I take Chinese food very seriously. Growing up in a Filipino-Chinese household would do that to anyone. Celebrating customs like Lunar New Year and going to the temple have been lost to time, but my family will never settle for mediocre Chinese food.
I inherited my discerning palate from my grandfather. We all used to call him “ankong,” but somehow transitioned into the Filipino “lolo” as the years went on. Right before every family gathering, he’d cook his famous bihon. It was an intense physical labor that would take hours and a brow-raising amount of ingredients. He’s tried teaching the recipe to many of us, but nobody ever passed his taste test.
Whenever I eat at a Chinese restaurant, I always think of my lolo. Would he like this? What would he say about this dish? Would he like it if I brought him here? Of the many Chinese restaurants in Manila I’ve tried over the years, these are the ones I believe would suit his palate.
It also helps that they’re all owned by mainland immigrants who know what they’re doing.
Chinese Beef Noodle House
1230 Urban St., Pio Dek, Makati City
Open Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
I was first introduced to Chinese Beef Noodle House by my friend and chef, Denny Antonino. He said this is where all his chef friends come to enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine.
Stepping into this restaurant feels like stepping into an eatery in China. It’s loud, a little chaotic, somewhat difficult to order, but comforting at the same time. All marks of a spectacular, authentic experience, in my book. Most of their patrons are from the mainland, which means you know it’s the real deal.
Of all the menu items, though, their beef fried noodle (P350) is the star of the show. I was skeptical when I first tried it. I thought, “How good can noodles be, really?” Turns out, they can be mind-blowingly spectacular.
The noodles (made by hand, of course) are stir fried together with egg, garlic, flavorful slices of beef, and a medley of spices I can’t even name. The irregular shape of the noodles leave more room for the savory, smoky flavors to hide until the time is right. Each bite is so densely packed with umami, I ended up almost inhaling the entire serving. And this was after I proclaimed to the table that I was “full.”
The portions are also generous, which makes it an even more attractive option when you’re craving noodles.
MOA Complex, Ground Level, Shore Residences, Sunrise Dr., Pasay City
Open Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I live in Pasay, which means there’s a Chinese restaurant or three on every street thanks to the large Chinese population. Among all the restaurants I’ve tried in the area though, Trendy has to be my favorite.
The Cantonese restaurant is owned by a Chinese expat and is frequented by mainland Chinese workers at all hours. I’ve been a regular at this restaurant until it closed down during the pandemic, but it’s since reopened and the food is better than it was before.
My gripe with most dim sum restaurants is that the wrapper is too thick, the fillings are dry, and the dumplings taste like they were just defrosted before ordering. There’s none of that at Trendy. The wrapper is thin, but sturdy enough to hold the filling together. The ingredients taste fresh as can be and are seasoned well. And you know these dumplings are made fresh because you can peek into the kitchen to see the cooks preparing them en masse.
When dining at Trendy, you cannot go wrong with any of its dim sum options. A favorite of mine is the kuchay dumplings. These dumplings are definitely the sum of its parts: quality pork seasoned with more than just salt and pepper, fresh kuchay to give it a garlicky aroma, and the juices that meld together in the dough wrapper right before serving.
What sets all their dumplings apart to me though is just how juicy they are. If you leave them on a plate long enough, the juices from the filling start to flood the bottom of the plate with flavor. You can taste the quality of the ingredients and the technique they’ve employed in every bite.
Aside from amazing dumplings, the restaurant’s drinks are not to be missed. It serves a variety of Hong Kong-style coffee and teas. They also seasonally serve Horlicks, a sweet and creamy malt-based drink that’s popular in Hong Kong.
Like Chinese Beef Noodle house, the servings are generous and the prices are more than fair. In short, a recipe for success.
Level 1, South Wing, Entertainment Mall, SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City
Open Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
My experience with Tian Mansion came by way of a visiting cousin who discovered the restaurant by accident. While looking for a place to eat, they found the restaurant’s ornate, imperial entrance tucked away in a quiet corner of the mall they were in.
The restaurant serves Szechuan-style hot pot—so they mean it when a menu item says spicy. Stepping into the restaurant feels very much like going back in time to when emperors ruled and dynasties flourished. There are stone carvings of dragons and Chinese guardian lions watching over the entrance. Most of the restaurant is decorated in red fabric, wood, and metal elements that give it a luxurious, old-world feel.
The center of the dining area is on an elevated platform with wooden railings and carved stone motifs on the floor. The private dining areas are cordoned off with heavy red curtains to give the diners an extra layer of privacy.
The comprehensive menu (which is on an iPad, of course), is filled with typical hot pot fare such as sliced meats and seafood balls, as well as a la carte options like fried breads, beancurd skins, and seafood. Its meat selection serves a variety of cuts of beef, chicken and pork, all fresh and bright red upon arrival to your table.
All of the hot pot fare is served on large, intricately designed dishes filled with ice to ensure freshness. Even the literal hot pot is a large, cast iron pot decorated with a dragon. Talk about fancy.
The most exciting part of the meal for me is at the seasoning station. All hot pot fans know that you can usually customize your dipping sauce, and Tian Mansion has an entire station dedicated to it. There are at least ten different condiments you can choose from. All the basics are there, like chili oil, garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce, but there are also more unique options like beef and seafood sauce, as well as tahini.
Unlike the previous two options, Tian Mansion is on the pricier side. It’s also important to remember that they only take cash or GCash, which means your credit and debit cards have no power there.
Lastly, make sure to bring lots of friends, your family, and your appetite. You’ll definitely need it.