TL;DR : My favourite is at the bottom of the article!
I’ve decided to establish which restaurant/caterer offers the best lechon in Cebu City, and by extension the best lechon in the Philippines.
ominous assignment: choose a country, then pick its beloved national dish; proceed
to travel to the birthplace of said dish; then try as many versions of the meal
as you possibly can in order to list them, from your favourite to your least preferred.
be an unavoidable wave of hate mail to come from the people who live in the chosen
city. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Catch 22. Danger, no matter what.
But I wear my
wounds like trophies.
So here we
I’ve visited and tasted 6 different restaurants and their respective signature dish, all within 48 h, just for you, dear readers. (I know, I haven’t included House of lechon. There’s only so much fatty pork a man’s stomach can handle.) Here are the findings, from least favourite to absolute best.
One note before we begin: I understand that lechon is subject to many different variables. How long ago was it cooked? Which muscle of the pig did you get? Was it cooked whole, or is it “boneless lechon” (Filipino porchetta)? But for the sake of writing this list, and since my body is now and forever made of 2% pork fat, I’ve decided to list them after only one tasting. I know, it’s not fair. Guess what: life isn’t fair.
Original Lechon Belly – My least favourite lechon in Cebu
tasted: Boneless spicy lechon belly
Too salty, too much garlic, the skin isn’t crisp, and the palm vinegar served with it is cheap and tastes of alcohol. Enough said, I guess!
Listen, it’s not their fault… but we showed up late at this one branch in Cebu City. They’d ran out of food. (What sort of restaurant runs out of food?) They’d sent an employee, on his scooter, to a different branch, to go pick up meat. It’s a “family restaurant” which means that we didn’t even have the luxury to sip on a beer while we waited. When the food finally showed up at our table, it was bland, dry and the skin was chewy, probably because of the steam in the Styrofoam box in which it was transported.
CnT Lechon V Rama Ave, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
tasted: Boneless spicy
From #4 on,
everything I tasted was great. This includes Ayer’s.
It said “spicy”,
but honestly, the seasoning was toned down compared to many of the meats I
tried. This means that the natural taste of the pork really shone through. This
can be seen as a positive or a negative: the natural swine-y barnyard flavours
of the animal were quite present in the meat. Ayer’s, however, was the champion
of crisp skin. It was so crunchy I had to be careful not to hurt my palate with
Ayer’s 6000 General Maxilom Ave, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines
3. Alejo’s – Best lechon in Cebu
Dish tasted: traditional whole-hog (I think we got some pork butt)
This little take-out catering stand might not be the most appealing – the windows of the display case are covered in grease, so is the man using the giant clever to chop the food, and the walls of the stand sure need a good scrub – but the food is worth it. Alejo’s pork was the most moist (moistest is a weird word) of all tasted. Of course this meant that the skin suffered and wasn’t as crisp as other places, but when the meat is that good…
Alejo’s Lechon 132 Katipunan St, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu, Philippines
Unfortunately, this restaurant has since closed its doors.
2. Kuzina Guadalupe at Sugbo Mercado – Best lechon in Cebu
regular boneless lechon
The never-ending lines at Kuzina Guadalupe, the large stand in the middle of Sugbo Mercado, are usually for their roasted chicken, which is indeed delicious. However the same can be said about their boneless lechon. It’s an all-rounder: great seasoning, moist and tender, awesome skin. Do it!
My friend Kim, the poor young man whose waist line has been forever ruined by my terrible plan of eating lechon non-stop for 2 days, is going to be quite upset with my selection. “It’s not traditional”, he’ll say. “It’s not how you do lechon, it’s comparing apples to oranges”, he’ll probably point out. He might also use filthy language, which I cannot print here. But I don’t care.
dishes are… it’s hard to describe. The meat has probably been cooked separately
from the skin, which means that both can be at their best: moist, tender and
juicy on the one hand; crisp and crackling on the other.
the judicious use of pork broth to enhance both the flavour and the moistness (I
still don’t like that word) of the meat. And the dipping sauce, which is similar
to a Vietnamese Nước chấm, offers enough acidity to cut through all the fat.
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