There are a lot of places in the Philippines that are great for food-tripping. But ask any frequent traveler, and they’re sure to have Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental in the Visayas region at the top of their list. Bacolod is popularly known as the “City of Smiles” because they celebrate the Mardi-Gras like Masskara Festival, a revelry of street dancing, carnivals and parades every third weekend of October. But foodies will find plenty to smile about even if they don’t go during festival season. Here are some of the must-try specialties and restaurants in Bacolod City.
CALEA’S CAKES & PASTRIES
- Type of cuisine: Cakes, pastries, coffee
- Price range: Each slice of cake costs less than P100!
- Address: 14th Street, cor. Lacson St., Bacolod City
I’m not really a dessert person. I’ve always preferred savory fare to sweet, and I often skip dessert in favor of beer and bar chow. However, Calea in Bacolod made me a convert. I found myself skipping a complimentary hotel breakfast at L’Fisher Hotel just to grab a chance to eat here a second time during my trip.
Calea Pastries and Coffee is a cake shop that is a household name in the city. The lovely shabby-chic cafe serves a great selection of mouth watering cakes and pastries. One bite is all you need to be transported to dessert heaven. I highly recommend the Choco Mud Pie, Pecan Pie ala mode and Blueberry Cheesecake. Other specialties include Imported Chocolate Cake, French Chocolate Cheesecake and Fruity Cheesecake.
CAFE BOB’S DELI SHOP
- Type of cuisine: Pizza, pasta, sandwiches, beer, deli items
- Price range: Pizza ranges from P200 (Margherita) to P345 (Italian Prosciutto) Solo pizza for P95, Pasta dishes average at P150
- Address: 21st Street, cor. Lacson Street, Bacolod City (at the back of Cafe Bob’s)
Aside from Calea, Cafe Bob’s is another famous homegrown dessert and coffee joint in Bacolod City. This cozy coffeeshop serves a range of lattes, espressos and frappes that caffeine junkies will surely love. They also serve fresh made gelatos. However, I skipped the sweets and headed to the smaller adjoining dining area at the back of the cafe, called Cafe Bob’s Deli Shop. The deli serves delicious brick-fire pizzas and craft beer brewed right in Negros Island!
Negros Island Craft Brewing Co. brews Bogsbrew and Primo Bogs, craft beer that uses organic Negrense muscovado sugar and pure Negros spring water. One of their newer variants is Bogsbrew Kawayan Ale, “a Belgian-style beer infused with the thirst-quenching tropical freshness of bamboo shoots.” (Read more about the different Pinoy craft beers)
To complement the beer, I ordered Pizza Negrense, which is topped with chorizo Negrense, cheese and quail’s eggs. While their whole pizzas are usually good for sharing, you can also order solo pizzas, which are served on ciabatta bread. Great craft beer pairing!
Cafe Bob’s Deli also has a good selection of imported beer including Leffe, Gordon Beer, Ballast Point, Corona, Samuel Adams, Sapporo, Erdinger, Boonville, Rogue, Arrogant Bastard Ale, Kirin & Asahi. I highly recommend you try Bogsbrew though to support local craft beers! (NOTE: You can sample cakes, Bogsbrew beer & pizzas served in Cafe Bob’s Deli Shop at CAB Cafe in Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig)
Chicken inasal is a local take on the classic Filipino barbecue. The chicken is marinated in herbs and spices, skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled to juicy perfection. While this dish is available in many restaurants and fastfood joints even in Manila, there’s nothing quite like enjoying it in the place where it originated.
For the most authentic experience, head to Manokan Country in the downtown area near Bacolod Plaza, where rows and rows of food stalls can be found. Popular restaurants that serve inasal include Bacolod Chicken House and Nena’s Rose.
Different chicken parts are served inasal-style, including pecho (breast), pakpak (wing), paa (thigh/leg) or pechopak (pecho plus pakpak). What gives the inasal its x-factor is the chicken oil, a bright orange sauce you get to drizzle all over your chicken and rice.
BACOLOD 18TH STREET PALAPALA SEAFOOD GRILL
- Type of cuisine: seafood, grill, Pinoy, Bacolod specialties,
- Price range: price varies depending on size of order/gram + cooking fee
- Address: 18th Street, Bacolod City
Bacolod has its own version of the of the “dampa” concept called the palapala market. In Bacolod’s 18th Street Palapala Seafood Grill and Restaurant, diners have the option to choose their own seafood ingredients and have it cooked any style they want. The restaurant is a large open-air establishment with lots of tables to accommodate big groups.
It’s a great place for families and friends to have dinner and drinks, since the variety of options will leave everyone happy. Fish, shrimp, crab and squid can be cooked in a variety of ways, from steamed to fried, grilled or in soup. You can even customize the degree of spice you want for the dish. Check out their menu for the recommended cooking bestsellers. The price of each dish depends on the number of grams in your order and a cooking fee.
Some specialties include chili crab, steamed prawns with garlic and butter, fish head with bell pepper sauce, grilled blue marlin, fried calamares, and baked scallops. The choices are quite overwhelming and you will want to try more than one. It’s better if you dine here in a group since the minimum order for most dishes is 250 grams. The restaurant also serves non-seafood dishes and local specialties like kare-kare and kansi, a Negrense soup dish made of boiled bone, beef shank or bone marrow and flavored with langka and the souring agent batwana.
- Type of cuisine: Filipino, bakery, short orders
- Price range: Rice meals start at P110, Batchoy with egg P88
- Address: 118 Rizal Street, Silay City
El Ideal, the oldest bakeshop in Silay City constructed back in the 1920s, is well-known for its antique architecture, bread products and Ilonggo delicacies. They specialize in traditional Bacolod biscuits and delicacies such as butterscotch, quinamuncil, sinambag, biscocho, banadas, broas, galletas, pacienca, and piyaya. They are also the home of the famous Guapple pie..
El Ideal also serves short orders like batchoy, a noodle soup made with pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, chicken stock, beef loin and round noodles. While there’s a branch of El Ideal in Robinson’s Place in Bacolod City, I visited the branch in Rizal Street in Silay City after a heritage tour of ancestral houses and museums on the way to the New Bacolod Silay airport before my trip back to Manila.
Since I just squeezed in some random food tripping during a very short work assignment in Bacolod City, there were a lot of places I didn’t get to try. I guess that’s a good reason to go back for a longer stay. What other must-try restaurants can you recommend?
NOTE: A version of this article was first published in Enrich Magazine, July 2014 issue.