A popular restaurant nestled in an eclectic old home in Pasig, Cafe Juanita has long been on the radar for good Filipino food. Despite my curiosity, I’ve never gotten around to visiting the original Pasig restaurant, mostly because it’s too out of the way for my Southbound leanings. Fortunately, after opening a branch in Bonifacio Global City, they’ve set their eyes even farther down South, with the newly opened branch in Molito, beside Alabang Town Center in Alabang.
Because it’s located in a newly constructed building instead of an old house, it’s not as kitschy as the original one. But to make up for it, things like ornate birdcages, decorative drapes and bits and pieces of architecture, like old windows, are scattered around the place. The lighting is soft and the place relatively quiet, making it conducive for quiet meal times.
With no qualms about going for unhealthy offerings, we immediately zeroed in on the Fried Chicken Skin for an appetizer. Cafe Juanita’s version of this pulutan classic is crisp yet slightly chewy. It’s not chicharon-crunchy, so it still retains the fatty chicken skin flavor. It’s served with a seasoned vinegar and a seasoned mayo dipping sauce, giving you more options to enjoy your poison in.
You’d think we’d be okay with that for our cholesterol fix, right? Wrong. We followed up the appetizer with Crispy Binagoongan. In Cafe Juanita, this translates to generous cuts of fried pork, cooked to a crisp ala lechon kawali, before being slathered with a sweet bagoong topping. The pork cuts were meaty, with just a thin strip of fat layered underneath the crispy skin.
To assuage our guilty consciences, we also ordered a vegetable dish to share, this time the pinakbet. Cafe Juanita’s pinakbet features large pieces of shrimp — the kind you use in a shrimp dish and not as a lowly panggisa add-on. Chunks of fish were also thrown into the mix, along with the usual vegetable medley of squash, tomatoes, string beans, ampalaya and okra. Admittedly, the large sweet potato threw me off a bit. It’s not something I’m used to seeing in pinakbet, but it’s not really a deal breaker for me.
Paired with rice and fruit shakes (mango and watermelon), we had a satisfying first meal at Cafe Juanita. They’re currently on their soft opening, but other than the signboards announcing it, you can’t really tell. The food is up to par, the service is excellent, and the ambiance of the place is quite relaxing. With this ideal combination in place, Cafe Juanita is definitely a welcome addition to Southern Manila’s Pinoy-themed dining scene.