Tag Archives: philippines

Blue Rock Beach Resort, Part I of II — Accommodations

Entryway

TYPE: Full Service Beach Resort Hotel
RESERVATIONS: Required
ROOM TYPES: Standard Back (3), Deluxe Back (9), Standard Beach Front (5), Beach Front with Lounge (1), Beach Front (2), Deluxe Beach Front (7), Superior Beach Front (8), Executive Beach Front (4), Junior Suite Beach Front (1) and Junior Suite Pool Side (1)
RATES: See Attached PDF, Prices as of Nov. 23, 2013
PAYMENT: Cash/Credit Card
LOCAL PHONE #: (047) 224-9042
ROOM SERVICE: Available, Full Restaurant Menu 24hrs.
LOCATION: See Map Below


View Blue Rock Beach Resort in a larger map

Beachside Vacation So Close, Yet So Far Away

I’ve had many opportunities to visit Subic over the many years I’ve stayed in the Philippines but always declined the short trip. Having lived in California beach towns for over a decade and having already visited Boracay, Philippines I figured I’d reached the pinnacle and wasn’t missing out on too much.

The one year anniversary with my girlfriend was fast approaching and I had no plans and a limited budget. I finally decided that this would be a nice anniversary gift and it would be relatively inexpensive way to get out of town for a few days. I broke down and made us room reservations at Blue Rock Beach Resort, which by many accounts is one of the top spots to stay for a Subic visit. The restaurant is well reviewed (coming soon in Part II) and they have a large floating bar just offshore during the dry season (late November through April/May).

Years ago Subic Bay was home to a large U.S. Navy base but this has since ceased and it is now an economic freeport zone, though joint Naval drills and activities with the U.S. and Filipino armed forces are still practiced on a yearly basis.  While the Philippines is comprised of over 7000 islands Angeles City is not one of the beach front towns.  Subic Bay/Olongapo City is the closest beach destination and is located a short hour drive from Angeles.

Angeles City To/From Subic Transportation

Getting to Subic from Angeles City is fairly simple as a couple hotels offer shuttle services on a daily basis for about 1000 pesos round trip (about $23.25). Travel via private car, public bus and even motorbike are options, but each of these methods would require some additional research, planning and expense.

We took the Southern Cross Shuttle Service from the Brass Knob Hotel in Angeles and we arrived in Subic less than an hour later. The drop off point was Wild Orchid resort and Blue Rock was just a short walk away.

Getting back was just as easy. We simply walked back over to Wild Orchid at the departure time and got on the bus back to Angeles City where we were dropped off on the highway to a waiting car that took us to our desired destination.

Superior Beach Front Room

I had booked a Superior Beach Front Room due to my late decision in making the trip and it being the cheapest room available. This is one of the higher priced rooms at Blue Rock Beach Resort at 3,150 pesos (around $73.25) a night , so I had high expectations.

My first impression upon entering the room was that it was much smaller and not quite as modern as I had anticipated. I hadn’t seen a non-flat screen TV in years! The room looked like it was overdue for a major renovation.

Fan and TV

Having been the victim of a robbery in a hotel room before I’m very safety conscience. The door to the room was a hollow, plastic door that you could practically see through when the sun hit it at sundown. The door also had some repairs/modifications done to it. It had a push button keyed lock and a safety chain, both of these mechanisms provide minimal security for a room steps away from the open beach, away from the main restaurant/bar area on the ground floor. Surprisingly the window locks seemed good. Even though these shortcomings were a disappointment from my safety standard I felt I was in a safe area and didn’t have much to worry about.

Entryway

Once you entered the room there was a large cabinet with toiletries, mini-bar snacks, a refrigerator with drinks and small sitting area with table and chairs.

Sitting Area

Mini-Bar

The in-room safe was secured inside this cabinet, but was placed in a position that makes it easy to crack by accessing the back. I didn’t trust it to hold my valuables and money combined with the door/lock situation.

Just around the corner of the cabinet which divided the sitting area and the sleeping area was the bed which had a mirror on the ceiling and a full body mirror on the opposite side of the cabinet. I was slightly disappointed in the overall cleanliness. The fan was filthy with dust  as were the tops of all the cabinets and the queen size bed frame had two stains on the headboard. The bedding was extremely thin and there is no blanket.

Dirty Headboard

We were provided with two thin towels, which doesn’t seem to be enough for a beach resort, soap and some glasses. The bathroom was of decent size as was the shower which was actually closed off from the rest of the bathroom keeping the floor dry. The bathroom fixtures were not nearly big enough for holding toiletries and it would’ve been nice to have some additional shelving.

Spacious Bathroom

Enclosed Shower

Overall Room Assessment

While the room didn’t live up to my expectations I wasn’t completely disappointed. The view from my window was spectacular and it was literally a few steps from the beach.

Beach

I didn’t anticipate spending a lot of time in the room anyway other than for sleeping. I also had the added benefit of being in possession of a discount card that gave me 10% off each night. This trip was also an anniversary gift so spending the extra money on a room closer to the water was worth it for this special occasion. These factors contributed significantly to keeping me a happy guest.

On a future visit I would reserve the cheapest room available (no deposit or credit card necessary) and then see the room and other available rooms upon arrival before making a final choice. If nothing was to my liking, I’d check out the neighboring hotels which seem to have similar or slightly higher prices but appeared to be newer and more modern. This could backfire if you don’t have a room reserved for your entire stay and is a gamble during busy times.

If you want to stay directly on the water then Blue Rock Beach Resort is definitely worth a look. They have over 40 rooms and I’d suggest staying in the least expensive room you can book as my experience is that:

  1. You won’t be spending much time in the room
  2. The higher priced rooms don’t seem to be of great value

Resort Amenities

Other than heading out one time we spent virtually all of our three days at Blue Rock Beach Resort and ate most of our meals here. Part II of my review of the this resort will focus on the restaurant, bar, floating bar and other activities available.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)

Viet Garden Vietnamese Restaurant

Signage

OPEN: Daily 11:00am — 2:00am
PAYMENT: Cash Only
SEATING: Indoor/Non-Smoking, Outdoor/Smoking
MENU: See Attached PDF, prices and menu as of Nov. 12, 2013
LOCATION: See Map Below


View Viet Garden Restaurant in a larger map

New Vietnamese Restaurants Continue to Open in Angeles

It seems like only yesterday that the only way to sample authentic Vietnamese style foods in Angeles City was to book a flight direct to Vietnam. This, like most things in South East Asia, has changed dramatically and rapidly since our review of Pho Hanoi on September 25, 2013.

There have been three additional Vietnamese restaurants that have opened in Angeles City in just a couple of months. It seems Vietnamese cuisine is quickly catching on and adding its unique taste sensation to the diverse culinary city which was lacking in these types of food establishments previously. One of them is Viet Garden.

Vietnamese Cuisine

Quaint and Cozy Cafe with a Diverse Menu

Viet Garden is a small cafe that recently opened in the new stalls along M.A. Roxas HWY near an area locally referred to as Checkpoint. The venue is small but nicely and simply decorated and branded. Wood carved chairs and plates are emblazoned with logos. There is outdoor seating for smokers and plenty of seats inside.  Parking is not an issue as this newly built complex has plenty of spaces available.

Non-Smoking

The cafe has a unexpectedly large and diverse menu for the size of the restaurant providing you ample opportunity to grab a light snack if you’re new to the cuisine or a full meal for those familiar with this type of food. Some interesting items on the menu include:

  • Goi Da Ca (Viet salad with stingray skin)
  • Ca Kho (catfish simmered in Viet sauce)
  • Cua-Um (crab cooked Viet style)
  • Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe)

The menu also includes more familiar favorites like:

  • Goi Cuon (fresh spring rolls)
  • Cha Gio (fried spring rolls)
  • Banh Mi (sandwich)
  • Pho Bo (beef noodle soup)

A few items were marked “Unavailable” on my visit, but there were plenty of items to choose from on the menu.

Additional Seating

Vietnamese Cuisine for a Small Snack or Full Meal

My visit to Viet Garden was a bit too early for lunch and all I really wanted was a small snack to share with my girlfriend. Stopping by Viet Garden was an ideal choice as I knew I could grab something quick, light and fairly inexpensive.

Our order was Cha Gio (friend spring rolls) and two Banh Mi sandwiches. Typically I prefer to order several items on a first time visit in order to get a real feel for the food at an establishment, but due to the timing I really only wanted a small snack.

In cases like this I have a small checklist of criteria and find it best to order the common foolproof items that should be prepared perfectly and still gives me a good idea about the taste and quality of the foods.  My checklist in cases like this is:

  1. Visual authenticity — Does it look like the pictures in the menu or what it should look like?
  2. Taste and texture authenticity — Does it taste authentic? Are the textures right?
  3. Pricing — Are the items prices fairly for what is served?
  4. Overall satisfaction — Am I satisfied overall with everything about the items?

First up were the Cha Gio (fried spring rolls). Six plump, golden brown, ground pork and vegetable filled rolls served with a sweet and sour sauce, cucumber sticks, basil leaves and lettuce.

Fried Spring Rolls

It’s almost impossible to mess up fried spring rolls. The rolls were filled adequately with a seasoned pork and vegetable medley. They were crisp on the outside and steaming hot on the inside. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with a fried spring roll and that streak still stands. These were delicious.

The raw vegetables on the side gave me an opportunity to be slightly inventive. I put a spring roll on a piece of lettuce, added some of the cucumber sticks, basil leaves and then dunked them in the sauce. Now I was eating “healthy” fried spring rolls. 

I like the presentation, the tastes and textures were right and at 145 pesos (approximately $3.37) for 6 pieces seemed very fair. All boxes on my checklist were covered and this dish was a great snack by itself. Fortunately my girlfriend was with me so I was able to sample one more item.

The Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich has many variations but some standards do exist. First, it should be served on a light and airy french style baguette which may be slightly sweet or not. Second, it should have some sort of Vietnamese sauce in lieu of mayonnaise or mustard. Typically the sauce will be a fish, siracha, hoisin, a sweet vinegary sauce or any combination of these. Third, the filling will be a seasoned, grilled chicken or pork. Fourth, it will be topped with various fresh herbs and vegetables which can vary greatly. Sometimes additional sauces will be served on the side.

Vietnamese Sandwich

Viet Garden’s Banh Mi is served with seasoned, grilled chicken. The sandwich was of decent size (particularly for the price) and the bread was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It appeared to be freshly baked. There was a decent amount of filling and it had a similar sweet and vinegary sauce to what was served with the spring rolls. The sandwich was topped with cucumber spears, shredded daikon radish, carrots and fresh cilantro.

Banh Mi

At 75 pesos (approximately $1.74) this sandwich is a steal. Something similar at a Subway sandwich shop would run you $4.00 to $5.00. The Banh Mi is a light and flavorful sandwich due to the use of various array of herbs and vegetables on the crusty flakey bread. It’s a completely unique style and flavor that is truly Vietnamese at its heart. There are a lot of complaints that there’s no where in Angeles City to get a decent submarine sandwich but this is no longer true with the addition of Vietnamese restaurants.

Overall my total bill for 2 Banh Mi sandwiches, 1 order of fried spring rolls, 2 ice teas and tip came to 385 peso (approximately $8.95). I thought this was a tremendous value for the money and a fantastic snack that left me fully satisfied.

I look forward to visiting Viet Garden again soon to try some of their other items. If they’re as good as the two staples I sampled on my first visit I’m sure I won’t be disappointed with the rest of the menu. It will be interesting to see how many more Vietnamese restaurants open up in Angeles City and how the competition determines who will reign supreme in this cuisine.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.7/10 (7 votes cast)

Iguana’s Cantina Mexicana

Outdoor Painting

OPEN: Tuesday to Sunday 11:00am — 10:00pm, Closed Mondays
PAYMENT: Cash Only
SEATING: Indoor/Non-Smoking
LOCAL PHONE #: (045) 405-0449
MENU: See Attached PDF and À La Carte Menu Attached PDF, prices and menus as of October 19, 2013
LOCATION: See Map Below


View Iguana’s Cantina Mexicana in a larger map

Before Iguana’s There Was Zapata’s

I lived in Los Angeles, California for over a decade and some of the tastiest Mexican food can be found all over Southern California. Many would argue that you can get better tasting Mexican food in this part of the U.S. than you can in Mexico. When I first arrived in the Philippines I imagined that Mexican food would be easily accessible and adequate in quality and taste. Sadly, this turned out to be untrue.

Many years ago I was taken to what was at the time the only Mexican restaurant in Angeles City called Zapata’s. Having just arrived from Southern California and eating the best Mexican food in the world for over 10 years I was incredibly disappointed. I found the foods bland and unappetizing compared to what I was used to eating.

I caught the tail end of Zapata’s restaurant which was very popular among expats and locals as it was the only choice for Mexican food in town. It closed down a few months later and relocated further down on Perimeter RD near Korea Town under the new name Iguana’s (yet Zapata’s remained on signage). Like many things in the Philippines, this business decision seemed strange and added to branding confusion. I stayed away once it reopened since a couple of other Mexican restaurants had opened up recently and were very good in my opinion.

Street View

About a year ago I ventured back to Iguana’s after hearing from several people that it was better than the other Mexican restaurants I’d been frequenting regularly who had some alleged food poisoning cases.

Once I stepped through Iguana’s big wooden doors I could tell that big changes had been made at the new location and I looked forward to giving them another chance to win over my patronage again. Gone were the references to Zapata’s (except for one tiny street sign reading “Formerly Zapata’s”).

Mexican Food Haven

Fiesta Type Atmosphere

Iguana’s is one of the best themed restaurants in Angeles City. It screams Mexico from the outside building design, murals and colors. Once you walk inside it’s like you’ve stepped straight into a Mexican Cantina.

Trinkets

The entryway welcomes you with an onslaught of pictures of festive patrons wearing sombreros, eating and drinking along with a cabinet filled with trinkets.

Seating Area

The inside is painted in bright colors, colorful artwork and traditional tile work. Pictures, sombreros and decorations adorn almost every inch of wall space available. Even the restrooms are filled with Pancho Villa pictures and colorful tile work. Your server will even be decked out in traditional Mexican style dress with a tiny sombrero hat.

Plush Seats

The large, colorful and spacious dining room is filled with regular tables, booths and high tables. There’s also a nicely stocked bar area with seating for those stopping by to sample some of the many authentic, imported tequilas or margaritas.

Belly Up to the Bar

They also serve liquor, beers, wines, Sangria from Spain and some delectable sounding deserts.

Additional Beverages

Unique Sweets

If I needed a large restaurant/bar for a private party or event Iguana’s would be my first phone call as the space is ideal, already decorated for a party atmosphere and has party food and drink readily available.

South of the Border Flavors in South East Asia

The food at Iguana’s is excellent, of high quality and fairly authentic from a Mexican-American food standpoint with no noticeable shortcuts being taken. More importantly the flavors of the food are much, much better than I remember on my first visit to Zapata’s many years ago.

Nothing is overly spicy and most dishes are very mild. The owners have obviously fine tuned recipes, portions and prices to suit local tastes. While it is still a far cry away from Southern California Mexican food, it is arguably one of the best Mexican restaurants in Angeles City where the cuisine never really has taken off in popularity as it has in the U.S.

The menu consists of your typical Mexican food standards along with other items. Some typical foods they serve include:

  • Hard and Soft Shell Tacos (ground beef, shredded chicken, shredded beef and fish)
  • Burittos
  • Quesadillas
  • Nachos
  • Fajitas
  • Enchiladas

There is also an à la carte menu that you have to request which has some hidden gems not included on the regular menu. I highly recommend asking your server for this menu to save some money and try some dishes you’re not sure about.

More Food

Mexican Foods Feast

I like a variety of Mexican foods at a meal, but I’ve never been a big fan of the combo plates that include rice and beans. I’ve now introduced my girlfriend to Mexican food and she is loving the new flavors and dishes that she’s not accustomed to.

We ordered:

  1. Chicken Qesadilla Supreme
  2. Shredded Beef Taco
  3. Cheese Enchiladas
  4. Nachos with Ground Beef

The Chicken Quesadilla Supreme with onions and jalepeño peppers for 220 pesos (approximately $5.12) is great and classic appetizer.

Appetizer or Meal

The real flour tortillas are filled with plenty of gooey, melted cheese, shredded chicken and optional jalepeño peppers and onions.  An order of these are great to share or for a meal for one person.

Nicely Filled

Next up is 1 Shredded Beef Taco from the à la carte menu for 90 pesos (approximately $2.09) which comes with lettuce, tomato and real cheddar cheese along with a side of salsa. My girlfriend likes the hard shell but soft shell is available.

Beef

As you can see there’s no skimping on the shredded beef or toppings. This is your standard sized taco and the shell is crispy. It’s mildly spiced and great for those who don’t want anything too intense.

There's the beef

Back to the à la carte menu for an order of 2 Cheese Enchiladas for 100 pesos (approximately $2.33).

Disappointing dish

Basically this is melted cheese between 2 corn tortillas with enchilada sauce on top. I was slightly disappointed with this dish. The corn tortillas just weren’t right and the cheese was barely melted with shreds still visible. The enchilada sauce was ok, but I could have done without the cheese sauce and sour cream which were more for decoration than flavor.

Finally, we ordered Nachos with Ground Beef from the à la carte menu again for 200 pesos (approximately $4.65).

Awesome, crispy and cheesey

I had low expectations for this dish and expected soggy chips bathed in a bland cheese sauce with ground beef dumped on top of the chips. To my surprise the cheese sauce was slightly spicy, piping hot and served on the side.

The chips were crispy and absorbed just enough of the sauce from the ground beef. As a bonus it even included jalepeño peppers and black olives (though I would have preferred onions).

Stuffed Like a Piñata at a Mexican Child’s Birthday

With drinks and tip our Mexican foods feast bill came to 740 pesos (approximately $17.21) for 2 people. I was completely stuffed and overall very happy with the meal, minus the enchiladas. While there’s no free, all you can eat chips and salsa that most expats are likely used to, Iguana’s is a great place for Mexican food and the atmosphere you eat in makes the experience an engaging and fun dining experience.

The unique Mexican tastes will impress those who haven’t experienced Mexican foods before and it’s a great change of pace when you’re craving it.  While I’d classify Iguana’s as more of a Mexican-American type of food rather than truly authentic, it’s still Mexican food. And even when Mexican food isn’t that great it’s still pretty good!

Night Sign

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.8/10 (5 votes cast)

Hilltop Hotel

Hilltop Sign

TYPE: Drive-In. Short Stay (Hourly Blocks)/Long Stay (Full Day)
RESERVATIONS: Not Required, Recommended for Longer Stays
ROOM TYPES: Standard and VIP, Smoking
RATES: See Attached PDF, prices as of Oct. 12, 2013
PAYMENT: Cash Only
LOCAL PHONE #: (045)892-6158, (045) 889-5680
ROOM SERVICE: Available, See Attached PDF, limited snacks and drinks
LOCATION: See Map Below


View Hilltop Hotel in a larger map

Arriving Late and Checking In to Your Hotel

When traveling, sometimes a flight arrives in my host city at an ungodly hour. I’ll arrive after midnight and check into my booked hotel room well past 1am. I absolutely hate checking into my hotel at this late hour as I feel like I’m getting the least value for my money for that night.

I unpack some basic things like a toothbrush and I’m basically just paying the hotel for sleeping there for a few hours before the next day’s rate kicks in. If I’m paying more than $100 per night I’m really upset about this. I’ve often wished I could circumvent this by finding a basic, safe and cheap hotel room that I could sleep at for 8 to 12 hours until I could check into my real hotel the next afternoon.

Affordable Short Stay Hotel Options for Weary and Late Arriving Travelers

Unfortunately in the United States hotels like this are few and far between. Those that you do find are usually classified as “flop houses” and not in the best areas. Fortunately Asia has embraced the short stay hotel model and has several major chains that cater to renting you a comfortable and safe room in hourly time blocks that are incredibly affordable. These types of hotel rooms are very basic but provide a great service for weary travelers or those who just need to get in a few hours of sleep due to arriving late. Some offer additional services such as massage or room service for small snacks and drinks.

Hilltop Hotel in Angeles City is an example of a very reasonably priced, safe and fairly nice hotel that you can rent in hourly blocks. This type of hotel is is a Drive-In type.

Private Garage

The check in process works like this:

  1. Drive-In to a private garage with your vehicle that is connected to your room
  2. Walk up a flight of stairs to your room

It’s literally that easy. An attendant will accompany you and help you with your luggage should you need it. He’ll also make sure the room is set up to your satisfaction. Once the attendant leaves he’ll close the garage door and you are then safe and secure in your room for the specified time you choose to book.

Hilltop Hotel Standard Room Layout and Amenities

One to 3 hour blocks in a Standard room at Hilltop Hotel currently runs 340 Pesos (about $7.91) and go as high as 1190 Pesos (about $27.67) for up to 24 hours on weekdays.  Rates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are only slightly higher. All rooms have an en-suite toilet and shower with hot water. Other amenities included are:

  • Free WiFi
  • Bathroom kit including soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Bottled water
  • Towels
  • Pillows and bedding
  • Comfortable Queen sized bed
  • 32″ flat screen cable TV
  • Phone
  • Air conditioner
  • Small table and chairs

Free Toiletries

They also offer a small menu of snacks and drinks that can be ordered and delivered to your room as well as a Massage service, all for additional fees.

Relaxing Massage

The size of the room is larger than you would expect for a hotel at this price. It’s roomy and you have plenty of space for your luggage and still room to walk around. Hilltop Hotel has a double locking door entryway system for added security which is nice feature. You enter via one door and then another door to enter the room. The bed is large and surprisingly comfy as are the pillows.

Bed and Towels

The bathroom and shower (CR — Comfort Room in the Philippines) is your typical Asian style with no barrier between the toilet and shower area which can lead to a slippery floor. All rooms are smoking rooms so those sensitive to this may be offended by the smell, but smokers will rejoice in not having to walk downstairs and outside for their nicotine fix.

CR in the Philippines

The flat screen cable TV is great for entertainment and relaxation and the 2 channels labeled DVD – 1 and DVD – 2 are for Adults Only.

TV

Adult Movies

The room is fairly plain with little decoration and no frills but this is to be expected for what it is designed for and the price point. It’s simple, basic and clean. This is a great stop over point for a few hours if you need to take a rest or arrive into town late and just need a place to sleep for a few hours.

Bed and Towels

Work Area

Hotels like this are also great for a number of other reasons including:

  1. Secret romantic rendezvous or time away from the kids
  2. A place to stay and “sleep it off” if you’re too inhibreated to drive home
  3. Great resting spot during unexpected travel delays
  4. Good, cheap temporary spot while you search out a more permanent hotel accommodation

Rooms That Are There When You Need One

What makes these types of hotel especially convenient is that they’re very middle of the road. It’s not your hostel type of room and it’s not exactly a full service hotel. Most travelers aren’t going to book extended stays in this type of hotel so you can almost always just drive or walk in and something will be available.

Hilltop Hotel is one of the nicer hotels in Angeles City of this genre. Competition in this popular niche market has forced each new short stay hotel to up the ante and continue to improve rooms and services. While some of the older rooms have begun to show some wear, a new wing has recently opened but they are not the traditional drive-in style and more like a regular hotel. Reports suggest that these rooms are slightly smaller, but have better showers and fixtures. We hope to review the new wing rooms in the future.

If you just need a place to stay for a few hours or even a day then Hilltop Hotel is recommended.  You will get exactly what you pay for and can expect a professional staff and a clean comfortable room in a safe environment. There are other chains of hotels that you can book rooms in hourly blocks but only a few are as reliable and up to the standard of Hilltop Hotel.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)

AFC – Angeles Fried Chicken

Menu Front

OPEN: Daily 9:00am — 12:00am
PAYMENT: Cash and Credit Card (Dine In Only, No Surcharge, No Minimum, Must Have ID)
SEATING: Indoor/Smoking (Enclosed Patio), Indoor/Non-Smoking (Main Dining Room)
DELIVERY: Available Until 10:00pm — Cash Only
LOCAL PHONE #: (045) 322-4448, (045) 625-7644
MENU: See Attached PDF, prices and menu as of Sept. 23, 2013
LOCATION: See Map Below


View AFC (Angeles Fried Chicken) Restaurant in a larger map

Fried Chicken In Asia

When most people of the Western world think about fried chicken they typically associate it with Southern cooking or the larger fast food chains like KFC or Popeye’s. But fried chicken in Asia is ubiquitous and pervasive in just about every restaurant. KFC is one of the largest and most popular fast food chains in all of Asia. McDonald’s and every other fast food chain in this part of the world has bone-in, fried chicken on their menus and in some areas it outsells their burger items. It’s common to see street vendors on bicycles or motorbikes with a side car of scalding hot oil and battered pieces of chicken ready for frying. Fried chicken dishes thrive in the Asian market and are far more common than beef or hamburger dishes as a main meal.

One of the Oldest Restaurants In Angeles City

Locals have been eating at AFC (Angeles Fried Chicken) for over 40 years, yet many foreigners and tourists miss out on some of the best fried chicken dinners Angeles City has to offer which is less than 5 minutes drive from the main hotel/restaurant and entertainment area. Some of the keys to its long-term success has been keeping a core group of cooks and servers together for over 40 years, which is almost unheard of in the food service business. Prices and quality are also far superior to other establishments and finally, AFC focuses on doing one thing great…fried chicken dinners. This is without a doubt the quintessential, sit down style, fried chicken restaurant of yesteryear and walking inside feels like stepping backwards in time.

Angeles Fried Chicken Building

Running the Colonel Out of Town

AFC started out as the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in Pampanga, Philippines. Romeo, who has been working at AFC for 42 years, is a warm, knowledgeable and attentive server who can regale you with grandiose stories about how the Filipinos stole Col. Sanders “11 secret herbs and spices recipe,” his Kentucky bow tie and sent him back to the United States under threats of death. With secret recipe in hand, they changed the letter “K” to an “A” on the sign and began operating as AFC.

42 Year Employee

I’m not entirely sure how true this story is, but there are signs that suggest that at least some of the legendary tale is accurate. Consider:

  • Serving staff wear uniforms exactly like the old Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants (Pre-KFC re-brand days)
  • The chicken breading tastes exactly how I remember KFC chicken in the 1980s
  • Breast pieces are cut into two pieces exactly like Kentucky Fried Chicken used to serve
  • Red and white checkered table clothes adorn the tables
  • Other menu items like gravy, mashed potatoes and coleslaw resemble old KFC flavors

Taking A Trip Back In Time

When you step into AFC’s dimly lit, windowless dining room it’s like stepping through a vortex that takes you back in time 30 years. Once your eyes adjust to the light, you’ll likely find yourself the only foreigner in a restaurant filled with Filipinos at lunch or dinner. This should be your first clue that you’re on to something special and about to enjoy a delicious fried chicken meal. Filipinos know their fried chicken and the place is often packed with businessmen, families and local city officials chowing down on lunch, dinner or celebrating special events.

AFC Bar Area

If you’re lucky, Romeo will be your server and will welcome you at the door. Ask him to give you the history of place as he is one of the original workers. If you’re a purist like me, tell him you want to sit at one of the tables with the original seats which are much more comfortable and add an historic aspect to your dining experience.

Original Wood Chairs

What To Order?

While there are other options on the menu I would recommend a Western style, old school KFC-like meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and roll. Sit back, take in the historic atmosphere and get ready to sink your teeth into some juicy fried chicken that will bring back childhood memories of what Kentucky Fried Chicken used to taste like before it became fast food and over commercialized. 

Your server will bring you a small complimentary bowl of fish crackers which are crispy, not too fishy tasting and delicious.  I always order the Lunch, Crispy with roll and a side order of mashed potatoes.  This meal for 220 pesos (approximately $5.00) consists of 3 pieces of fried chicken (Crispy has slightly more breading than Regular), coleslaw, gravy and your choice of rice or roll. A side order of mashed potatoes is an additional 75 pesos (approximately $1.72).

Complimentary Snack

I find 3 pieces to be enough for a meal, but additional breast pieces are available for 70 pesos (approximately $1.60) each as well as additional side items. Keep in mind these two things:

  1. These are not hormone injected, giant chicken pieces and may appear small compared to what your are used to consuming.
  2. There are 2 types of chicken breast pieces like KFC formerly served. One section with breast meat and ribs, the other piece with breast meat sections only. Be sure to specify which pieces you prefer. 

Your girlfriend or date is likely going to only eat 1 or 2 pieces of chicken. Do yourself and her a favor: Order her the 3 piece Lunch (with rice of course instead of the roll), then swap out the pieces you want. Trust me, she doesn’t want the breast pieces and prefers the wings, thighs and legs. In this scenario you’re likely to get  2 or 3 breast portions for yourself without ordering additional pieces.

Crispy and Juicy Comfort Food You’ll Be Back For Again and Again

With two Lunch, Crispy with roll orders, side of mashed potatoes and an order of AFC Fried Rice placed I sit back and await my meal while sipping on an ice cold Mountain Dew as my girlfriend rambles on about something I’m not even listening to. My mind is pre-occupied with the forthcoming, hot, juicy and crispy chicken that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Finally Romeo brings out our food. I quickly switch out the breast pieces and leave my girlfriend with 2 wing pieces. I bite into the crispy outside breading and hot chicken juice burns my mouth. A fork full of mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw and a sip of Mountain Dew subsides the burning sensations. I’m instantly taken back to my childhood days of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken as I remember it.

Delicious

The mashed potatoes are as good as you’re going to get in Asia, meaning acceptable, but nothing like the light and fluffy U.S. style I’m used to. Still much better than most anything anyone else has to offer and a must with a fried chicken dinner. A dash of salt, pepper and hot sauce enhances their flavor. The homemade gravy for the fried chicken and mashed potatoes is tasty and nice accompaniment.

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

The roll is surprisingly delicious and something I always look forward to with this meal at AFC, don’t miss out on it. The AFC Fried Rice is a combination fried rice with chunks of chicken, shrimp, egg and vegetables. I rarely order it unless I’m with my girlfriend, but enjoy it when I do. It’s total carb overkill with the mashed potatoes and roll.

Carb Overload

The small serving of coleslaw is enough for me but I should have never convinced the girlfriend to try it and the roll which she now eats and won’t give me. At least I’m still getting one over on her with the chicken breasts, but it was much better and cheaper for me when she was just fried chicken and white rice.

The Never Ending Trip Down Memory Lane

I’m completely happy and full every time I eat at AFC. It’s one of my favorite places in all of Angeles City to eat or have delivered. It’s a total throw back to what fried chicken places used to be about in taste and atmosphere. The bill total with drinks and tip came to 611 pesos (approximately $14.15) for two of us, but you can easily spend less than $5.00 alone and enjoy a hearty , comfort food meal that will send you down memory lane of what KFC used to be and taste like.

I hope AFC never changes a thing and that their staff stays another 20 years and teaches the younger servers and cooks everything they know. In a place where restaurants change drastically  and frequently with staff and cook turnover, AFC has maintained a competent staff, a high quality standard, fair price and continues to serve a simple, immaculately prepared fried chicken dinner that transcends all cultural barriers and is truly heavenly in taste.

Cartoon Chicken

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Pho Hanoi Vietnamese Restaurant

Outdoor Sign

OPEN: Daily 10:00am — 10:00pm
PAYMENT: Cash Only
SEATING: Indoor/Non-Smoking, Outdoor/Smoking
MENU: See Attached PDF, prices and menu as of Sept. 22, 2013
LOCATION: See Map Below


View Pho Hanoi Restaurant in a larger map

The Mystique of Vietnamese Cuisine

Those who have traveled extensively in South East Asia and have made trips to Vietnam usually come back to the Philippines and tell their friends how great the food is. They’ll dazzle you mythical tales of elusive street food carts and restaurants that serve some of the finest delicacies ever produced for less than a dollar…if you can find them. Names, exact locations and what they actually ate elude them as their eyes glaze over and they continue their story gazing in the distance as if in some sort of memory induced food trance.

Once you snap them out of their tranquil dream state you can usually get some basic information and descriptions, but it’s always the same items repeated time and time again:

  • Fried and fresh spring rolls
  • Pho
  • Some unidentified meat on a stick
  • A delicious sandwich with some bar-b-qued meat and vegetables
  • Salad that had noodles and meat with a sweet, salty and vinegary taste

You may recognize a few of these items and think you’re making progress, then the person will snap back to their teary eyed dream state of reminiscing and tell you that you just don’t understand…you just don’t understand. These people have been to ‘Nam and have been forever changed.

The Vietnamese Have Arrived in the Philippines

A headline like this in the 60′s and 70′s would have had an entirely different reaction than it does today. On July 19, 2013 Pho Hanoi opened it’s doors in the Korea Town area of Friendship Highway in Angeles City. I ate there two weeks after opening and found it to be a welcome dining addition to this part of town which mostly has Korean restaurants. It was better than I expected for a new restaurant.

My friend Zack and I were out and about one late night searching for a place to get a bite to eat. As we were driving aimlessly trying to decide between Jollibee fast food or driving to the Fields area I casually mentioned that there was a newer Vietnamese place that had opened a few months back. He slammed on the brakes and immediately turned around. Our choice had been made.

Pho Hanoi Food Experience

Outdoor Street Signage

Pho Hanoi restaurant is a small place with indoor non-smoking and outdoor smoking sections. Their menu is small compared to other places in town, but it has a good selection of appetizers, vermicelli (Bun), noodles, rice and sandwich choices. Our servers brought us out a complimentary sweet, hot , lime flavored tea while we looked through the concise menu. The server told us the restaurant is owned by a Vietnamese person and assured us that everything was authentically prepared.

Complimentary Tea ServiceNon-Smoking Dining RoomSmoking Seating

 We ordered:

  1. Cha Gio — Fried spring rolls
  2. Bun Ga Nuong Cha Gio — Vermicelli noodle salad with spring roll
  3. Pho Hanoi — Combination pho
  4. Banh Mi Sandwich — Bar-b-que chicken sanwich

The Cha Gio arrived first. Six pieces of tightly wrapped, stout, pork filled rolls with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. The rice paper gives the spring roll a crisp outside and slightly chewy inside. I’ve had spring rolls with thinner wrappers, but I liked the thicker texture of these.

Fried Spring Rolls

Our main courses arrived soon after and I thought the presentation of my Bun Ga Nuong Cha Gio was beautiful and I couldn’t wait to dig into this unique dish. I hardly knew where to start. I wondered if  I should add some of the chili sauces that were on the table, mix the whole thing up or eat a little portion of noodle, lettuce, spring roll and meat separately. I ended up giving everything a light toss and then got a little of each ingredient on my fork.

The taste of this dish was incredible! It was crunchy, savory, spicy, salty and sweet all at the same time and all the different textures were unique. I knew immediately that I’d found my go-to Vietnamese food dish. Near the end I added some of the chili sauces just to see how they would affect the taste. My conclusion was that this dish is great without any additional sauces unless you love your food super spicy.

Bar-b-que Pork Noodle Salad

Quick note — Pho Hanoi is selling their homemade chili oil sauce. Our lovely and friendly waitress models with a jar that I believe is available for 250 Peso.

Waitress and Chili Sauce

Zack’s Pho Hanoi looked a little underwhelming. I had tried a small bowl of the pho on my first visit and felt the same way then. For the large portion at $6.00 it looked small. It was nothing like the large, overflowing, steaming bowls of noodle pho I’d eaten in Los Angeles Vietnamese restaurants and his side vegetables looked wilted and sparse. Zack also felt that there wasn’t nearly enough noodles (an extra portion is available for an additional charge of approximately $1.35). It did have several meat ingredients that looked appetizing and Zack had no problem eating it all. Overall he felt the broth, meats and noodles were very tasty. Unfortunately pho does not appear to be the star dish at Pho Hanoi.

Noodle Soup

But all was not lost! We still had the Banh Mi bar-b-que chicken sandwich which I graciously offered to share. Fortunately for me, Zack declined. Having only heard of the famous Banh Mi sandwich I was anxious to sink my teeth into it. I was not disappointed. The crusty yet soft bread had soaked up the various unfamiliar sauces they put on it and all of the vegetables were very crisp. The bar-b-qued chicken was the perfect amount for the size of the sandwich and was spicy and delicious. For $3.40 I thought this was a fantastic value for the money and one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in the Philippines. When I’m dying for a sandwich and the nearest Subway is 30 to 45 minutes drive away, I’m heading to Pho Hanoi for this sandwich.

Crispy Bread and Spicy Chicken

Overall I was extremely pleased with my meal as a whole. I enjoyed every dish I ordered and would order all of them again. Zack was slightly disappointed, but not enough to nix the place on a go back. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t order the pho again and we both agreed that it’s not up to the high standard that we expected for the price. But the menu has enough other items that are reasonably priced. My suggestion is to start off with an appetizer and order 2 or 3 (depending on the number in your party) other items to get a taste of everything and share them family style.

Our total bill came in at 775 Peso (approximately $17.75) with tip. Zack’s Pho Hanoi pho was the most expensive and most disappointing of the items we ordered. If you took that out of the equation I think there is good value for your money here and it’s a unique cuisine that (surprisingly) isn’t easily found in the Philippines. But that is changing fast.

More New Arrivals

Pho Hanoi now has some competition in Angeles City as another Vietnamese (allegedly owned by a different Vietnamese person) has opened in the new shopping complex across the street from Jollibee in an area commonly called Checkpoint. We’ll be checking them out soon for a full review. I’ve also heard rumors of yet another Vietnamese restaurant soon to open but don’t have any other details as of this writing. Finally I’ve also heard whispers of a Vietnamese restaurant located somewhere in Angeles City Proper that has been open for years. It seems as though the Vietnamese are finally gaining some ground on the culinary battlefield here in Angeles City.

View From Friendship Highway

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.8/10 (6 votes cast)

Amoremio Italian Restaurant

Unlit Sign Above Entrance

OPEN: Daily 10:00am — 11:00pm
PAYMENT: Cash Only
SEATING: Indoor/Non-Smoking, Outdoor/Smoking
DELIVERY: Available
LOCAL PHONE #: (045) 304-0328
MENU: See Attached PDF, prices and menu as of Sept. 21, 2013
LOCATION: See Map Below

View Amoremio Restaurant in a larger map

Battle Italian Food In Angeles City, Philippines

Amoremio opened in Angeles City a little over a year ago right next door to the world famous C’ Italian Dining, the premier Italian restaurant in the area. Many people thought Amoremio was destined for failure as C’ has had a lock on fine Italian dining in Angeles City for many, many years and is a favorite among locals, expats and tourists alike.

On paper there were several disadvantages:

  • C’ was a large stand alone restaurant
  • Amoremio was small and nestled in a building housing other businesses
  • C’ was established with locals, expats and tourists
  • Amoremio was new to a town who already has several Italian restaurants
  • C’ was branded as “Italian Dining”
  • Amoremio’s signage refers to it as “Mediterranean Cuisine”

While C’ still maintained a steady, busy business, Chef Tiziano of Amoremio stayed the course and word quickly got around town that a new Italian place with a chef who owned a restaurant in Manila for decades was now here. The word on the street was that the food was much cheaper and of equal or better quality to the competition. 

My first experience eating here in November 2012 proved the rumors to be true. I was never a regular C’ customer. I went there a few times when friends came to town or for a truly special date, but price always kept me away even though the quality was superior to most other places in town. On the other hand, I frequented Amoremio several times. The quality and prices were more than in line and you could easily eat there for well under $10.00.

The Tide Turns

In April of 2013 C’ experienced an electrical fire in the upper portion of their building. By all accounts, damage was minimal and confined to an upper storeroom. A quick re-opening was expected. The damaged area was fixed up rather quickly and they re-opened a few weeks later only to be shut down almost immediately by City Officials. This location of C’ has never re-opened again. The word around town is that it will never re-open and as of this writing the building has a sign posted re-directing your to their small location in the Petron gas station on Clark.

Fortunately, the best Italian restaurant is right next door and dishing up some of the most authentic and delicious Italian food outside of Italy at reasonable prices. I recently dined here again as the internet buzz from locals were calling it the best place in town.

Streetview entrance

Indoor/Outdoor Dining In A Quaint and Quiet Envrionment

Dining Room

Upon entering the well lit, Italian decorated Amoremio dining room you will find sturdy wooden tables and chairs painted gold. Various Italian wines and ingredients are used for decoration and all the tables are fully set awaiting your arrival. 

Just through a door in the back is the open-air outdoor bar and patio dining area where smoking is permitted.

Bar

The outdoor patio is covered seating and a bit more romantic with Italian style candles in bottles with was dripping down it serving as your light. The wait staff provides an LED light for you to peruse the menu.  The staff is also very knowledgeable and well dressed providing you with excellent service.

Amoremio Outdoor Dining Patio

Pizza and Pasta Straight of Italy

A small, complimentary bread basket with olive oil and tomato dipping sauce was brought to the table with our place settings and menus. There were two different types of soft, fresh bread and homemade bread sticks. This was a nice start to a meal and gave us something to munch on as we looked through the vast menu of appetizers, salads, pastas, risottos, paellas, pizzas and main courses to choose from.

Fresh Bread Basket

We ordered the small Caesar salad which was had crisp lettuce, crunchy bacon, homemade croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese tossed in the classic creamy dressing. For my personal tastes I thought the salad was over-dressed and it’s not the first time I’ve had this salad here and felt this way. My suggestion would be to order it with the dressing on the side or ask your server to have them go easy on the dressing.

Small Ceasar Salad

A pizza from Amoremio is always a good idea. They have several flavors to choose from with familiar and not so familiar toppings. You can’t go wrong with the classic Margherita for the price and its simple yet delicious flavor. On this visit we went with Italian sausage and mushrooms; I wasn’t crazy about the Italian sausage as I felt like it tasted more like pepperoni. The thin crust and flavorful toppings re-heat up great the next day.

Pizza

For our main courses I went with Spaghetti Aglio Olio Gamberetti, or spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and shrimps. While this dish sounds simple it had a great flavor and was spectacular. As an added bonus, the wait staff asked me if I wanted the pasta cooked al dente or regular. I choose al dente and it was perfectly prepared.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil, Garlic and Shrimps

My date went with the Beef Lasagna in Porcini Mushroom Sauce that she noticed on the chalk board on our way in. This creamy dish was rich and deep in flavor. The plentiful and fresh mushrooms were bathed in the creamy béchamel sauce with a hint of  cheese, beef and tomato flavor from the lasagna all baked into pasta. 

Chef Special

While this dish may not appear to be the most appetizing, my date had no problem eating the entire portion and mopping up the rest of the sauce with the side of garlic bread. She may never eat my regular old lasagna again!

Amoremio Chef Specials

Finest Italian Restaurant for the Money

While Angeles City has several Italian restaurants to choose from Amoremio is certainly leading the pack and may be the best value for the money in town. My bill with tip was 1215 Philippines Pesos (roughly $27.50 as of this writing) and in any other country I would have paid a lot more. I took home half the pizza and enjoyed it the next day for lunch.

Amoremio seems to have completely arrived and is definitely one of the top Italian places in town. This is due to the expert chef and management running the business. They have trained the cooks and wait staff extremely well and make sure that you receive a delicious and authentic meal at an affordable price in a beautiful atmosphere. We hope to add to their story soon by interviewing Chef Tiziano and visit them again to experience more of their spectacular dishes.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (6 votes cast)