Five Places to Try in Batac, Paoay and Laoag
Personally, the highlights of my recent trip to Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, both in terms of food and fun, were Vigan and Pagudpud. Nevertheless, if you’re taking the so-called Marcos Trail going north to Laoag via Batac and Paoay (We decided to skip his hometown, Sarrat), there are still some interesting dining destinations that you shouldn’t miss.
1. Batac: Glomy’s Empanada
Glomy’s Empanada came at the recommendation of our tricycle driver when we asked him which stall to eat at in the Batac Riverside Empanadahan after eating at the Marcos Mausoleum. He said that Glomy’s had won the most awards, and seemed to be friends with some of their sales ladies/cooks. I ordered a double-double, which meant twice the longanisa and twice the egg, and washed it down with some Royal Tru Orange for a unicolored meal.
Personally, I prefer the Vigan style of empanada, but this was pretty good as well. I regret ordering two eggs, though, as they were too thick and overpowered everything else. Next time, I’ll go for just one egg, and will follow the advice of Claude Tayag in his book Linamnam and order the eggs “malasado”, or runny.
2. Paoay: Cafe Herencia
Restaurants all over Ilocos serve a version of Pinakbet Pizza, but Cafe Herencia, located across the beautiful Paoay Church, claims to have invented it. We shared a half-and-half Pinakbet and Longanisa Pizza, which was served with a sauce dish of bagoong. The waitress made it quite clear that the bagoong was to be drizzled on the pinakbet side, and not on the longanisa side. It’s not the best pizza I’ve ever had, but it’s definitely worth trying. I actually enjoy vegetable toppings on my pizza more than meat, and having pinakbet ingredients like ampalaya and sitaw instead of the usual bell peppers and mushrooms.
3. Laoag: Johnny Moon Cafe
Located at the Tabacaleria next to the Ilocos Norte Museum, Johnny Moon Cafe is a hipster homage to national artist Juan Luna serving modern Ilocano food. We ordered poqui-poqui and crispy dinardaraan (Ilocano dinuguan), which unfortunately were on the underwhelming side.
What make Johnny Moon Cafe worth visiting, though, are their cocktails made with local wines and liquor such as bignay and different fruit wines from around the Ilocos region. The Una Chula is a spiked ice tea that is a favorite among tourists, while the underrated Johnny Moon Cocktail is an addicting smoothie that I would definitely come back for — and I’m not a cocktail person myself.
There are a lot of satellite branches of Johnny Moon – at Malacanang of the North, Marcos Mausoleum and on the highway near Kapurpurawan – but don’t bother. Head to Laoag and try their drinks and enjoy the funky art.
4. Laoag: La Preciosa
Again, I was relying on Claude and Mary Ann Tayag’s Linamnam for recommendations on where to eat, as well as the advice of a scion of an incumbent Ilocano political dynasty. Both sources pointed me to La Preciosa.
The ensalada was simple but delightful – fresh vegetables with the ubiquitous (in Ilocos at least) KBL or kamatis, bagoong and lasona.
The crispy bagbagis (Ilocano chicharon bituka), as suggested by the Tayags in Linamnam, definitely lived up to the glowering description. The Ilocanos definitely know how to deep fry offal. As was my experience in Hotel Salcedo de Vigan, this was perfectly fried and tasted fresh and clean, with none of the skunky, gamey flavor that you often get from eating innards.
Just to see the difference, we also tried their Laing. Pro-Tip: Don’t order a Bicolano dish in Ilocos.
The carrot cake came well-hyped. Everyone said that it was the best they’ve tasted. I’m sorry, but this carrot cake beats all. While I do regret buying into the hype, this dessert is well worth the almost-ridiculous Php 100 price tag.
5. Laoag: Eagle’s Nest at Java Hotel
Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the photos I took of their amazing Dinakdakan. This was recommended by Chef Sandy Daza in one of his newspaper columns, so we decided to drop by for a drink and pulutan (bar chow) as we were staying at the Indonesian-Venetian-inspired (what???) Java Hotel anyway.
Despite my being full, I still ate the hefty serving of grilled random pig parts. I wasn’t a fan of the version we had at home, because the creaminess of the dish came from mayonnaise. Authentic dinakdakan uses pig brains, and it’s incomparable. Words escape me. The dinakdakan at Eagle’s Nest is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted in my life. This dish alone makes Eagle’s Nest worth a visit.
Stay at the roofless deck (the entire restaurant is al fresco) where it’s nice and dim and not too breezy. It’s also farther than the annoying videoke singers in the front. You won’t get much privacy, though, as a rondalla group goes around, but if you ask nicely, they’ll limit themselves to just one song.