Hungry for new flavors and some roadtrip adventure? Go to Isabela! | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Philippine Rice Research Institute's Science Research Specialist Maritha ChanManubay
Philippine Rice Research Institute's Science Research Specialist Maritha ChanManubay
Philippine Rice Research Institute’s Science Research Specialist
Maritha ChanManubay


I never thought Isabela would be home to varying and wonderful collection of culinary delights but I discovered it is. My recent trip filled my head with new and happy memories.


Getting there


Going to Isabela is easier these days. Daily flights are available and from the airport in Cauayan City you can be in the heart of Isabela in less than an hour. Or you can take the cheaper way by bus from Manila (which I did) which will take about eight hours.


A first-class ticket from Victory Liner costs P660 and you get a bus with reclining seats and its own comfort room. My ride from Pasay City began at 6:30 pm and I arrived in Cauayan City at 4 a.m. I slept through the entire trip and woke up just as we stopped in front of our hotel.


The Tour


Isabela has the atmosphere of a genteel provincial town. I turned nostalgic. It reminded me of my mom’s hometown of Sta, Rosa, Laguna.


History buffs will definitely love Isabela’s old churches with their unique brick facades and ornate designs.


Philippine Rice Research Institute's Science Research Specialist Maritha ChanManubay
Homemade croissant crusted pizza

Rice farming and milling are an integral part of the Isabelinos’ commerce and culture. Visit the Philippine Rice Research Institute in San Mateo to support and learn more about their advocacies in developing new strains of more productive, higher yielding rice.


Go to Ilagan to see the world’s largest butaka. Narra sourced from surrounding towns was used to make this giant testament to Filipino craftsmanship and ingenuity.


Ilagan is dubbed the “Furniture Capital” of the province. Its most famous attraction is a butaka that stands more than 11 feet high and weighs a massive 2,368 kilos- a true testament to Filipino artistry.


You get the feel of a town once you taste its food. Isabela’s towns have a diverse range of new and old food establishments too many to explore in just a few days.


Where there are people and development, there will be SM


SM has opened a mall in this remote area of the Philippines, the first in Region II. It has a very unique al fresco feel that is environment-friendly, unlike the usual “boxy” mall designs of other SM branches.

The open design means little electri power is consumed for air conditioning and light.


It has brightly colored louvers which also act as sun shades.


People from nearby Cagayan, Nueva Viscaya and Quirino travel all the way to Cauayan City to shop at SM for a complete shopping experience: SM Cinemas, SM Department Store, SM Supermarket, ACE Hardware and SM Appliance.


It even has Cyberzone for the kids.


Coffee impressarios in Manila better watch out; the Isabelinos take their coffee very seriously. SM City Cauayan plays host to the region’s most well-known coffee and foodie stops:


Yah! Coffee


The brainchild of Carlo Raphael Diokno, a nephew of the cafe owner Edith Cabang, Yah! Coffee (or “Yet Another House of Coffee”) is a uniquely designed and conceptualized coffee store. Authentic coffee beans used are from Sagada and appeal to the growing tastes of the Isabelinos’ youth culture.


The only coffee shop in my book which also serves beer and sisig, Yah! Coffee was conceptualized when Diokno was still a student in Manila.

He noted how friends emerging from a night of drinking would go to the nearest coffee shop for snacks and coffee.


This inspired Cabang to open a coffee shop that also serves popular bar/grill food.


Yah! Coffee already has three branches in Isabela, proof that this unique concept of coffee shop/pub grill is a smash.


Café Isabela


The first Café Isabela opened on Dec. 22, 2009 in Roxas St., Cauayan City.


Couple Raymond and Donna Tan initially thought of a cafe with an intimate ambience where families and friends could meet and have good food and coffee.


Cafe Isabela Interior
Cafe Isabela Interior

Their shared passion for coffee and food pushed them to look for a place where friends could unwind.


This led to the creation of the now famous Café Isabela that brings a Manila-esque café feel to Isabelinos.


The name itself is a homage to the province where the couple grew up.


The café offers cheese steak burritos and native Isabela delicacies like moriecos (a sticky rice cake stuffed with latik), coconut milk curds steamed and wrapped in banana leaf, malunggay calamansi juice and bignay juice indigenous to Isabela.


Chocolate Coffeeline


Baristas here take their craft seriously and the best have already won the first and second runner-up titles in this year’s Philippines Barista Challenge. Order their carefully “cupped” and selected blends of coffee beans and see the baristas prepare your unique and customized cup right at your table.


Be it “siphon brewed,” aeropressed or traditionally dripped down a carafe, the Coffeeline baristas brew their special blend while you watch.


Restaurant hopping


With a fine mix of new and old restaurants in Cauayan City and neighboring towns, you’ll never spend a day without tasting something new.


The Marco Paulo Café and SaLido Restaurant offer fine Manila dining to locals and exacting travelers who demand more familiar food.


Kabayan’s Grill and Restaurant offers grilled food and beer. Aling Luring’s Gotohan and Serkele is a veritable institution famous for these fare.


Aling Kikay’s Pancit Cabagan is the best place for authentic eats and a healthy dose of cholesterol.


Marco Paulo Cafe interiors
Marco Paulo Cafe interiors

Marco Paulo Café


Taste its authentic Shabu Shabu.

The very modern ambiance evokes luxury and class. The menu includes salad, wine-soaked braised beef and salmon sashimi. With space for business meetings and a boutique hotel coming up, the owners of Marco Paulo Café have high hopes for their hotel and restaurant business.


SaLido Restaurant


SaLido is a town favorite and is packed at all hours of the day. It has quality Chinese food that uses locally sourced ingredients. The owner is working on pairing his restaurant with a boutique hotel.


Kabayan’s Grill and Restaurant


Traditional all-around Filipino grilling goodness means kare-kare, sinigang na baboy, sisig and perfectly grilled chicken and pork liempo. Kabayan’s Grill and Restaurant uses modern red volcanic rock technology for its grills and was awarded by the health department as the “Best Healthy Eating Place in Region 2”.


Grilling with volcanic rocks is believed to deter cancer-causing chemicals from entering food.


Aling Luring’s Gotohan and Serkele


Serkele is a traditional blood stew dish in Isabela. Think of an all-innard dinuguan.


Locally sourced and fresh, it is the tastiest blood stew I have ever had. The owners take pride in checking the quality of their ingredients daily.


Former president Joseph Estrada frequently stops over Aling Luring’s whenever he visits Isabela. And the Serkele is his favorite dish.


The goto with its distinct bright yellow color is another must-try. Other delicacies such as puto, okoy and fried lumpia complete this Isabelino institution.


Aling Kikay’s Pancit Cabagan


Never leave Isabela without tasting Aling Kikay’s pancit Cabagan. The noodles are freshly made every day and the thick sauce has a distinct salty-sweet, umami taste.


The toppings of chicharon, carbeef and eggs and onions provide a perfect balance.


Another dish called Batil Patong is basically a “soupier” version of the original pancit Cabagan.


Chef Cocoy Ventura and Corlyn Gardens. Gentleman farmer and chef extraordinaire


Chef Cocoy Ventura served Al Pacino, Sharon Stone and President Barrack Obama while working in the US. Chef Cocoy also worked at the Rubicon Estate, Francis Ford Coppola’s winery.


Aling Kikay herself, still helping out in the kitchen
Aling Kikay herself, still helping out in the kitchen

Chef Cocoy has always rooted for Filipino dishes during his stint abroad and returned to Isabela with a dream to showcase all the native dishes of Isabela and the Philippines. He uses organic ingredients harvested from Corlyn Farms.


Corlyn Farm’s private dining service was a great treat and definitely the highest point of our trip. Chef Cocoy’s exquisite five-course meal was the perfect end of our Isabela tour. By gathering all the native ingredients on his farm and serving them to us in his special dinner event, Chef Cocoy was able to create the best Isabela has to offer. Different varieties of rice, seasonings and vegetables used were all grown in their family farm, including the cocoa beans used for our hot cocoa.


The culmination of the dinner was native brewed coffee and great conversations.

Expect Chef Cocoy to rock the culinary world with his future creations.


Going home? Bring a piece of Isabela back


Drop by Pasalubong Center in San Mateo, Isabela, for its unique all-monggo creations. Known as the monggo capital of the Philippines, San Mateo’s Pasalubong Center has all the popular pasalubong made from monggo, considered the town’s “black gold.” The Pasalubong Center sells monggo flour, monggo grits, monggo noodles, monggo coffee, monggo polvoron and monggo chips.


A rare homemade treat


Look for Aling Francing’s homemade moriecos available in most shops.

Aling Francing’s Moriecos started as a family business. The pastry is suman made with galapong (ground glutinous rice mixed with water) with a latik sweet filling.



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