A Small Bite of Davao City

An overnight working trip to Davao City meant that I had little time to explore much. I had a previous visit around three years ago, so I didn’t feel all that deprived about not being able to see the city in its entirety. I decided to focus my short stay on sampling local restaurants that I hadn’t been able to try the first time around. Well, the beer part was covered in the last entry, so this post will be devoted to food.

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The first meal was lunch at Yellow Fin in the Ecoland area, which came highly recommended by everyone from the the taxi driver to the staff of the office I visited. Up front, it’s an open air, turo-turo style place with a fixed menu of cooked viands as well as fresh seafood that you can have grilled as you order. It turned out to be a full service restaurant. Judging by the number of diners clad in polo barong and police uniforms, this place is a favorite of local public servants and government employees – always a good sign that you will get bang for your buck. It’s a local favorite, not a tourist trap. I decided to go with the house special, adobong buntot ng tuna. Additional orders of kinilaw na kambing, ensaladang talong and sinigang na isda rounded out the meal.

The tuna was a good mix of crisp skin, glorious gelatinous fat and lean flesh. Deep fried tuna tail is touted as the healthy alternative to the Filipino comfort food favorite crispy pata (pork trotters). Served adobo-style, it’s just as delicious, if not less guilt-inducing.

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The kinilaw na kambing was a delectable use of random goat parts. The vinegar-based sauce did its job in taking away the gaminess of the meat. This was like a tangy lamb dish with a kick, and despite my craft beer tendencies, I found myself craving the traditional San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

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I enjoyed my Yellow Fin experience, perhaps much more than my meal years ago at the other must-visit specialty seafood restaurant in Davao City, Marina (no relation to the Metro Manila chain, I believe). The food is simple, relatively inexpensive yet immensely satisfying.

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Late dinner was a quick, pre-drink bite at the newly-opened downtown branch of Gino’s Boom Burgers (not pictured). Quick referred to the meal, as the food takes around 20-30 minutes to be served, and even without the wait, we were already quite famished. The staff will kindly inform you of that matter, and well, it’s to be expected even in metropolitan regions outside of Manila. I’ve found that most small restaurants (and even the bigger ones) are only outfitted with tiny kitchens, probably with just one or two burners, so 30-45 minutes for a meal is pretty much standard. The wait in Davao City isn’t nearly as bad as it would be in restaurants like Bohol or Boracay.

Their stuffed burger is a burst of umami. The beef isn’t the best quality, but the flavor makes up for it. As far as Davao City choices go, though, this beats Space Burger by a mile (or a light year, if you’re up for lame jokes).

Breakfast the next morning was at the hotel (which anonymity I will protect), with a pathetic buffet spread that only got me into a voracious mood for lunch. The stomach space saved turned out  to be a blessing because lunch was a treat.

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At the recommendation of a friend, I headed over to Lachi’s in Marfori Heights. Their pork ribs are literally touted as unforgettable. While I wouldn’t go that far by way of desciption, I admit that they were delicious, although not as tender as I would have preferred.

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With a side of laing, and a second serving of rice, this was excellent comfort food, Filipino-style. Lachi’s desserts also came highly recommended, especially the sans rival, cheesecake and macarons.

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The sans rival wasn’t the best, being on the dry side and lacking in buttery creaminess between the meringue layers. My favorites are still Becky’s (formerly along Xavierville Avenue, beside that horrid Meat Shop) and the eponymous Sans Rival in Dumaguete City.

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The New York cheesecake fared much better, with just a hint of sourness and saltiness instead of the usual cloying sweetness. The macarons were good, considering that I didn’t expect a hole in the wall in the residential area of the city to be making them. I’d say they were on par with the weekend bazaar variety that have begun to sprout up all over Manila.

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As always, the salted caramel one was my favorite. The orange macaron had a good balance of citric flavor and sweetness. And while I’m not a huge fan of peppermint, the flavor was subdued enough to not have the macaron taste like a breath mint. A good effort, and kudos to their pastry chef.

It was also my first time to try Nespresso capsules. For a P75 cup of coffee, it was excellent. I had the Fortissio Lungo, which had an intensity rating of “7”. Bold and flavorful, and whisper of acidity. It made me almost consider investing in a machine at home. Unfortunately, with the amount of coffee I drink, and in my line of work, I’m forced to go with quantity over quality.

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The last meal in Davao was a Korean dinner from Manna, which was a short walk from the hotel. As we had to catch our flight out, we figured it was best not to go back into the center of the city. At a very reasonable Php 700, Sigol Bapsang, a set meal for two consisting of a gauntlet of dishes. First up was a set of six banchan (assorted appetizers, including dilis, kimchi, marinated peanuts, sweet potato, omelet and fermented spicy cucumber). The mains then poured in one by one: jap chae (sweet potato noodles), haemul pajeon (seafood and green onion pancake), jeyuk bokkeum (stir fried pork in chili sauce), kimchi jjigae (fermented cabbage and tofu stew), gyeran jjim (steamed egg casserole), as well as a breaded white fish fillet (thankfully not dory) and a tofu and mushroom soup/stew which Korean names escaped me. And of course, steamed white rices served in the usual covered metal bowls. Despite the volume, the food was quite light on the belly, and yes, it’s more than enough to satisfy two hungry people without much excess. Some friends followed and ordered dokbukki, samgyupsal and kimbap, which I had a taste of. All of the food was pretty good, and priced around the same as most Manila Korean restaurants. The crowd was mostly Korean, which meant that in Davao City, you would be hard-pressed to find authenticity and quality of the same level elsewhere. There’s a Manna Garden in Manila, which I haven’t tried. I don’t think it’s owned the same group, though.

Surprisingly, the Korean meal was the least capsaicin-fueled of my trip. I discovered the Davaoeno breed of bird’s eye chili, which is shorter and rounder than the labuyo one would find in Manila. These are probably much closer to their Thai cousins than what we are familiar with up north. Needless to say, these tiny devils were immensely hot – at least twice that of the labuyo I’m used to and could chop up and eat fresh without much discomfort. The Davao chilis, however, left a lasting heat on the tongue that made me glad I was thousands of kilometers away from the nearest IPA. I wish I could get my hands on those chilis here in Manila, though.

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