Food doesn't get any more exciting than at Manila Cafe. It's Filipino, a dramatic blend of Malay, Chinese and Spanish, with hints of Indian, Mexican, Arab and American influences. For real adventure, we often leave the ordering up to the friendly family that owns the place. Just bring us what's best today.
This means we sit at our table in the tiny store for hours on end, nibbling at plates of things that we can't pronounce but that are mesmerizing with multilayered flavors of vinegar, black pepper, garlic, anchovy and ginger. Perhaps we'll sample bulalo (beef kneecap with vegetables), binagoongang baboy (sautéed pork with fish sauce, tomatoes, onion and garlic) and pritong bangus (fried milkfish). If we're a bit frightened of an unfamiliar fare, we're offered freebie taste spoons of dishes like afritadang manok (juicy sautéed chicken with tomatoes, onion and bell pepper), or dinuguan (a surprisingly tasty dish of pork with pork blood sauce, pork ear, vinegar, black pepper and jalapeo over white rice). We'd never have imagined the charms of pinakbet otherwise, bringing a wicked stew of string beans, tart bittermelon, okra, meaty eggplant and chunks of skin-on pork boiled in anchovy sauce.
There's no doubt our madcap side is well-fed here, with far-out but fantastic assemblies like pochero, a plate of pork, beef or chicken sautéed in tomato sauce alongside Spanish sausage, bananas, potatoes and cabbage. Wild thing -- Manila Cafe, that is -- we think we love you.
Readers' Choice: Durant's
Readers' Choice: Denny's
There's nothing more expensive than $10 on this lengthy menu of big, tasty noodle dishes, and most ring in at $5 to $8. The variety is constantly interesting -- Japanese, Thai, Korean, Italian, and even some offbeat Japanese-Italian fusion recipes. The setting is soothing -- the place is fast service, but instead of a cheapie snack shack, it's a real sit-down affair.
You'll love the yakisoba, sautéed with fresh vegetables, plus chicken or seafood (shrimp, scallop, squid and octopus). Korean spicy beef is sizzling, over clear, egg white or potato noodles. For a lighter nosh, try the pasta primavera, loaded with eggplant, tricolor bell pepper and sweet onion under marinara sauce.
You know where to get fast food, cheap and delicious. Just use your noodle -- Cherryblossom's noodle, that is.
Readers' Choice: Durant's
Perhaps we should punish ourselves for our indiscretion with the evil spirits, but aren't we already suffering enough? Darn right we are, so now it's time to treat ourselves to the only thing that'll make us feel better -- a huge, fattening, filling breakfast to soak up all that alcohol.
JP is our little cocoon for mornings like these. It's always genteel quiet in the tiny shop, no matter how busy it gets. It's dark, decorated in lots of black and slender mirrors, with soothing jazz music that makes us feel classier than our escapes of the evening before would suggest. The food is fresh and fantastic, with amenities we can't find elsewhere: hot-dog-size Hormel sausage links, thick-cut Hormel bacon and dry-cured ham, golden biscuits with chunky sausage gravy, billowy oven-baked apple pancakes, Belgian waffles and tasty daily specials like quiche or tomato-fresh-herb-goat-cheese omelets.
Coffee is strong, hot and bottomless. Boy, we feel almost good enough to go out tonight and get drunk all over again.
Still, we'd like our families to enjoy a healthful, tasty, home-cooked meal, even if it isn't cooked in our own home. So it's Elie's takeout to the rescue! We love this tiny, family-run quick-stop casual shop where pretty much everything on the Mediterranean and American menu is homemade. Our family members with the simplest tastes love the straight stuff -- hot and cold subs fashioned from Boar's Head meats, a fine BLT and grilled cheese, and burgers. More adventurous types lust after the Greek specialties, like magical grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes and garbanzo beans, dipped in silky-tart yogurt spiked with cucumber, garlic and mint. And we've been known to make an entire meal out of tabbouleh, a refreshing salad of chopped parsley, tomato, cracked wheat, lemon juice and olive oil, with some hot pita bread on the side. All food is prepared to order, but it's done with speed -- we never wait more than a few minutes before we're tramping our treasures out the door.