Cebuanos take barbecue seriously. Barbecue is one of the most common street foods you can find anywhere in Cebu. Usually paired with hanging rice (puso), it’s commonly eaten kamayan (or kinamot) style, which means you won’t need cutlery to enjoy the meal.
That being said, there are some places that have turned barbecue into an edible cultural experience. Barbecue is so deeply intertwined with Bisaya culture. No matter who you are, where you went to school, what you do for a living, barbecue is something that you will gladly sit down for and eat.
It’s the great culinary equalizer.
As a Cebuano, here are some recommendations that I can wholeheartedly make. These barbecue joints cater mostly to locals who are craving a delicious, value for money meal. I’ve also personally eaten at most of these places since I was a little kid.
It just so happens that they’re all institutions in their own right.
Various branches around Cebu
AA Barbecue is one of the most recognizable barbecue joints in Cebu. It has several branches all over the city (and some even outside of Cebu) that serve reliable barbecue favorites. Part of what makes AA so special is you get to pick your food before they grill it up for you.
How the restaurant works is that you pick out raw ingredients from their selection area. You get to really take a look at which cuts of meat and fish are to your liking and have it cooked your way. The most common ways of cooking are either grilling, steaming, sautéing, deep frying, or having it turned into a soup.
Something important to remember when eating at AA is that it’s very easy to over order. Mountains of options are laid out in front of you, which encourage you to order more than you might need. So it’s best to go with a truckload of friends or your whole family.
And make sure you order the grilled pork belly. You won’t regret it.
A.S. Fortuna cor. Hernan Cortes St., Mandaue City, Cebu
Open Monday to Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tucked away by an intersection in a more suburban part of the Metro Cebu area is Matias BBQ. Matias is a family-owned barbecue joint that sits right on the parking lot of a residential home. People from all over the city travel to Matias for a taste of their grilled offerings with a side of puso and some fruit shake.
True to the authentic barbecue experience, the location is only al fresco dining. Tables and chairs are lined up under covered areas (which may or may not include trees). There are also outdoor hand washing stations by the tables because eating with your hands is the right way to eat barbecue in Cebu.
One of the things you must absolutely try is the grilled pork barbecue. The sweet, savory, smokey pork paired with puso is a Cebuano classic. While the barbecue is great on its own, it’s also typically eaten with a sauce made with toyo, suka, calamansi, and sili.
Another highlight of eating at Matias is the fruit shakes. They have four flavors: mango, banana, durian, and watermelon. They’re all creamy, just the right amount of sweet, and wash down all that barbecue surprisingly well.
If you’re planning a meal at Matias, try to go at odd hours. The restaurant is adjacent to a residential space, which means parking can be difficult. And there’s almost always a wait if you go during peak lunch or dinner hours.
880 A.S. Fortuna St., Mandaue City, Cebu
Open Monday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Compared to the other barbecue joints on this list, Trillis is a relatively newer restaurant. That doesn’t mean their quality and taste don’t compare to the big barbecue dogs, though. I was introduced to Trillis by my brothers (who are obsessed with barbecue and ngohiong) and was sold at first bite.
While the restaurant is new, the family making the barbecue behind the scenes has been in the business since I was a child. It also just so happens to be located right in front of Matias.
Aside from the delicious barbecue, one of Trillis’ specialties is ngohiong, a uniquely Cebuano street food that’s similar to lumpia. It’s a deep fried, battered spring roll stuffed with julienned palm hearts (and maybe some type of meat) and seasoned with Chinese five spice seasoning.
Trillis’ ngohiong isn’t heavy on the batter, but it definitely goes big with the flavor. The ngohiong is always fresh, hot, and crisp. The dipping sauce is sweet with a kick of spice—which is essential.
If you’re coming in with a big group (think company outing or family reunion sized), you can call ahead to reserve the entire space for a consumable fee. You’re going to have to eat a lot though, since the food at Trillis isn’t just delicious—it’s also fairly cheap.