(SPOT.ph) It’s the beginning of another Lunar Year and one way to celebrate it the traditional way is by having a feast. For most of us, nothing comes closer to the real deal than Chinese food in Binondo—and it’s no coincidence that this vibrant cultural destination located at the center of Manila is also home to the oldest Chinatown in the world. Binondo has just about everything your tummy could ever crave—from dim sum and roast duck to adventurous eats like frog legs, if you dare. There’s really no place quite like it. So, we’ve added a few more worthwhile restaurants to help you get started on the right foot, whatever season and time of the year it may be.
Ying Ying Tea House
233-235 Dasmariñas corner Yuchengco Street
Contact: 310-9031, 387-2797
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.
A trip to Binondo wouldn't be complete without visiting this popular tea house at the corner of Yuchengco Street. Ying Ying’s Hakao (P80) is said to be one of the best in Chinatown and we can see why—filled with melt-in-your-mouth shrimps that are enclosed in a wrapper that’s neither too thick nor thin, the dim sum is served piping hot and fresh daily.
Must-tries: Hakao (P80), Raddish Cake (P70), Roast Duck Rice (P130)
Binondo Hack: In spite of having three floors (yes, three!) the restaurant usually becomes packed during peak hours, weekends, and holidays, so be sure to come here early. Don’t be put off by their long lines, though—it’s going to be worth the wait.
Estero Food Alley
Estero Food Alley, Ongpin Street
Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
One of Binondo’s best-kept secrets is the easy-to-miss Estero Food Alley, a narrow, almost hidden street brimming with Chinese carinderia-style restaurants. The place’s dinginess adds to its down-to-earth appeal (red plastic chairs and all) but don’t judge it by its looks—this is one place where you can score hard-to-find delicacies like frog legs and Soup No. 5. LGA Fastfood is a crowd-favorite choice and one of Estero’s more popular stalls. Don’t miss their fresh assortment of seafood and the aforementioned frog legs, which can be done two ways; deep-fried or stewed.
Must-tries: Fried Garlic Frog Legs (P140/small, P190/medium, P250/large), Lemon Chicken (P140/small, P190/medium, P240/large), Seafood Hotpot (P140/small, P190/medium, P240/large)
Binondo Hack: If you’re a cheapskate, Estero Food Alley is your best bet. They’ve got air-conditioned sections, too, to save you from having a whiff of its rather funky estero air.
King Chef Seafood Restaurant
2/F Lucky Chinatown Mall
Contact: 742-5464, 742-2433
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Lucky Chinatown Mall is among the newest and most modern establishments in Binondo. If you want to experience a taste of Chinatown without walking under the heat of the sun, then this place is for you—the mall also offers a wide array of dining options. King Chef Seafood Restaurant has been a favorite foodie destination among mall-goers since it opened in 2016. The Chinese diner specializes in—what else—seafood dishes like a nice and rich crab-roe soup, which features real, shredded crab meat and a generous dollop of crab roe, all swimming in a bold and tasty broth. Now, that’s one dish fit for a king.
Must-tries: Sharksfin Dumpling (P90), King’s Special Crabroe Soup (P360), Deep-Fried Salad Seafood Roll (P380)
Binondo Hack: With the area’s limited parking slots and narrow roads, parking in Binondo can be one big headache. Pro tip: Park your vehicle at Lucky Chinatown Mall and explore Chinatown by foot or via tricycle before heading back for a hearty meal at King Chef.
Dong Bei Dumpling
642 Yuchengco Street
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dong Bei is as simple as it gets—it has a dumpling workstation, a dining area for the eager customers, and a kitchen to cook the orders all rolled into one modest space. This place isn’t for everyone, especially if you are meticulous in terms of personal space and food preparation. Nevertheless, it's a spectacle watching the staff's nimble hands as they fold the flat dough into pleats around the pork filling. Dumplings are the popular choice in Dong Bei, but they also have other items in their menu such as Fried Sugar Pancake (P150), Sotanghon with Bean Sprouts (P120), and Fried Chicken Sinjang (P270).
Must-tries: Kuchay Dumplings (P150/14 pieces), Pork Dumplings (P150/14 pieces)
Binondo Hack: We really mean it when we say "modest space" as it can only hold 16 to 20 people at a time, so it's best to troop down here during off-peak hours. Brunch or merienda are ideal times.
Sincerity Café and Restaurant
497 Yuchengco Street; G/F Lucky Chinatown Mall
Contact: 241-9991, 241-9990
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
It sounds like a joke when you go home from Binondo and you tell your friends that one of the things you ate there is fried chicken. It's not the quintessential Chinese food, but at Sincerity, it's a dish you can't miss.
Must-tries: Sincerity Fried Chicken (P160/half, P320/whole), Fried Oyster Cake (P200/small, P250/big), 8 Treasures Machang (P120)
Binondo Hack: The restaurant has two floors, but as much as possible, get a table at the ground floor. There are times that the upper floor is undermanned and you may not be able to order immediately.
Café Mezzanine, Chuan Kee Chinese Fast Food, and Eng Bee Tin
650 Ongpin corner Yuchengco Street
Café Mezzanine is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Chuan Kee Fastfood is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Eng Bee Tin is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Chuan Kee opened its doors over 70 years ago, but it's still the same old turo-turo everybody loves. Beside it is Eng Bee Tin, where you'll find an array of hopia incarnations (Hopia Mochaccino? Ube Langka Hopia? Hopia Long Life? You name it!) in brightly colored foil packaging. Upstairs is Café Mezzanine, the electric-purple Fireman's Coffee Shop dedicated to donating all its revenue to the Binondo Paco Fire Search and Rescue Brigade. Each is a Binondo institution in its own right, so how could you not stop by?
Must-tries: For Café Mezzanine: Gokong (P190), Soup No. 5 (P300); For Chuan Kee Fast Food: Kiam Pong (P50), Pork Maki (P125); For Eng Bee Tin: Custard Hopia (P48); Hopia Ube (P46)
Binondo Hack: While both Chuan Kee and Café Mezzanine serve excellent Chinese fare, we suggest choosing only one of them. You can always try the other when you go back to Binondo the next time (you know there's always a next time!).
The Original SaLido Restaurant
2/F 839 Ongpin Street
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The charming thing about SaLido is its clientele, which is predominantly the older crowd—they'll remind you of your grandparents and you'll feel like giving them a hug. At first it may feel like intruding into a gentleman's club meeting, but you'll settle in just fine when you take a seat and let the aroma of coffee envelop your senses. A hot cup of good coffee knows no age. So, whether you're in your 20s, 30s, and so on, you're sure to enjoy your caffeine fix here, apart from their delicious Chinese fare, of course.
Must-tries: Chami (P190), Roasted Pork Asado (P235)
Binondo Hack: It's a struggle to wake up early, but if you can muster enough strength to drag yourself out to Binondo in the morning, come here for a hearty breakfast.
Shanghai Fried Siopao
Ongpin corner Bahamas Street
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Brace yourself: It's a siopao with an identity crisis. It's still the traditional steamed, pork-filled bun (plus points if you're into the bola-bola kind)—but what makes it "fried" is actually just the bottom part of the mantou, golden brown and slightly crispy. Shanghai Fried Siopao is nothing more than an unassuming food stall, but siopao-crazed folks are more than willing to line up for these cloud-like buns.
Must-try: Hands down, the Fried Siopao (P18/piece)
Binondo Hack: When left inside its plastic for long, the moisture makes the fried siopao rather soggy. It is best consumed immediately, so dig in!
Wai Ying Fastfood
810 Benavidez Street
Contact: 243-6665, 242-0310
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Wai Ying has proven throughout the years that people don't need to shell out a lot to enjoy delicious dim sum. The two-storey building has royal-blue walls that add vibrance to the rather stark interiors. Channel your inner Anthony Bourdain as you sample one bamboo basket of dim sum after another, and marvel at the flavors in every bite.
Must-tries: Hakaw (P95), Curry Beef Siomai (P80), Roast Duck Mami (P210), Cold HK Milk Tea (P60)
Binondo Hack: Wai Ying is affordable and worth every peso you shell out, but don't go crazy ordering several items all at once. The famed dim sum parlor is sufficiently air-conditioned, and it might cool your meals sooner than you think. Instead, order in intervals—it's a good thing the staff is efficient and very attentive, so you'll get your additional orders in no time.
Lan Zhou La Mien
818 Benavidez Street; G/F Lucky Chinatown Mall
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
While Lan Zhou La Mien is definitely not a secret among Binondo foodies, its signage (emblazoned with Chinese characters on a red background; English words used sparingly) seems to scream exclusivity—unless you understand the language. The restaurant prides itself on producing hand-pulled noodles, Lanzhou-style. This style entails stretching a lump of dough at arm's length and folding it repeatedly to produce long strands of noodle (these may be the real birthday noodles!). A bowl of their lamien, with bokchoy stalks and tender chunks of the meat-of-your-choice, can feed two to three people. Don’t worry though: The broth is refillable.
Must-tries: Beef Lamien (P160), Chaw Ho Fan (P230), Fried Dumplings (P220/15 pieces)
Binondo Hack: Lamien (or lamian, in other variations) isn't called longevity noodles for nothing—request a pair of scissors so you can cut it into manageable strands. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time making prolonged slurping sounds.
929 Benavidez Street; 3/F Lucky Chinatown Mall
Contact: 243-2674, 244-0745
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Despite being a spin-off of the mami pioneer Ma Mon Luk, Masuki opts to continue tradition by serving old-time favorites, only adding a variety of proteins to their popular mami. The strong aroma emanating from its broth makes or breaks your eating experience—either you love it or you hate it. Masuki's no-frills setup retains the Ma Mon Luk nostalgic layout, with its familiar white formica tables, wooden chairs, and glass-paneled shelves housing the mami bowls. As for the unfortunate sio-meow legend it has inherited from its predecessor? Definitely untrue—we checked, the siomai tasted absolutely of pork.
Must-tries: Chicken Mami (P130/regular; P140/special), Beef Mami (P190/regular; P205/special), Asado Siopao (P55/regular; P85/special), Pork Siomai (P35/piece)
Binondo Hack: A bowl of regular mami already has hefty servings, so you and your friends should be fine sharing. This way there'll be plenty of stomach space for the other items in the Masuki menu, or for the other restaurants along Benavidez Street.
New Po Heng Lumpia House
Uy Su Bin Building, 531 Quintin Paredes Street
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The filling lumpia makes up for the difficulty in locating this not-so-secret nook. When you do find it, you'll feel like you're transported to another Chinatown universe—the pink Uy Su Bin Building is an Art-Deco structure. As you are led to this family-run eatery, you’ll be welcomed by a courtyard with potted plants and a dainty Roman fountain. It's nothing fancy, but it's an interesting al-fresco dining experience (okay, not really—it’s an open canteen) tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Binondo.
Must-try: Fresh Lumpia (P60), Pork Maki (P55)
Binondo Hack: The fresh lumpia is a fat roll filled with vegetables, tokwa, ground peanuts, seaweed and fried bihon bits—enough for three! You can also buy a roll for take-out, but make sure to eat it within the day.
Shin Tai Shang
815 Salazar Street
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Shin Tai Shang brings a taste of Taiwan to Manila, and most of the notable items are classic snacks reminiscent of your baon from elementary days (we won't ask you what year it was). It's a mini-grocery, but one can easily get lost among the shelves and shelves of goods ranging from Hello Kitty instant noodles to kitschy maneki-neko figures.
Must-tries: Green Tea and Plum Cake (P40), Chicken Curry Pie (P45), Taro Mochi Cake (P40)
Binondo Hack: Want your pasalubong to be anything but hopia? Choose from a variety of Taiwanese goodies at Shin Tai Shang and, if possible, make this as the last pitstop before going home so you won't have to carry bags of snacks from one restaurant to the next.
637-639 Carvajal Street
Contact: 242-9572, 242-9589
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Drop by Quick Snack in the middle of Carvajal Street, which houses a long stretch of stalls also worth checking out. This nondescript eatery is a favorite among locals since 1968, and their signature dishes give off that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from home-cooked meals.
Must-tries: Kuchay Ah (P45), Beef Mi (P140), Indonesian Tauhu (P100), Ngo Hiong or Kikiam (P75)
Binondo Hack: We recommend you order light meals because this is very near Sincerity Café and Restaurant; and you're probably headed that way.