Several things may come to mind when thinking of the city of San Juan: there’s the famous Basaan festival in honor of the city’s patron saint, St. John the Baptist; the historic Pinaglabanan site where the Katipunan first launched their attack against the Spaniards; Club Filipino, the first exclusive social club in the country; or for the more deal-savvy shoppers, Greenhills, aka “tiangge capital.”
But there’s another thing San Juan is rich for: a wide and near-endless selection of dining options. Great restaurants can be found at almost every corner of this nearly 6-square-kilometer city, so we asked San Juan locals which ones we definitely shouldn’t miss.
691 J. Abad Santos, Brgy. Little Baguio, San Juan
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
This Vietnamese restaurant has already made a name for itself at its first branch in Retiro in Quezon City. This newer location, however, is just as satisfying—if not even more. Tra Vinh’s San Juan branch has an extended menu, featuring not just the Vietnamese staples Filipino diners have already come to love, but also some of the more unique and not as widely offered Vietnamese street food options.
For starters, go for the prawn pomelo salad. Its refreshing taste plus its good mix of textures from the veg, fruit, and meat, all over a crisp prawn cracker, make for a satisfying appetizer. Their noodles are also noteworthy, with each broth made from scratch. The team loved both the Tra Vinh special noodle soup, which is a mix of chicken and seafood broth, and the spicy combination noodle soup, which has a three-meat broth mixed with more than a dozen herbs and spices. Both were packed with flavor and were very filling stars of the meal.
But the Vietnamese pancake and Vietnamese pizza were both “snacks” (in quotations because the servings are huge!) worth coming back to. The pancake is a savory number that also requires a bit of assembly: take some lettuce and cabbage leaves, a slice of the pancake, then top it with basil and mint leaves, roll it up, and then dip it in the special sauce provided. Each bite is just fresh but also bursting with flavor.
Greenhills Promenade, San Juan
10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. daily
This opens a little bit late for a coffee shop, but that’s only because it’s located inside a mall. Niseko Coffee is the Philippine partner of Kurasu Kyoto, a well-known Japanese specialty coffee roaster and cafe. The small coffee shop (stall, really) obviously also follows the Japanese aesthetic, with its light wood and white wall exterior.
More than the aesthetic, Niseko Coffee also offers a good selection of drinks. Try their campfire latte, which comes with house-made marshmallow torched over your coffee, or a perfectly balanced matcha latte (which you can have sweetened or plain). Pair it with their taiyaki—a fish-shaped Japanese pastry, traditionally filled with red bean, but here offered with a variety of other fillings, such as Nutella, cheese, custard, and sausage.
192 Wilson cor. Arras, San Juan
12 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
The best way to figure out what to order at Lagrima is to ask, “what are you feeling?”—literally. Because that’s what they call the fillings—that is, the main component of each of their Mexican offerings—on the menu. Classic “feelings” include carnitas, pollo asado, pollo al pastor, and fish, while the special ones include mushroom, carne asada, kimchi asada, and shrimp.
Once you’ve figured out your “feeling,” decide the form that you want it in: Do you want tacos? Nachos? Quesadillas? Or maybe a burrito? Each type has various subtypes, too. It can be a bit overwhelming if you’re indecisive, but you can always ask their staff for recommendations. Or you can take your pick from their best-sellers, like the starter pack, which has three types of street tacos.
If you’re going with a group, definitely try the carnitas super nachos.
Lagrima also has a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Though of course, no Mexican meal should go without the sweet horchata.
Just note that there are no signages to mark that you’ve arrived at Lagrima’s San Juan branch, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
240 N. Domingo St., Brgy. Corazon De Jesus, San Juan
7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays to Sundays; 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays (closed on Tuesdays)
Aling Banang is an institution in San Juan. Just mention the name and any long-time San Juan resident is sure to know the place. They serve classic Filipino fare, but what they’re most known for are their pancit and halo-halo.
It’s pretty straightforward and standard fare. Their halo-halo comes topped with what I personally think are the best parts of the dessert: a block of leche flan, a large chunk of ube halaya, generous scoops of ube ice cream, and sprinkled with pinipig.
Aling Banang desserts are also served in pretty big bowls, so be sure to bring along some friends to share.
The N. Domingo branch we went to had a small al fresco spot up front, but if you’re not keen on enjoying your halo-halo in front of cars and the main road, they also have an air-conditioned seating area on the second floor. Aling Banang has been around since 1930, and so far also has branches in Quezon City, Makati, and Pasig.
El Deposito Brewery
187 N. Averilla St., Santa Lucia, San Juan
3 p.m. to 12 a.m. daily
If you’re up for some good beer, El Deposito Brewery is a great chill spot to check out. The microbrewery and tap room opened in 2021 and currently offers pale ale and pilsner on tap in their original San Juan spot.
Seating is al fresco, adding to the totally laid-back vibe. El Deposito doesn’t serve food, but you can order from the nearby Flossom Kitchen & Cafe from the brewery.
El Deposito has also recently opened a microbrewery at Cubao Expo in Quezon City, where more flavors can be expected. (Perhaps you can catch their unique ube macapuno ale, white coffee stout, and even the strikingly green buko pandan ale there.)