Bicol Region is well known to be the land of gata (coconut milk) and lada (sili) based eats. Aside from these signature ingredients, Bicolano food actually has a lot more to offer. Since Albay has such a lot of great finds, I decided to start with Daraga and Legazpi in this article. Let me guide you through my Daraga and Legazpi go-to old and new food sightings; from where you can let your hair down with a great bowl of Kinalas, to where you can find the iconic Sili Ice Cream.
Hi, my name is Ekay Pereña come away with me as I share with you my gastronomic journey around my hometown.
Ben’s Bakers is one of Bicol’s known local bakeries that provide Bicolanos freshly baked loaves of bread and other local treats daily. Truly no-frills, all flavor, Ben’s offers more than just their baked treats. They have one specific branch conspicuously tucked in Legazpi City that offers affordable, home-cooked meals that makes their patrons keep coming back.
Ben’s has a variety of meals that change daily. From meal viands to merienda, Ben’s Their Kinunot na Pagi, Pork Steak, Palabok, and Nilupak are a few great recommendations.
To be honest, the majority of Ben’s viands are really delicious; no-frills, comforting, full of flavor, simple. They have so far have been consistent with the quality of their food and the flavors of each dish. In my countless lunchtime visits at their establishment, their Kinunot na Pagi and their Pork Steak viands stood out because they do theirs differently than usual.
Kinunot na Pagi (kunot is a Bicolano word that means to shred, pagi is a Bicolano word for Stingray) is a local Bicolano dish that highlights shredded stingray meat and malunggay leaves, cooked in vinegar, chilis, and coconut milk. I know that some places might have the same ingredients, but what I love about Ben’s way of doing it is how the strands of meat are a mix of chunky and shredded.
Ben’s Pork Steak is different from any traditional Filipino restaurant. Their version still has that soy sauce, calamansi, onion base, but theirs seems to be a bit creamier than the Bistek Tagalog we’re so accustomed to. Tender morsels of pork, soaked in their luscious sauce, a hot cup (or two) of rice, and a serving of their complimentary soup can make a bad day come around— it’s that good!
The best time to go to Ben’s would be around 11:00 am for lunchtime, just the perfect time to see all of the available, freshly prepared viands for you to choose from. For merienda on the other hand, you can waltz in as early as 2:00 pm for you to check what snacks and other confections are available. My go-to snack choice would be their Palabok. Ben’s version of this well-loved Filipino snack has pronounced flavors of pork, tinapa, and spring onions lingering as you eat through by the forkful. You can order your Palabok for one, or get a bilao to share among friends, family, or colleagues by ordering in advance.
The best way to sweeten your day with a sweet snack and end your meal on a filling note is by getting an order of Ben’s Nilupak. Nilupak is a native kakanin made of either a banana or cassava base, cooked til tender then pounded by a lusong until glutinous, mixed with margarine and sugar, then garnished with young coconut shreds or toasted peanuts for additional contrast. Ben’s version is made with a cassava base, finished off with morsels of toasted, lightly salted peanuts
1st Colonial is also home to the well-known Sili Ice Cream. Aside from this celebrated treat, they also pay homage to other local ingredients like corn, calamansi, tinutong na bigas and other interesting flavors, reimagined like no other. 1st Colonial proudly serves their food and their ice cream creations to their guests with the utmost pride and love for the flavors and culture of Bicol.
Sili Ice Cream is a must-try if you’ll be dining at 1st Colonial Grill and yes, you’ve read that correctly. Sili (siling labuyo, to be exact) is one major component for making Bicolano dishes. This intriguing dessert speaks for its own. With 1st Colonial Grill’s creative spin-off, they have formulated an ice cream flavor that incorporates the flavors of these local chilies, complimented with local, fresh coconut milk. Their Sili Ice Cream was also awarded as it initially gives off the expected cool, creamy delight of what ice cream should be, followed by the labuyo’s heat creeping up your taste buds (and your throat). The heat one spoonful gives off heat in a sly, developing, slick kind of way.
Sili Ice Cream is available in four distinct levels. If you have a low heat tolerance (sadly, I did not inherit my dad’s tolerance to spicy food), it is advisable to start off with Level 1 or the Mild level. For the full experience, try their Level 4 or Volcanic Level Sili Ice Cream.
You can also try all ten flavors of their signature ice creams by getting their Ice Cream Galore. It showcases two scoops each for every signature ice cream flavor they have. Ice Cream Galore is good for a crowd of 4-10 people. It’s served all at once, three flavors in each serving that compliments each other. My top picks from the spread (aside from the Sili Ice Cream) would be Ginataang Mais, Tinutong na Bigas, and Pili, all of them insinuating a nostalgic feel.
Ginataang Mais Ice Cream pays homage to the classic Filipino dessert we all love. With a nostalgic feel in every bite, it has the elements of sweet, velvety coconut cream, mixed in with kernels of sweet yellow corn. Tinutong na Bigas Ice Cream was inspired by the humble rice coffee. The ice cream flavor itself remains true to its name for each spoonful has that toasty rice taste to it. With coarse bits of toasted rice, milk, and sugar, the ice cream mimics a milky tableya taste. Pili Ice Cream was a cup of comfort. It felt like the ice cream pillows in mild, fresh flavors of lightly toasted pili nuts, married together with sweet milk.
Branches: Rizal St. Brgy. Sagpon, Daraga Albay; Pacific Mall Legazpi; Ayala Mall Legazpi; SM Naga City; Robinsons Place Naga City; Gaisano Sorsogon City; SM Legazpi City (soon to open in NAIA T3(Arrivals Area); SM Sorsogon; Gaisano Iriga City)
I’ve been a patron of 528 Ilawod ever since it opened in 2015. They initially tugged my heartstrings from the moment I first walked into 528’s café doors for not only for their amazing coffee and grub, they also run their café with great service that keeps in a friendly, neighborhood vibe among patrons and their staff alike. I am truly amazed as well with how experienced and knowledgeable they are when it comes to their coffee. They can even suggest what beans would tickle your fancy if you’re unsure of what to pick. I suggest you visit their Facebook page to get to know their story behind their passion for coffee, their love for their staff, anything #Beyond528. To wrap the love altogether, rustic elements such as abaca lamps, hardwood tables with old sewing machine pedals as its legs, reclaimed wood bar tables, hand-painted murals, and other local features pave 528 Ilawod’s homey aesthetics.
Their Chicken Fajita Pasta has the perfect balance of spicy, cheesy, and creamy, which makes this dish truly undeniably delicious. It utilizes béchamel as its foundation, layered in flavor with roughly chopped chicken, salt, bell peppers, chilis, cheese, and smoked paprika. All this goodness is incorporated well in generous portions of fusilli pasta in each serving. I assure you that every nook and cranny of the fusilli is covered up in this velvety and sinfully good sauce. This dish can surely turn a bad day into a better one (it works every time for me, so I hope it has the same effect on you).
There are some days that I really wanna chow down on a home-cooked meal that’s quick, filling, simple yet flavorful; that’s where 528 Ilawod’s Adobo sa Asin kicks in. It’s kind of your pork adobo, without the soy sauce, cooked slowly in the pork’s own fat, til the mixture in the pan dries out and the pork turns a bit crisp on the outside yet still chewy on the inside, slightly rendering a golden brown color. Adobo sa Asin is a Bicolano recipe that truly beholds a complex layer of flavor that solely depends on its simple ingredients; salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, and vinegar. 528 Ilawod’s Adobo sa Asin is served with plain rice and a hard-boiled egg. Each bite beholds slightly sweet and tangy notes from the vinegar cooked and rendered down with the pork, backed up by a slight bite from generous amounts of peppercorn and salt, with layers of garlic and a bit of bay leaves also incorporated. This is a dish proudly Bicolano and definitely worth trying.
As a patron of amazing third-wave coffee, 528 Ilawod have their own selection of beans. From the light roast Boy Bida blend to the dark roast Little Miss Sunshine blend (best works with milk, designed for an amazing cup of flat white), they make sure they have their coffee selection roasted excellently to produce great tasting coffee. For a great cup of coffee, better ask 528 Ilawod’s friendly baristas of what beans are available. They can definitely guide you to your perfect cup.
I may be a sucker for a good cup of coffee, but I also know a great cocktail when I see one. 528 Ilawod offers a Tsiklet Menu to their patrons, which beholds an array of exclusive eats and signature cocktails. My go-to cocktail would be their Gin Pom.
Yes, a mix of gin and pomelo, garnished with a dehydrated pomelo wedge and lychee, all served with an ice ball. I personally like mine mixed with a bit of crushed mint to add in a slightly bitter element to this sweet and tangy drink (ask their baristas first to unleash the tsiklet).
Branches: F. Lotivio St., Daraga, Albay; Cabangan, Legazpi City (Flavours); SM Legazpi (soon to open)
Rose’s Kinalas features its food with no frills, yet serves food with a lot of flavors. The first time I’ve been here was back in college. It was one rainy afternoon and my friends wanted to eat something filling and warm. They took me to Rose’s for the first time and I kept on coming back after that.
It is located a few minutes away from the centro of Legazpi and yet, patrons keep coming back for a hot, steaming, savory bowl of it. Aside from their flavorful kinalas, they also have other snacks like toasted siopao or puto pao that you can choose from, or you can pair with their signature kinalas.
Kinalas actually originated from Naga City, yet there has been a couple of kinalasan sightings popping left and right around Albay and other parts of the Bicol Region. Kinalas got its name from how this dish was prepared. From the root word kalas or to pull apart to pieces, this humble dish is has a soup base, from making stock from an entire cow or pig’s head, bones (sometimes with shoulder or rib meat), and aromatics, slowly simmering for hours. With this flavorful broth, it’s incorporated with egg noodles(mami noodles is most commonly used), sliced cow or pig brains, tender meat tore apart from the pig or cow’s head, all topped with a thick, salty, gravy sauce, a hard-boiled egg, chopped spring onions, and a few pieces of chicharon.
Address: Rawis, Legazpi City (beside CQ Gasoline station, in front of DOST R5 Office)
Started back in 1983 in Naga City by three enterprising ladies, Bigg’s Diner’s beginnings were rooted by a passion for great food. Their origin story is incredible because before Bigg’s became a household name to Bicolanos, there were a couple of eventful things that happened before they got their sweet success today (read their inspiring origins here: http://biggsinc.ph/). At present, Bigg’s Diner has nine company-owned stores and seven franchised stores located all over the Bicol Region as well as Batangas and Li
Bigg’s Cajun Chicken has that crispy, evenly-spaced combination. Hints of paprika, Cajun spice, salt, and black pepper lingers in each bite from the skin to the juicy, piping hot chicken meat.
A refreshing treat to quench your thirst would be Bigg’s Signature Rock and Roll Iced Tea. Each sip has notes of calamansi and honey, perfectly blended to cleanse your palate and balance every savory bite.
Branches: SM City Lipa, Batangas; National Highway, Pili, Camarines Sur; San Jose St., Goa, Camarines Sur; Centro, Elias Angeles St., Naga City; Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City; BMC J. Miranda St., Naga City; SM City Naga, Naga City; Rizal St., Daraga; Old Albay, Legazpi City; Pacific Mall Legazpi; SM Legazpi; Embarcadero de Legazpi; SM Savemore, Sorsogon City; Gaisano Capital, Masbate City
A gourmet café sighting opened up in Daraga recently called Tyler’s Gourmet Kitchen. Tyler’s Gourmet Kitchen features a variety of their own gourmet delights good for a table of one, up to a family-sized table to share. They create dishes making sure that ingredients in season are used to concoct a great meal. They make almost everything from scratch, from their stock bases to their artisanal breads and cakes. They can also customize made-to-order cakes suitable for any occasion (they make the prettiest edible art for their cakes. Ask them what they can make for you.). The people behind Tyler’s Gourmet Kitchen are very accommodating to all of their guests. Make sure you ask them or their staff of their recommendations and some of their new items that may still be off the menu.
Tyler’s BBQ Bacon Burger is one of their three burger selections from their Smoked Bacon Burger series. All of their burgers are served with a side of fries, seasoned to your liking.
The White Pizza Flatbread Pizza Tyler’ Gourmet Kitchen can be shared by 2-3 people. With their freshly baked flatbread, the pizza has a white sauce base, thin fried garlic slices, chopped black olives, with parmesan and mozzarella on top.
I love how the fragrant and slightly bitter tones of fried garlic pairs well with the fruity black olives. If you like a bit of spice on your pizza, it’s best to add on hot sauce or chili flakes, whichever you prefer.
End your meal on a sweet note and have Tyler’s Gourmet Kitchen’s Hazelnut Chocolate Cheesecake; homage to chocolate hazelnut and cheesecake in one splendid creation. Imagine a moist chocolate cake, with creamy chocolate cheesecake in the center, designed to eat the cake and cheesecake layer all at once
Address: F. Lotivio St., Daraga, Albay
I find solace in the busy city of Legazpi at Artisan’s Specialty Coffee. There’s something very peaceful and calming whenever I enter the café. It must be the minimalist, black and white interiors and design all throughout their café that eases me. From light snacks, cakes to filling rice meals, Artisan’s Specialty Coffee serves casual, comforting food.
Artisan’s Coffee Rub Ribs is definitely a treat! Big chunks of sticky, smoky-sweet coffee-rubbed pork ribs, with a serving of plain rice and buttery, spiced corn. The meat is fork tender and very flavorful, inviting you to leave the bones off clean.
Artisan’s Cookie Dough Cheesecake is something that makes you feel like a kid. From its smooth cookie dough base, lightly whipped cream cheese center, to the chocolate sauce sheen on top, every component truly is a treat on its own. I love how the thick cookie dough ties up well with the light cheesecake layer. Slightly salty and sweet flavors jive together by the forkful.
The reason why I included the Toasty Roasty was that the moment I tried this drink, I felt so giddy and relaxed at the same time. This coffee concoction has notes of hazelnut and toffee pronounced in every sip. I honestly never had anything like it. Whenever I like my coffee more on the complex side (meaning, having my coffee mixed in with any other flavors), this would be my go-to drink.
- Address: JNL Building, F. Imperial St., Legazpi City
- Facebook: Artisan’s Specialty Coffee
- Instagram: @artisans.specialtycoffee
Til’ our next gastronomic journey
Old and new places they may be, these would be the places I would gladly go back to with my family and friends. These places not only serve amazing eats, but they are also a part of me and my growing years in Daraga and Legazpi. I honestly know that there are a lot more spots I need to discover, must eat, and will create memories in.
Did I make you hungry? Better book yourself a ticket to Albay and explore these local eat spots yourself. Let me know if you have any suggestions of what you would like me to write about next, or maybe visit and try next time.
Bicol Food Tales: DARAGA-LEGAZPI Eats Old and New
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