Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete

10:40:00 PM

The biggest surprise of our trip was finding a budding and buzzing food district in Dumaguete. Sure, I may have read about it in a number of blogs or seen the features on Byahe ni Drew and Ang Pinaka, but I dismissed it with the notion that every city promises a "foodie-friendly" atmosphere nowadays - no big deal. Wherever you are in the world, there's bound to be a hole-in-the-wall or a fancy restaurant heavily promoted on blogs and tourism offices.

But as it usually goes with stuck-up generalizations, the actual trip to the City of Gentle People slapped my tastebuds with the truth. When Dumagueteños and tourists say it's more fun to eat in Dumaguete, it's not an exaggeration.

Whether you like it fast, fine, fatty, fusion, homestyle or exotic, there's a joint in this little city that's sure to fulfill your foodie dreams. And it's most likely just 5 to 10 minutes away from wherever you are, at any given time. I bet it's a crime in this city to dine in the same place consecutively.


Lab-as Restaurant / Hayahay Treehouse Bar

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we ate: Dumaguete Express, Shrimp Shanghai Rice, Shanghai Rice with Chorizo, Baked Talaba, Garlic Shrimp, Fruit Ice Cream and Buko
How much it cost us: Around P200-300 each in two separate ocassions

Our first stop is Lab-As, a restaurant by-the-bay which has gained a reputation among locals and tourists as the best in town when it comes to seafood. This is where you go to get your first taste of Dumaguete Express - a less spicy, seafood version of the Bicol favorite. It was what I was most excited to eat in Dumaguete and also most afraid to be let down with. (I love anything cooked in coconut milk!)

Which was fortunately not the case because, I’ll spoil you right here, it was the best thing we’ve eaten in all of our Dumaguete dining experience. Sabaw pa lang ulam na!* I kid you not - the first spoonful was so good, it took me to a foodie kind of high, an almost out-of-body experience if you will. What makes it different from Bicol Express (apart from it being seafood) is the use of ripened coconut strips, simultaneously drawing out and adding to the flavor of the coconut milk. They don’t scrimp on seafood, too. There’s plenty of chopped shrimp and dory to go around with a bowl that can serve two to three people.

*We Filipinos love our savory stews. This is something we say when the soup alone is so delicious, you can chow down on it without bothering with the rest of the ingredients (usually meat and vegetables). 

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

It would have been wiser to side such a palatable dish with plain rice, but I’ve never been one to choose bland when fried rice is an option. And as it turned out, Lab-As’ Shrimp Shanghai Rice is anything but a good side dish. It is a world of flavors on its own, a mix I can only dream of achieving at home - in the mornings that I actually make an effort to be domesticated. I can’t believe I’m saying this but Lab-As’ selection of fried rice (we had Chorizo the next day) may be a strong contender to the stir-fried treasures of Binondo.

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila
Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

Stew and rice aside, the rest of our orders weren’t as hearty. Their Garlic Shrimp could be a bit more garlicky and a bit less buttery. Their Baked Talaba (oyster) could use a bit more spices and I do hope they consider changing up their cheese game because that stuff gets nasty sweet after it’s gone cold. (I know, I know. Who lets baked oysters go cold, right? But I wanted to wait for everything else to be served before jumping on it. And they took their time.)

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

This one? Let’s just say there’s such a thing as too much bananas.

We ate here twice in a rowa strict violation of (non-official, ignore this) food walk lawsbut in our defense, we weren’t aware that Lab-As and Hayahay share menus. If there is any difference between the two, I guess Lab-As has a more family-friendly ambiance while Hayahay's al fresco space is great for cocktails.

If we come back, I'll try: Grilled Mayo Mayo, Seafood Soup, gourmet pizzas

Lab-as Restaurant / Hayahay Treehouse Bar
Negros Oriental Flores Avenue,
Dumaguete City

Jo's Chicken Inato

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we ate: Chicken Inato - Paa, Mango Shake
How much it cost us: More or less P150 each

Jo’s Chicken Inato has branches all across the country but nowhere is it more loved than in Dumaguete. To many Dumagueteños, the restaurant is a time capsule of sorts. A place where good memories with friends and family are made over the homiest of meals. A place of nostalgia for those who grew up in this little city of comforts, where everything is simple and hearty at the same time.

It almost felt like we were intruding on a big Sunday family dinner when we arrived. The place was packed top to bottom, with diners ranging from a groups of friends on a night out, families welcoming balikbayan relatives and lovers on dates. Jo’s was buzzing and the staff were scurrying but even in the hustle of it all, I felt as if I were privy to an intimate moment.

Or maybe I’m just waxing poetic. There must've been something in that chicken that made me feel so at home in an unfamiliar place. Simple and hearty at the same time - it's as true about Jo's Chicken Inato itself as it is with the town. There's nothing complicated about it. It's grilled chicken the way we know it, which is the way it should be.

If we come back, I'll try: Inihaw na Baboy

Jo's Chicken Inato
Silliman Avenue,
Dumaguete City

Neva's Pizza

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila
Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we ate: Sarap Pinoy Spaghetti, Seafood Pizza
How much it cost us: Around P200 each (with drinks)

Neva’s is popular for its pizzas and pastas, so we had one of each. Our pasta of choice was Sarap Pinoy because I was in the mood for sweet-style spaghetti. It still had some Italian influence to it, in that it wasn’t as sweet as what we’re used to having during kiddie parties. There’s a hint of sourness that was somehow fighting back the sweet, Filipino flavor. That it didn’t have sliced hotdog was very un-Filipino to me (lol), but they do use ground meat and are generous with the shredded cheese. I liked it. Overall, it’s a pretty simple, red-sauce pasta that’s flavorful enough to pair with rather bland pieces of garlic bread.

The pizza though… In the running for Best Budget Pizza in the Philippines. In the past, it would've been unimaginable thar I'll be able to use "budget" and "brick-oven" referring to the same pizza, but the day has come and I’ve never felt more fulfilled.

Our pizza came out with soft and chewy dough, which stayed that way for the next hour that we struggled to finish our orders. (Big servings.) Neva’s does not scrimp on toppings. We enjoyed every bit of the Seafood Pizza because every bite had actual seafood in it. A totally different experience in Manila where ordering seafood usually translates to paying too much for so little.

If we come back, I'll try: Fried chicken and all the other pizzas!

Neva's Brick Oven Pizzas
Hibbard Corner Amigo Subdivision,
Dumaguete City


Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we had: Blueberry Cheesecake, Tiramisu Cupcake, Iced Hazelnut Coffee
How much it cost us: Less than P150 each

For shame. I like the name, the interiors and the relaxed setting, but the foodcoffee and desserts, to be specificare a nonevent. Skip. If desperate for a coffee fix, go to Bo's.

Perdices St,
Dumaguete City

Sans Rival

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we ate: Sansrival, chocolate sylvanas, nutty brownies
How much it cost us: Sansrival is around P20+ per slice, a box of silvanas go for P140

Quite possibly the most tita spot in Dumaguete, Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries is the city's beloved dessert shop. This is where local titas gather to meet their amigas for coffee and a slice of cake, and where tourists come to pick up a few boxes of sweets to take back home. It's also probably the only place in Dumaguete where you will find the famed sansrival and silvanas. (Just a theory. We tried every bakery, from smalltime neighborhood stops to commercialized shops, and left with nothing.)

And like many treasures, the pastry shop is not the easiest to find. It's not impossible to either. Tucked within a residential block, what you need to look for is the bistro with the same name. (It's a fancy one but they won't sell you pasalubong.) Walk towards the inner street and watch out for the white and blue awning. It would most likely be wall-to-wall with people even on a weekday afternoon.

I assure you that the walk and the wait will be worth it. They can own the name because they can justify it. Sans Rival in Dumaguete makes the best sansrival in the country. It's almost sinful. I almost choked out my tonsils. And the chocolate silvanas? Divine.

Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries
#3 San Jose St.,
Dumaguete City

Gabby's Bistro

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

What we ate: Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo, Mango Shake
How much it cost us: P350ish each

Jo, Neva, Scooby...we sure dined with a lot of names but the one that we wish we could've met sooner was Gabby. It was the one that promised dinner under some lights and sweet music, a no-frills, kinda-casual, can-be-formal atmosphere where we can get to know each other deeper. Gabby's could've wined us if we let it, except the circumstance we found ourselves in was the plot for Before Sunrise. Tomorrow, we were to fly back home.

Still, Gabby's presented itself as a viable last fling. While it is a known spot, Gabby's Bistro is located away from the city central. It has half a block to itself and entire compound hedging a bed and breakfast, a souvenir shop and the restaurant. In the night, it's all dressed up in lights.

Everywhere We Ate: Dumaguete | Awesome in Manila

Angel and I were in the mood for something that's both seafood and bold for our last dinner in Dumaguete. We found it in Gabby's Bistro. If Jo's gave us a simple, hearty meal, Gabby's was all about exploding flavors. I went for the Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo (photo before the one above), which was incredibly peppered and sour all at once. It was, uhm, overwhelming to say the least, even when with rice. The shrimp was overcooked but the best part was the sliced Schublig sausage.

All Angel could say about her Prawn Creole was that she was sure her boyfriend would love it.

If we come back, I'll try: Ribs (Trip Advisor reviewers are all about their ribs)

Gabby's Bistro
E Rovira Drive,
Dumaguete City

If you're considering to vacation or even just stop by, let the city wine and dine you for a little while. Do not be limited to this list. There's so much more that we would've loved to have tried but a longer stay simply wasn't an option. There's always a next time, Dumaguete! And hopefully we'd get to see and eat our way around greater Negros Oriental, too.


In cased you missed it, here are the first two installations of our Dumaguete feature: 

Up next! If I ever get around to it, a video of our trip might go up soon. If not, eeeh, we'll go right back to regular programming.

Sharing time!

1. Have you ever been to Dumaguete? What did you think of the city's food scene? What is your top recommendation?

2. If not, which in the list are you most intrigued about?

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