An Insider’s Guide to Traveling in Manila

Locally born architect and designer James J.J. Acuna shares his favorite spots in the ever-evolving Philippine capital.

Inside Bellas Artes outpost.


Tucked inside a creative complex on the edge of Makati, Toyo Eatery serves excellent Filipino fare by chef Jordy Navarra, who presents local flavors and ingredients in elevated ways—his Bahay Kubo ‘salad’ combines all 18 vegetables mentioned in a popular Tagalog folk song of the same name.

Locally born architect and designer James J.J. Acuna.

Two other great spots are Grace Park for its farm-to-table comfort food by Margarita Forés, crowned Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016; and Hey Handsome, where Southeast Asian dishes are reinterpreted through the lens of chef Nicco Santos. I love the lamb buah keluak and always order beetroot paneer on the side.

Pan-Southeast Asian restaurant Hey Handsome.


Aphro is Manila’s top concept store, selling artwork and home items by mostly Filipino talents. Price points vary, but there’s something for everyone looking for a one-of-a-kind gift. For Filipino fashion, stop by Rajo!—it’s the atelier-cum-showroom of one of the Philippines’ leading designers—or Tropa, which showcases local brands with a focus on modern, minimalist attire and low-impact production methods.

Local brands on display at Tropa.


Explore the city’s walled Spanish-colonial district on an Intramuros tour with performance artist Carlos Celdran, whose theatrical approach to history provides a nuanced look at why the country is the way it is today. Architecture buffs should check out the brutalist National Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, one of the greatest achievements of celebrated architect Leandro V. Locsin; do take the guided tour to fully admire the sweeping curves of poured-in-place concrete and capiz-shell chandeliers hung from the gold-leafed ceiling. Finally, the cluster of galleries around Chino Roces Avenue—Silverlens, Bellas Artes Outpost, and The Drawing Room—provides a glimpse into the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene.

Toyo Eatery’s signature Bahay kubo salad.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Mad For Manila”).

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