Friday, March 4, 2011

Juanita's kitschy kitchen

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.

Yes, I'm talking about Cafe Juanita in Pasig's Barangay Kapitolyo.

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.

Our table
An interior panorama shot

Another interior panorama shot

Check out the interior shots!

Phai Phai

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

Pad Thai
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.
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.

Garlic Prawns
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.

Pork Adobo
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.

Crepe Samurai
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.

Sans Rival

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.


  1. Phai Phai - looks super yummy! I love tawilis.

  2. yummy! I've been to Cafe Juanita The Fort branch.. agree, masarap un foods nila.

  3. something I should try. Where is the branch in The Fort?

  4. Thanks for the comments guys :)

    Cafe Juanita's branch at the Fort is in Burgos Circle.

  5. Pasig Kapitolyo's just nearby. I'd really like to try this place. Phai Phai and iloilo sea bass looks interesting :)

  6. Their food based on your photos are really worth trying! If ever, I'll make sure to order their Pork Adobo, it's been a while since I last tasted an awesome Adobo. *drools*

  7. @ChewOnThis:
    The sea bass was pretty distinctive. Maybe I'm naive, but I've never had sea bass cooked quite like that, and it was a nice surprise.

    I guess people can say you can cook adobo in any number of ways. Cafe Juanita's got its stamp on its recipe. The pork adobo was one of the dishes we had when I first ate here in 2010 with officemates - so far, it's one of a kind.

    Let us know if you like it when you do try it out for yourself :)

  8. i know i know I should check this out too!
    di ba meron din nyan sa Pasig?

  9. @Chyng:
    Two branches are in Pasig, one of which is the original I believe. They're within walking distance of each other. Only a corner separates them, literally. :)


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