Café de Cebu
Krispy Kang-Kong – Crispy battered water spinach with garlic mayo dip
Ngo-yong – Cebu’s Chinese Fried Vegetable Lumpia made up of ubod, palm heart flavored with Chinese five-spice powder called Ngohiong
Lechon Belly de Cebu – Slow roasted and seasoned boneless pork belly
Chicken Skin BBQ – Chicken skin marinated and grilled in our special barbecue sauce
Cookie Butter Pie
Located in the cozy corner of a shopping plaza on West Flamingo, Filipino stalwart Café de Cebu had long been on my radar despite a brief October closure by the Health Department for questionable refrigeration practices, and recently reminded of the space by the words of a friend it was for dinner on the night before Memorial Day that I finally stopped in to find myself the only diner in the space, a pleasant experience had thanks to 1-on-1 service more than happy to educate me on a cuisine and culture of which I admittedly have much to learn.
Proudly displaying accolades from the local press for a sizable menu filled with traditional fare straight out of proprietor Mary Villarante’s native Philippines, a meal at Café de Cebu is likely to find unprepared or timid at a bit of a loss, but with ample descriptions provided both in print and from the waitstaff the biggest question becomes one of portions and predilections, a whole lot of offal to be found amidst items slightly more familiar, the first timer encouraged to do their research and ask advice as ‘signatures’ proved to be not only accessible, but also quite good.
Told that no diner at Cebu should go without the Ngo-yong or highly praised pork belly it was with an order of the former that dining commenced and originally serenaded by a native cooking show with subcaptions I admittedly played the ‘dumb American’ in requesting *my* native Cavaliers be turned on instead, the crunchy fried cylinders of pork and hearts of palm rich in cloves as well as allspice proving a bit too heavy to be fully enjoyed in such quantity, though certainly something worth sharing amongst friends.
Moving on to a substantial bowl of fried spinach that thankfully suffered from far less sog than did the aforementioned eggrolls, suffice it to say that this $3.99 dish easily justifies its cost despite falling just short of that at Nittaya’s in terms of delicacy while the barbeque chicken skins glazed in sweet sauce prove an equally impressive value for just two-dollars more, even if the crisp flesh isn’t exactly the easiest thing to liberate from a thin skewer of wood.
At this point turning my full attention to the restaurant’s signature item, my order apparently amongst the last bits left from a fifty-pound roast to begin the day, there is no doubt a reason that many have called the Lechon de Cebu one of the city’s best pieces of pork, and costing just $1 an ounce with orders as small as a half-pound available the small bowl proved just enough for one as skin shattered like glass over supple flesh, a trio of sauces ranging from fermented and funky to sweet and saline each proving more than adequate to temper the fat.
Unfortunately sold out of several traditional sweets, but offering a few specials in addition to the laminated menu’s offerings, it was with a large bowl of Halo-Halo that a sampling of desserts began and although the purple ube ice cream was a bit less flavorful that I’d have expected the amalgam of textures beneath it was more than happy to compensate – everything from melons to corn and gelatin dispersed amongst ice crystals and cream in a portion more than adequate to share, the same not to be said of tiny circles of inconsequential pie and cheesecake, though at $2 each both the quality and quantity here, too, seemed quite fair.
THREE STARS: Admitting a lack of familiarity with Filipino food in general there is little doubt that Café de Cebu has a lot to offer those willing to explore the menu, but with servers quick to recommend signatures that often sell out well before closing one wonders whether other items stack up – a question surely requiring a repeat visit earlier in the day, or at least as part a larger group.
RECOMMENDED: Lechon Belly de Cebu, Krispy Kang-Kong.
AVOID: Ngo-Yong unless dining with a group, and arriving late when popular items are prone to be long gone.
TIP: Currently offering $15 off $30 dining vouchers through restaurants.com, those looking for a deal would be well advised to pick one up.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor