorite new restaurants for 2016, I have to admit, I was reluctant. Yes, I had my fair share, but I was admittedly underwhelmed. Truth be told, most of them didn't have me at first bite. Many were good but not all were spectacular.
Would I be able to come up with a substantial list that would me meaningful to its readers, and one that I truly believed in? With the shining stars few and far between, I began to jot down the new places that I have truly enjoyed over the past year. When I finished, I happily surprised myself. All hope wasn't lost after all.
The Best New Restaurants of 2016
I was an early believer and Bucky's has not disappointed since. This gem in the heart of the soulful Poblacion neighborhood features a short menu by the young A-list chef Justin Golangco. My must-eats for any time of day include the Nordic-inspired meatballs and potato salad, baked ziti with beef ragu, fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, plus some original Bucky's soft serve ice cream by Miguel Vargas, made from creamy carabao's milk and topped with the brown butter polvoron. 1210, 5666 Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati; 0917.844.5104
I just love everything about this place, from the coffee, the salads, and the quiche to the scones. And don't even get me started on the take-out possibilities. Brought to Manila by the partnership behind Pablo, this new cozy coffee shop serves more than just a good cup courtesy of Yardstick coffee roasters. Before you head out, grab a sandwich, some jamon from Txanton, a salad from Holy Carabao, and a bottle of wine, and you are good to go. 119 L.P. Leviste Street, Makati
One of the year's most anticipated openings, F'OOD is yet another restaurant that improves with each return. Its caramelized onion tart would be reason enough to go back, as well as its risotto. Shangri-La at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Fowlbread makes a damn good chicken sandwich, but it's the crispy pork chop with Szechuan noodles on the secret menu that keeps me coming back. B3 Unit 778 Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
If there was a clear winner for me in 2016, it is definitely Hey Handsome. This is one of those places I find myself enjoying each and every visit, and I can't wait to see what they have in store for the new year. A hip collaboration between the young chefs of Your Local and Charlie Paw's The Tasteless group, the menu showcases modern interpretations and personal renditions of Southeast Asian favorites that the tick off all the right boxes. The food is good, the vibe is hip, and the atmosphere is fun and congenial. Best of all, the entrees offered are good for sharing at price points that won't break the bank. Ground Floor, Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
I was late to the table at Makansutra but I haven't looked back since. This Singaporean food hall is one of the reasons I will gladly brave the traffic around SM Megamall anytime of year, even during the holidays. The authentic hawker-style fare with Peranankan specialities served here is both tasty and hearty. SM Mega Mall, Mandaluyong
I love a good hotdog and whenever the craving hits, I make my way to Pink's. The hotdogs are as close to perfect as they come, with the Hollywood legend and the buffalo wing dog being my favorites. And can we just talk about the bun, that perfect bun. Also nearly perfect are the cheeseburgers, chili cheese fries, and milkshakes. Shangri-La at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Royal Indian Curry House
I'm not exactly sure if RICH, as many have now come to call it, opened in late 2015 or early 2016, but it appeared on my radar in early January. As one who just adores Indian food, I wasn't disappointed. My go-to orders include all the Indian essentials: mutton rogan josh, chicken tandoori, biryani, butter chicken, paneer, and a few baskets of the assorted papads and naan. 5345 General Luna, Makati; 801.4435
Since it opened, I have been witness to this Italian establishment's evolution. Every time I return, I find myself happier than my last visit. A great place for large parties, the restaurant also hosts a great bar. Favorites include the caprese salad, four cheese pizza served with honey, DOC pizza, the sole meunière, the tagliata di Manzo, and the yakitori. G/F Uptown Parade 38th Street corner, 9th Ave, Taguig
Hotel dining has been getting a bad rap over the past few years. Where hotel restaurants set the bar in terms of food quality, service, and atmosphere once, we find most are largely reserved for business dinners and large events these days. The new Shangri-La Hotel at the Fort, has done a great job in creating a new breed of hotel restaurants—those that are conceptual enough to stand on their own, inside and outside of the hotel environs. Among the three that they have opened so far, my favorite is Samba. Serving Peruvian cuisine that is true to the flavors of South America but taking advantage of local produce when possible, the restaurants serves food that is fresh and with flavors that are bold and bright. I also love the secluded setting that overlooks the poolside. A perfect venue for a weekend meal with the kids or when in need of a meal that just whisks you away. Shangri-La at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
The Mess Hall
Tucked away in the hip and happening Karravin Plaza, this eatery was initially built to cater to The Moment Group—employees and owners of Manam, 8 Cuts, Ooma, Mecha Uma, and Din Tai Fung. Serving some of Manam's all-time hits with a few creative additions and some of the best freshly-baked cookies found in the metro, this has become my not-so-secret hangout when I'm hankering for some soul food with a twist at noon. Yes, this is essentially a cafeteria, but it is also best in class and to me, that means a hell of a lot. 2316 Karravin Plaza, Chino Roces Ave, Makati
I have always been a fan of Jordy Navarra and seeing him at his new home, Toyo, makes me happy because he is clearly having fun. His inventive and playful menu—his own take on modern Filipino—is always enjoyable. I eagerly look forward to trying more new dishes soon. G/F Building C, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati
It technically opened in late 2015 but 2016 was Txanton's official coming out party. Serving some of the best tapas in Manila, and undoubtedly, the best jamon selection, this has quickly become a favorite spot to enjoy good wine and good food. 2294 Chino Roces Ave Ext, Fort Bonifacio, Makati
There are quite a few Japanese chains that have opened over the past few years, and Yayoi, the latest addition has become one of our favorites. My family's favorites include the Sukiyaki Teishoku, a beef hot pot with assorted vegetables stewed in sukiyaki sauce; the Mix Toji Teishoku, breaded pork loin, prawn, and sukiyaki beef simmered in special sauce and egg; the Namban Teishoku, a fried chicken steak drizzled in a special sauce; and the Hitsumabushi, a grilled eel over rice served with a side of dashi broth, Nagoya-style. SM Mega Mall, Mandaluyong
Xiu Fine Dining
My new favorite Chinese restaurant in a year of many new openings. Trust me on this one, folks, as it's become the favorite of my Chinese in-laws, too, which means I've had everything on the menu at least twice. Almost everything has become a favorite but the salt and pepper squid, charsiu, seafood rice, and lettuce with belacan, cannot NOT be ordered. 115 Connecticut Street, Northeast Greenhills, San Juan
Best Re-opening of 2016
This is a favorite in the Sy household. I've been to M Dining on three separate occasions over the holidays and have had a great meal each time. My new favorites are the anchoiade pasta, cavatelliwith guanciale and amatriciana sauce, and the foie gras with unagi and watercress. 2294 Chino Roces Ave, Makati; 810.3565
Out of Town
Jason Atherton's the Pig & Palm
When in Cebu, the Pig & Palm is a must. From the cocktail menu to the main dining room, it is a testament that Atherton and his team gave Cebu another great restaurant to be proud of. I have many favorites, but I'd fly in just for the chargrilled carrots with babaganoush and the coconut rice pudding, with coconut ice cream, and mango. Negros Road, Cebu City, Cebu; +032 255.8249
On Our Hit List
So many good reviews, so little time. If they are all to be believed this very well could be the Indian restaurant of my dreams. Grand Midori, G-7, Bolanos, Legaspi Village, Makati
Made Nice Supper Club
I've been slacking. A true foodie would have gotten herself there a month ago, at the very least. I blame the holidays, but then again, as I have learned from many restaurant visits, waiting until a kitchen has found its rhythm and the initial social media onslaught has died down is usually an optimal time to enjoy a good meal at most new establishments. I will write a full review when I finally make my way. Esteban, Legazpi Village, Makati
I have been very excited for this opening and have been ready since October for it to open. Better late than never and from what I've seen on Instagram, I better rush over the moment my plane hits Philippine soil. Ground Floor, BGC Corporate Center, 11th Avenue Corner 30th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Everyone has been here but me it seems and all that have been declare it the best barbecue in town. Must go. SM Megamall, Mandaluyong
Restaurants Opening in 2017
Mark Tan of Allium is set to reopen a modern Japanese restaurant in mid- January and being a true fan, one that rides both the ups and downs of her team, I can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve this time.
This is an omakase dining establishment set to open in the heart of Makati very soon. That's all I know for now but the talent behind it has made me overly curious.
I have high expectations for this soon-to-open restaurant with chef William Mahi (formerly of the Tasting Room) at the helm of the kitchen. Then there is the matter of the wine list that I'm sure will be well-curated, given the owners penchant for only the very best.
Bruce Ricketts does Mexican back in his old 'hood in BF Homes. Need I say more?