It's not everyday that you see a restaurant go the full nine yards to offer a homey atmosphere. Usually a restaurant will keep its decor a little more removed from what your grandma's house would typically have. However there is a place within the metro that goes against that grain - it celebrates its kitsch and uses it to add to its appeal.
This famous restaurant is well-known for flaunting the kind of interior bits and decorations that would indicate a residing family of old. Cafe Juanita has two branches in Pasig and they're just a short walk apart. To celebrate my grandma's birthday, we dined at the newer branch along West Capitol Drive.
I've been to both branches in Pasig on two separate occasions, and while this new one looks homey, the original one trumps it. Still, visitors will get the feeling that they're honored guests inside an old family's home. Cafe Juanita eschews uniformity and embraces a Filipino uniqueness: you'll see girls' dolls inside closets, old china adorning the ceiling, and woven native tablecloths. Minimalists may go crazy from all the decor flooding their eyes.
|An interior panorama shot|
|Another interior panorama shot|
Check out the interior shots!
As jam-packed as the decor is, their food is something else. For appetizers we had phai phai, made of fried tawilis arranged into the rather eponymous fan-like shape.
|Cream of Mushroom soup|
|Crispy Catfish and Green Mango Salad|
Following that were cream of mushroom soup and two Thai dishes: crispy catfish with green mango salad, and pad thai noodles.
After the Thai side trip comes the onslaught of Cafe Juanita's Pinoy cooking with its signature twists. First up is their delectable beef caldereta.
|Iloilo Sea Bass|
Next came Iloilo sea bass. This dish reminded me a lot of puttanesca pasta due to its tangy tomato-based sauce with olives and capers. The side order of mashed potatoes was done just right too.
Along came my grandma's favorite, garlic prawns, served partially de-shelled. They were served with a kind of vinegary sauce which gave a mellow but distinct kick.
This must be Cafe Juanita's signature dish: pork adobo with adobo flakes on top. The flakes will crumble in your mouth, a good contrast to the slight resistance given by the meat, and the sauce is done just right.
|Deep Fried Lapu-Lapu|
Finally we have the deep fried lapu-lapu, presented artistically in its own plate. Along with the fish comes a sweet chili sauce that's very good.
I had my fill of dinner without touching a single grain of rice. The food was that good. It may not scream "special!" but to this writer's palate it was simple homey lunch fare done well.
Just as we thought we were finished, along came dessert.
|Sticky Toffee Pudding for my grandma!|
One of the signature desserts here is the Sticky Toffee Pudding, served by the waiters to my grandma as a birthday cake of sorts. People seem to love it, although I wasn't able to take a bite as I was already quite full.
My mom had Crepe Samurai. I had a little taste of this strangely named concoction and it tasted like a cross between panna cotta and custard pudding. I do wonder where the "crepe" moniker came from.
|New York Cheesecake|
My cousins got their cakes: Sans Rival and New York Cheesecake. I hear the cheesecake is especially good, but we'll have to try that another time.
|Mama's Mango Pinsek|
What I did get was Mama's Mango Pinsek, which I shared with my dad. This is a strange sounding dish but essentially it's a mango-based analogue to the popular turon or fried banana rolls...with vanilla ice cream. Note that it took a while between order and serving. Was the wait worth it? Hmmm...I didn't think it was anything special, but at least I got to try something new.
Cafe Juanita does have a few caveats. The original Pasig location is notorious for having absolutely no parking space, and the new one across the street isn't much better. I hear even their Burgos Circle location at Bonifacio Global City shares the same predicament, too. Also, I've heard murmurs of inconsistent service quality, so it's best if your food is pre-ordered like ours was. Save for the Mango Pinsek, which took its sweet time in preparation, almost everything we ordered was served and consumed within an hour of us arriving - and we were a party of eleven. It's also not the cheapest restaurant around, although it has built a reputation for itself around the elderly set.
Despite the caveats, all in all it was quite good. Cafe Juanita is a very niche kind of restaurant - I doubt there are places that can duplicate its unique appeal.