Strategically located at the heart of Bicol region, Naga City (officially named the City of Naga) is the region’s economic and cultural center and is also known as the “Queen City of Bicol.”
Also nicknamed “An Maogmang Lugar” or “The Happy Place” — for many travelers, nothing spells happiness more than the good old fashioned food-tripping.
From gourmet restaurants to homegrown local eateries, Naga City has a lot to offer to those who like to go on culinary journeys. As my hometown, here are some of my favorite places to eat that you might want to check out the next time you visit the Queen City of Bicol.
1. Red Platter
Cakes and pastries that greet guests in the restaurant’s lobby and take-out counter are just a taste of the good things to come when you dine at Red Platter.
This homey restaurant comes from the same family as Graceland, a popular homegrown fast food establishment in Naga City. Its sister company Geewan serves great budget meals turo-turo style, while Red Platter is the semi fine-dining counterpart that offers Asian and Western dishes as well as a few Bicolano-inspired dishes.
Turo-turo (“point-point” in English) — are basically Filipino cafeterias: you point at the items you’d like to have from a buffet-like spread, the person behind the counter plops the food on your plate, and off you go.
Their best dish combines a really hot Bicol Express (mixture of pork, shrimp paste, and chillies in coconut cream) and a delicious version of pinangat (minced shrimp and ground coconut meat wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in coconut milk). You can even take home the delectable goodness, when you buy frozen packs of pinangat and Bicol Express.
Red Platter also serves a few fusion dishes including the Bicolano Special Pizza (pizza topped with chili and laing) and their Bicol Cordon Bleu, which is stuffed with pinangat instead of cheese before being fried.
For a sweet treat, indulge in their cakes or homemade Halo-halo served in a coconut shell!
2. Bigg’s Diner
Just like their classy and retro-inspired interiors, Bigg’s Diner is known for serving nostalgic, hearty, and comforting dishes that will make you want to keep coming back. From their first humble takeout window which opened back in 1983, Bigg’s has grown into the biggest food chain in the Bicol Region.
This homegrown diner is best-known for serving Western fare like fully loaded burgers, crispy chicken, succulent baby back ribs, and sizzling tenderloin tips.
In recent years, Bigg’s Diner has also put a spotlight on dishes unique to the region with their signature hometown meals. A simple and winning combination is the Bicol Special, a pork chop served with a siding of Bicol Express.
For dessert, try out the the Pili Pie, a mini-tart baked with pili nuts and topped with sweet ice cream.
3. Bob Marlin
With its laid-back interiors and reggae vibe, Bob Marlin brings the casual tropical dining experience to the heart of Naga City. The restaurant and grill is located along Magsaysay Avenue, now considered a foodie haven because of the number of bars, cafes, and restaurants lining the street.
You can’t go wrong with Bicol staples like Laing and Bicol Express paired with Bob Marlin’s bestseller, the “OMG! Crispy Pata.” Crispy pork crackling skin, tender melt-in-your-mouth meat, spicy veggies, and ice-cold beer is the perfect combination any day of the week. Other great dishes to try out include the Island Grilled Squid, Sinigang na Salmon and Chicken Adobo sa Gata.
If you’re in the mood for something alcoholic (and Instagram-worthy), try their signature drink in Rasta Colors. The Rasta-Paling (a rainbow-colored cocktail spiked with lambanog) feels like it can transport you right to the beach!
4. Street Food
For those on a budget, don’t worry because there are lots of affordable street-side eats that will leave you feeling just as happy as dining in.
Every city seems to have its own unique pancit or noodle dish, so when in Naga, you have to try Kinalas. This noodle soup dish has a savory broth that gets it flavor from the meat of boiled cow or pork head.
Gravy is poured over the soup, and the whole dish is garnished with scallions and kalamansi on the side. The special version is served with an egg. This heartwarming dish is definitely a must-try on rainy days. Kinalas is served in many humble eateries around the city. The most popular ones are Bolofer’s, Cely’s, Cordova’s, Cha Ced (Kinalas sa Balatas) and Kinalas Twin.
Another local favorite that makes an affordable snack is toasted siopao, a variation on the usual steamed bun. The bread is filled with ground pork and slices of boiled egg before it is toasted, giving it a warm crispy exterior and meaty filling. Load up on a bag of toasted siopao from any of the numerous bakeries in the city center.
Still hungry? Look out for these humble street eats near the plaza and outside churches: putong bagas (steamed cakes made of rice flour and shredded coconut cooked with brown sugar), baduya (sliced and deep-fried banana fritters) and bulastog (a hard-boiled chicken egg deep-fried in orange batter).
5. Pili Nut Treats
Pili nuts, which have a similar flavor to almonds, grow all over the Bicol Region. These indigenous nuts are widely used in a variety of local delicacies. If you want something more than the usual candied pili nuts in jars sold at the bus terminals, head to J. Emannuel’s for some unique pasalubong products that use pili nuts creatively.
Who can resist taking home such treats as Dark Chocolate with Roasted Pili Nuts, Pilinut Choco Kisses, Pili Topped Brownies, and Bombones de Pili? On the savory side of the spectrum there’s crispy pili nut with garlic and chili sampaloc, to name a few. Some products are available in souvenir shops in the city center and in grocery stores, but for the widest selection, visit their factory and main shop located in a private village.
J. Emmanuel PastriesRJ Village, Haring Canaman, Camarines Sur
+63 54 474 5160
Hopefully, these food finds will ensure that every trip you make to Naga City will have a happy ending. Enjoy!