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10 Things You Absolutely Need to Eat in Iloilo

by Trixie Reyna-Benedicto
July 8, 2018

Ask anyone what they love about Iloilo, and the answer will often be the food, which has made a unique, indelible mark in Filipino culture.

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The best part? Food in Iloilo is really cheap, so even on a quick trip, you can go right ahead and binge to your heart's content—and even bring some treats home to your family and friends.

Whatever the cuisine, be it Filipino, Chinese, Korean, American, or European, Iloilo City’s restaurants can do it well. With the dizzying variety of options available, these 10 classic must-eats need to be on your priority list.

1. The original La Paz Batchoy: Netong’s, Deco’s, and Ted’s

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Much has been said about the famous La Paz Batchoy, and you’ve likely encountered it in Manila or other parts of the Philippines. But you haven’t had real batchoy until you’ve tried it in Iloilo, in at least one of the three restaurants who claim to have originated it: Ted’s Batchoy, Deco’s, and Netong’s Original La Paz Batchoy.

All three are worth a try and have branches around the city, but if you want a truly authentic La Paz Batchoy experience, you have to go straight to the one place where it was created: the La Paz Public Market. (There’s an unassuming but air-conditioned branch of Netong’s here.)

This steaming bowl of savory noodle soup was supposedly made of meat parts vendors weren’t able to sell that day. This explains why it contains a hodgepodge of ingredients, like bits of pork liver, pork intestines, thin beef slices, and bone marrow, all cooked in a robust pork and beef broth then garnished with egg, crushed chicharon, scallions, fried garlic, and even bagoong (guinamos in Hiligaynon).

It’s best enjoyed with a side of puto, steamed white rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. Feel free to ask for extra chicharon, garlic, and soup.

Netong’s Original La Paz Batchoy
Inside La Paz Public Market, Luna cor. Huervana st., La Paz, Iloilo City
(033) 396 2189
Daily, 7 AM – 7 PM

2. Pancit Molo, Punot

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As the name suggests, the best place to sample this iconic Ilonggo dish is obviously in Molo, where locals were inspired to create their version of the wonton soup made by the Chinese community who settled in the area.

The other half of its name is not as straightforward, however; contrary to what you'd expect, you won’t find “pancit” noodles in this dish. Instead, ground pork dumplings in wonton wrappers and shredded chicken swim in a hot bowl of clear yet rich and flavorful chicken broth seasoned with fried garlic, spring onions, and black pepper.

Several restaurants in Molo and all over Iloilo City serve great versions of Pancit Molo, but we recommend Punot at Riverside Boardwalk. This homey restaurant, close enough to Molo (just across the river at Iloilo River Esplanade), serves a huge bowl of this hearty soup. Enjoy it on a cool evening while you people-watch at the Esplanade.

Iloilo Riverside Boardwalk Complex
Dr. Rizalina Bernardo Pison Ave. cor Paciencia T. Pison Ave.
Brgy. San Rafael, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
(033) 320 9893
(0907) 151 6296

3. Bisayang Lechon Manok, Tatoy’s

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Beyond the chicken inasal that you can try anywhere these days (Mang Inasal came from Iloilo, after all), the chicken dish that will complete your Iloilo food trip is bisayang lechon manok, or charcoal-roasted native chicken. Tatoy’s Manokan makes the best version. You’ll gain a greater appreciation of free-range chicken, which is leaner than your usual poultry, after a bite of this tasty local specialty. Marinated in vinegar and calamansi then stuffed with lemongrass and sampalok leaves, this simple but satisfying delicacy is best paired with garlic rice.

Tatoy’s has three different locations around the city. The main one at the Arevalo district by the sea even features a resort with an infinity pool, and you can dine in one of their cabanas to experience that chill island vibe. The Atria Park District branch is most convenient for tourists, but if you're running short of time, there’s a branch close to the airport—you can even bring home a box!

Tatoy’s Manokan

Tatoy’s Main Branch
Sto. Nino Sur Arevalo
(033) 337 1360
7:30 AM - 9:30 PM

Tatoy’s - Atria Park District
Brgy. San Rafael, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
(0927) 874 3848
10 AM - 10 PM

Tatoy’s - Cabatuan Branch (Iloilo Airport)
Brgy. Gaub, Cabatuan, Iloilo City
(0947) 983 4820
7:30 AM - 9:30 PM

4. Tinu-om of Cabatuan, Leah's

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Tinu-om is another iteration of native chicken that Iloilo is known for. This Cabatuan signature consists of boiled native chicken seasoned with onions, tomatoes, and lemongrass then wrapped in banana leaves, hence the name, which in the native dialect means “balot.” It’s served in tummy-warming broth with a mouthwatering aroma that balikbayan Ilonggos always crave upon landing home.

There are several karinderya-style restaurants along the airport road that offer tinu-om, but the local favorite is Leah's for having perfected the blend of ingredients and way of cooking. You’ll find it close to the Cabatuan church and town market.

Leah’s Tinu-om
Bermejo Street, Cabatuan, Iloilo
(0928) 767 1244

5. KBL, Breakthrough

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Short for kadyos (pigeon peas), baboy (pork), at langka (jackfruit), KBL is a classic Ilonggo meal made of the very ingredients in its name. Dark purple legumes and unripe jackfruit are mixed with boiled pork in a broth that uses another native fruit in its base: batwan, which is only found in the Western Visayas region, where it’s often used in local cuisine. It gives the soup its subtle yet distinct tartness, which tourists sometimes compare to sinigang.

KBL is on the menu of many local establishments, but you may want to try it at Breakthrough, Iloilo’s must-visit seafood restaurant that has branches around the city, so you can also enjoy fresh crabs, prawns, and oysters with your meal. If you want to dine beachside, hit the main branch at Villa.

Breakthrough Restaurant, Villa
Villa Beach, Barangay Sto. Niño Sur, Arevalo, Iloilo
(033) 337 3027
10 AM - 9 PM

6. Chicken Binakol, Farm to Table

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Binakol is an Ilonggo specialty often likened to tinola, but with a twist: the use of coconut juice as base, with slivers of coconut flesh added to the recipe. This makes the soup unusually sweet instead of savory, yet rich and flavorful. Like the tinu-om, native chicken and vegetables figure in this light-tasting meal flavored with lemongrass and sometimes ginger. Fun fact: What sets it apart is that it’s cooked in bamboo tubes.

One of the purveyors of binakol is Ilonggo Chef Pauline Banusing, so you may want to try her take on it at one of her establishments, Farm to Table. The lifestyle restaurant serves homegrown and seasonal dishes with fresh ingredients mostly sourced from local farmers. Pair the binakol with one of her craft cocktails flavored with local fruits for a unique dining experience.

Farm to Table
Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
(033) 320 2154
Daily, 11 AM - 11 PM

7. Laswa, Bauhinia

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Laswa is Iloilo’s favorite vegetable recipe. Every family would have its own version of this no-frills hot stew, with ingredients from one’s own garden or farm, like squash, okra, green papaya, eggplant, malunggay, string beans, among others, which they simply boil and season with salt and garlic. Locals love to pair this with fried fish.

Various local restaurants serve laswa, but we recommend trying it at the bright and cozy Bauhinia restaurant in Smallville—perhaps before you hit the bars in the area?

The Avenue Complex, Donato M. Pison Ave., San Rafael, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
(033) 329 6951
11 AM - 2:30 PM and 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM

8. Siopao, Roberto's

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While not an Ilonggo specialty—we all know it’s Chinese—siopao has become one of the must-try delicacies locals and visitors alike have come to associate with Iloilo City, thanks to Roberto’s, a quaint Chinese restaurant in old downtown Iloilo, along the iconic Calle Real.

The smallest one is called Jumbo and it already lives up to its name, but their biggest variant is actually the legendary Queen, a sweet steamed bun stuffed to bursting with ingredients you won’t normally find in average siopao, like bacon, Chinese sausage, chicken and pork adobo, salted egg, and more. We swear, you haven’t tasted siopao this scrumptious before—you don’t even need sauce!

In case you were wondering, there’s a King too, which is not as big and packed as the Queen, but always a good alternative.

Brace yourself for a long line, and come early before they run out of Queen Siopao—it sells so quickly, and it’s reportedly not available every day.

JM Basa St (former Calle Real), Iloilo City
(033) 335 0484
(033) 337 1595

9. Sweets from Original Biscocho House

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Anyone flying in from Iloilo will most likely be carrying that ubiquitous white pasalubong box emblazoned with the red logo, filled with local confections. Their signature biscocho (crispy buttered toast sprinkled with sugar), pinasugbo (thin slices of caramelized native banana sprinkled with sesame seeds), and barquillos (thin and crispy wafer rolls that Pinoys love to pair with ice cream) are better than anyone else’s. But what everyone loves to hoard is the rich, sweet, moist, and chewy butterscotch, most likely the best you’ll ever have.

You’ll find branches of Biscocho House across the city, especially in malls and even at the airport. The price varies, however, so it’s best to go to their main branch at Jaro.

Original Biscocho House 33 Lopez Jaena St, Jaro, Iloilo City
(033) 329 0862

10. Fried Ibos, Cafe Panay

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A favorite Ilonggo merienda is fried ibos or glutinous rice, similar to the more familiar suman, yet fried until the outer layer turns crisp and golden. While not sweet on its own, it’s served with muscovado sugar, mango puree, and rich tablea hot chocolate sauce for dipping.

While a number of Ilonggo establishments serve this snack, you have to try it at the chic and Instagram-friendly Cafe Panay. That way, you can complement it with their rich Tablea de Batirol, a traditional hot chocolate drink sweetened with muscovado sugar.

Cafe Panay
Festive Walk Parade, Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City
7 AM - 2 PM and 5 PM - 10 PM

Looking for Iloilo travel inspo? Check out our travel guide.

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About Trixie
Trixie Reyna-Benedicto is a born and bred Manila girl, lifestyle blogger, and content expert who moved to Iloilo when she married her Ilonggo sweetheart. When she’s not writing for magazines and websites or updating, she enjoys exploring new locales and trying restaurants and bars around the Philippines and abroad.

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