Dining Comfort at Maginhawa Street (Updated)

coffee crusted beef belly at Pino Resto Bar

It was virtually unknown as a food destination way back during my college days but in the past several years Maginhawa Street in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City has gained a reputation as a foodie's haven. We first tried a few restaurants here four years ago when it was beginning to carve a name for itself. Today the place has exploded as a dining destination with restaurants branching out into nearby streets as dining places jostle for space at the original Maginhawa Street. What is interesting for us shoestring travelers is the wide range of dining options available here, from very affordable hole-in-the-wall types to more expensive fine dining options.

Meshwe and the Z Compound

hummus, pita bread and falafel at Meshwe
Classic Mid-Eastern fare: hummus, pita bread and falafel at Meshwe.

Malingap Street, one of the roads perpendicular to Maginhawa, has actually been creating a name for itself these days. Some of the older restaurants have actually moved here. Among the newest and most popular is a collection of eclectic food stalls set-up in the garden of a house on 33A – the Z Compound or the "Z" for short. Developed for aspiring young entrepreneurs, the Z Compound opened in late 2013 and features not only unique culinary fare but also such events as book launches, poetry readings and street blues. The stalls here have interesting names such as Hijo D' Pita (Tex-Mex food), Me Love You Long Time or MLYLT (Southeast Asian especially Thai and Vietnamese), Bagneto, Bochic and Chamba Juice among others. The most popular and easily our favorite here is Meshwe, a restaurant serving authentic Lebanese and Mid-Eastern fare.

chicken and beef shawarma rice plates with Bukhari rice
Shawarma rice plates with Bukhari Rice – top: chicken shawarma rice; bottom: beef shawarma rice.

Word has it that the Filipino-Lebanese owner purposely resisted the temptation to modify the menu to suit typical Filipino taste buds – which is what we wanted anyway. It has obviously worked. For starters their hummus and falafel are pretty good, our plates getting cleaned out in no time as we ravaged the hummus with pita bread and even Arabic fries. Their various shawarma offerings are great, especially the chicken shawarma in its different versions. Overall the food is so good they usually run out of it before closing time – so better arrive here early.

Pino Resto Bar + Pipino Vegetarian

There are plenty of restos in the Maginhawa area that serve unique and eclectic fare and Pino Resto Bar, also in Malingap Street, is no exception. Pino serves mostly comfort Filipino food but with an innovative twist at reasonable prices. As an example they have some pretty curious starters here like the Buffalo Chicken Skin – fried chicken skin with buffalo chili sauce, blue cheese sauce and heaps of cholesterol. Their Mini Sisig Tacos have surprisingly non-fatty meat.

Buffalo Chicken Skin and Veggie Triangles
Starters from both ends of the health spectrum: Buffalo Chicken Skin from Pino Restor Bar and Veggie Triangles from Pipino Vegetarian.

This restaurant has become famous for its Kare-Kareng Bagnet: Ilokano-style crispy pork belly served with peanut sauce and bagoong rice. It's actually a deconstructed kare-kare with the really crispy bagnet and vegetables served over a thin layer of peanut sauce. For lovers of Bicolano food they have Bagnet Bicol Express, a happy fusion of Ilocano bagnet with the traditional Bicolano spicy coconut milk dish.

Bagnet Bicol Express and Kare-kareng Bagnet
Top: Bagnet Bicol Express; bottom: Kare-kareng Bagnet.

Beef dishes at Pino include Crispy Tenderloin Tapsilog – their twist on a typical Pinoy breakfast with what looked like fried quail eggs – and Coffee-Crusted Beef Belly. We found the latter actually better than the bagnet dishes here. The beef belly was very tender and the coffee taste very subtle.

Crispy Tenderloin Tapsilog and Coffee-Crusted Beef Belly
Top: Crispy Tenderloin Tapsilog; bottom: Coffee-Crusted Beef Belly.

Many of the dishes at Pino might not endear it to health buffs but fortunately, Pino Resto Bar comes with its health-conscious sister, namely Pipino Vegetarian. The latter is just next door, and as its name implies, serves vegetable dishes. You can cross-order from them (as well as from π Breakfast and Pies next door – all three have one owner). We had their Veggie Triangles for starters and it was surprisingly delicious. Nina also had their Eggplant and Tofu Miso with coconut cream and served with brown rice.

More Restos

We've actually visited Maginhawa sporadically since 2011. A lot of other restaurants have sprouted since then, with the Z-Compound restos being among the latest. We also tried Ally's All-Day Breakfast Place, also in Malingap Street. Their specialty is affordable make-your-own waffles and pancakes and they also have an assortment of budget meals for rice and pasta lovers. We enjoyed their Bacon Dynamite appetizer – long bacon strips wrapped around green chili peppers. We thought the peppers were mild enough for our taste and just right for appetizers but then we probably have a higher tolerance for spicy food than most Pinoys.

Gayuma ni Maria's twice baked chicken in olive oil and garlic
Gayuma ni Maria's Please Be Careful with My Heart – twice baked chicken in olive oil and garlic.

Two other restaurants which have been around for some time and which we've visited are Sancho Churreria Manila and Gayuma ni Maria. Sancho Churreria Manila serves Spanish comfort food as well as desserts such as churros, eclairs and cream puffs. Gayuma ni Maria is an "aphrodisiac" concept or love-themed restaurant. Their baby back ribs and chocolate cake (named Beats Sex Any Day) are the standouts.

dishes at Kiss the Cook Cafe
Our first crack at Maginhawa's restos was at the now-defunct Kiss the Cook Café.

We do need to mention the first restaurant we had ever tried here but had since closed down: Kiss the Cook Café. Our stint here made us realize that much of the food at Maginhawa was not your usual fare and that a lot of the restauranteurs here were willing to innovate and experiment – just the kind of place we were looking for. Now, if only we had lived closer…

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