The last time Cess and I were in Iloilo City was in 2016, when Cess’ St. Paul College Manila, BSN 1977 class had its reunion. We did not spend time by ourselves then since we joined most of the planned group activities and get-togethers.
This time, as part of our “chill” vacation, we decided make the most of our time and enjoy the food, rekindle memories, experience the “new” Iloilo, and, of course, make kwento with our beloved sister-in-law, Yoli.
We decided to stay in the “new” (my term) Iloilo in the Mandurriao district (where the former Iloilo airport was) at SM City Iloilo along the Iloilo City Diversion Road, also known as Ninoy Aquino Avenue.
SM City Iloilo and Park Inn by Radisson
After much googling, we were delighted to find an international hotel brand, Park Inn by Radisson, at the SM City complex, the hotel being next to the SM Mall itself. Hitting four birds with one stone – “new” Iloilo, good food, shopping!, and a good place to make kwento with Yoli.
Park Inn by Radisson had just newly opened a week or so. In fact, some of the rooms were still in the final stages of construction, just needing final touches.
And the SM City Mall was just across the hotel (pictured below from the third floor of the hotel).
But, first order of the day – food, oh, glorious food!
But where to start? Where to start?
The few days of our food trip in Iloilo City was a blur, as if in a fast moving train, from food court to fast food, from kakanin to fresh fruit stalls, from hotel food to high-end local Filipino restaurants. The whole food experience in Iloilo was summed up in this particular photo of Cess.
After checking in, we were famished and the quickest way to decompress from the 3-hour road trip, satisfy our hunger, and reward ourselves was to head straight to the SM City Mall, which was a minute or two walk from our hotel. And lo and behold – food court and Filipino mall restaurants!
So many restaurants and so much variety. Cess and I ended up at a small eatery where we had bam-i guisado, kare-kare with bagoong, garlic rice, and, of course, my favorite drink when I was a kid, Royal Tru-Orange. After walking around and exploring the mall, we headed to another mall restaurant where we had to have pancit molo and chorizo.
Then, on to the chichirias and kakanin to eat, to baon, and to pasalubong.
And, as a consolation prize, there was a very good in-house restaurant called Ani (“harvest” in Ilonggo and Tagalog), should we become too lazy to leave the hotel and at the same time take advantage of the breakfast included in the hotel reservation.
Besides the food trip, shopping was on top of our list in Iloilo. Roxas City did not have an SM City yet (coming soon!) and we did not want to do our shopping and deal with the traffic in Manila.
And so we made it a point to do most of our shopping in Iloilo. And so convenient too – we were already there at the SM Mall. The variety and number of stores in SM Iloilo was comparable, if not equal to, the major malls in Manila. If you just ignored the language being spoken or the ethnicity of the shoppers around you, you could have thought you were in the Forum Des Halles in Paris, Dubai Mall, or even Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Washington. Practically the same international stores, ambience, and even a food court (Starbucks!).
Iloilo City is the hometown of our beloved sister-in-law, Yoli Marquez-Lim Altavas, and we were fortunate enough to have her as our host and the ultimate Iloilo “insider”. She and her sister, Ida Marquez-Lim Siason, brought us to the most amazing restaurants in the “new” Iloilo. Because of our short stay in Iloilo City, the old familiar haunts in Iloilo City and Villa Beach (Breakthrough Restaurant or Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafood) were not in our itinerary.
We had three successive nights of wonderful fine dining in Iloilo, upon the invitation of Yoli and Ida and Ida’s husband, Tim.
May 5 – Our first night’s dinner was in a restaurant called Barrio Inasal at Diversion Rd. in Mandurriao. In our excitement to have a first taste of Iloilo cuisine that we haven’t had in a while and probably because we were also tired after a long road trip, I forgot to take photos of our dinner. In fairness to Barrio Inasal and to give you an idea of the food there, here is a stock photo from their website.
The food was great and “sumptuous” (this word often appears when you google Iloilo restaurants) and whetted our appetite for more. This was just the teaser and we were looking forward to the following night.
May 6 – Our dinner this evening was simply marvelous. Yoli brought us to this restaurant called Farm to Table in the Megaworld Complex development just across the new Festive Walk Mall. This was an outstanding restaurant in the continuing tradition of excellent Iloilo cuisine. The restaurant prides itself in serving food with locally-sourced, fresh, and organic ingredients and focused on traditional Iloilo recipes like pancit molo, batchoy, KBL (kadios, baboy, langka), etc. The restaurant is owned and operated by Pauline Gorriceta Banusing, who is a well-known and well-regarded cook and restauranteur, not only in Iloilo but also in the entire country.
Here we are at Farm to Table with Pauline, whom Yoli has known for a long time and who personally attended to our needs and gave us her recommendations. The food was exquisite. The presentation of the food was classy and with a touch of Filipiniana – dishes served in coconut shells and binakol (a traditional Ilonggo chicken soup dish made from chicken cooked in coconut water with coconut meat, green papaya, leafy vegetables, chilies, lemongrass, and patis) in a freshly cracked coconut.
The only “foreign” food or drink on the table was the Pepsi but a Filipino meal would not be complete without a Pepsi or a Coke.
We also had some home-made banana chips, which Cess loved so much that Pauline gave her three complimentary brown bags (supot) to take home.
May 7 – We were being spoiled by our hosts in Iloilo. This night, our final night in Iloilo, we headed to Bistro Ocean City restaurant also in the Megaworld Complex across and east of the Festive Walk Mall. Our hosts were Tim and Ida and this time we made sure that we had photos of the dinner with them and Yoli.
As always, and this may sound like a broken record, the food was delicious (Filipino food is the best! – according to our daughter Anna and I agree). But the company has always been priceless.
Simply unforgettable three nights in Iloilo.
And our journey to Iloilo had an added bonus. We were able enjoy the results of the renaissance of Mandurriao from an old airport district to a vibrant new district of wonderful shops, restaurants, condos, and entertainment venues. One could feel the energy and vitality (and traffic) of the new Iloilo in the Megaworld Complex and the nearby SM City Iloilo.
And, of course, a selfie!