In this life, there’s a question we’re often asked that we never tire of: Where are we eating?
But if there’s one response to it that we don’t ever want to hear, it’s the overused “Kahit ano,” or anything goes. Too bad there’s no dish called as such in any menu that we know of. But if there’s a place that offers an overwhelming mix of comfort and novelty for the too-often indecisive gourmand, it’s the food park.
One of the newest players in the food park game, Happy Tables, is quick to challenge the label.
Sure, this Quezon City food hub has most of the elements that make up a food park: multiple food kiosks featuring a variety of cuisines and a communal eating area all housed in a single location.
Super got the chance to visit Happy Tables early this month and we have to agree: It is, as its hashtag says, #NotAFoodPark—not an ordinary one at least.
The self-described “resto-hub” along Congressional Avenue Extension is more like a food hall. It was designed to maximize the available space, with three levels carrying its 18 concessionaires.
Leading up to the entrance are four food kiosks, while the midlevel section is the largest part of the food hall. Upstairs is an L-shaped bar, The Life Lounge, which overlooks the center of Happy Table’s eating area. With the resto-hub’s current setup, the closest we can compare it to is Hole in the Wall in Century City Mall in Makati City.
What differentiates Happy Tables from other food parks is that it wants to cater to all kinds of taste buds. Picky and not-so-adventurous eaters will not be intimidated by what’s on the menu at this family-friendly food hub.
Because of the sheer amount of choices at Happy Tables, these are only some of the food you can find at this relatively new food spot. There were still yet-to-open kiosks, too, like the coffee shop Blue Sparks Café. It’s set to start brewing this February and we’re already intrigued by its caramel popcorn frappe.
Specialty: Spanish favorites
One of the bestsellers of Amelito’s is the paella Valenciana, the classic Spanish recipe with saffron rice, (really huge) chunks of chicken, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels and chorizo. The toppings are generous, regardless if you order the solo or the shared serving. (The paella is apparently so popular that Amelito’s got as many as 30 orders of its bigger pan sizes last Christmas.)
Amelito’s also serves potato croquettes with three fillings to choose from—beef, chicken or cheese—and are served with a thousand island dip.
But Super’s favorite is the Salpicao de Pamplona, with meat melting in your mouth—faster than you can say, “I want more.” The juicy tenderloin beef chunks won’t be complete without the scrumptious mushroom and garlic, which are savory enough to eat on their own. The salpicao is served as a meal (with rice) or in a pulutan platter. Super recommends the latter for its bigger serving of meat—beer is, of course, optional.
Specialty: Cali-Mex fusion
Budget: P90-P250 (single serving); P750 (platter)
Cartel’s offers you all your favorite Mexican dishes. It has burritos, tacos, nachos and quesadillas, served with your choice of meat—chipotle chicken, ground beef, carnitas or steak. Also on its menu is an interesting take on the pizza with the use of tortillas.
Super got to try Cartel’s all-stars with the Hollywood Platter: a mountain of nachos, three soft tacos, a big-ass burrito, and a plate of quesadillas. Although there’s no doubt about the abundance of cheese and meat in this platter, after a while you’ll find that the appetizers offer a monotonous taste, differing only in texture. At P750, this combination of A-listers that can feed a barkada of eight may be a little heavy on the pocket.
FIVE: FORTY FIVE
Specialty: All-day breakfast
The sweet and salty flavors of the beef are battling for prominence in Five: Forty Five’s version of tapsilog—just the way it should be. The fried beef sirloin tugs at your taste buds with its balance of the two flavors and presents itself as a familiar savory dish that you’d want to treat yourself to every day.
Aside from this classic Filipino recipe, this all-day breakfast nook also offers bagnet, crispy adobo flakes and daing na bangus—all served with the breakfast staples of rice and fried egg. If you prefer lighter fare, you’d do well getting a panini sandwich. Five: Forty Five has several variations: grilled three-cheese, veggie, ham and cheese, and tuna and cheese. For those who need to start their day with sugar (lots of it), why not try Five: Forty Five’s sweet crepes? The Molten Lava (fresh bananas, choco-hazelnut spread, cream and chocolate syrup) is divine! And yes, you should get it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Specialty: Japanese with twist
Budget: Starts at P40 (sushi per piece); P80-P200 (sashimi, sushi roll, rice meal)
“I’ve had enough of Japanese food,” said no sane person ever. Katsuro offers different kinds of rolls, and the best part is you can order them per piece and have an interesting mix of sushi on a single plate. It also serves tempura and sashimi at affordable prices.
The Kanagawa looks nothing like your usual Japanese sushi rolls. The California maki is topped with crispy battered shrimp and its center surprises you with the creaminess of Japanese mayonnaise. Katsuro’s salmon teppanyaki is served with amazing gohan, but the simple-flavored and iron-grilled salmon fillet was a bit dry.
MOE & BELS
Specialty: Pastries and shakes
Budget: P25-P125 (individual servings and slices)
If you’re going to Happy Tables to satisfy your sweet tooth, Moe & Bels is the place to be. The icing on the carrot cake is a blissful party in your mouth, but that doesn’t make the cake itself forgettable. In fact, it was moist and filled with spice. If chocolate is more to your taste, try the Chocolate Overload, a thick, moist and densely packed chocolate cake with just the right amount of sweetness.
Super’s favorite, the tiramisu, is your ticket to dessert heaven. The light mocha chiffon cake carries a heavily indulgent flavor of rum, and is layered with cream and dusted with cocoa powder.
Budget: P68-P88 (slice), P238-P318 (whole)
Happy Tables’ resident pizza parlor offers classic recipes like margherita, pepperoni and Hawaiian. If you prefer the more hearty ones, check out the shawarma pizza or its version of the bacon-and-mushroom burger pizza.
Super tried out Combo Stop, a pizza quite similar to the famous Manager’s Choice of Shakey’s. With a winner crust, it will make you want more slices to yourself. It also has gooey mozzarella cheese, olives, slivers of bell pepper and onion, and savory ground beef and pepperoni. This familiar favorite is comfort food for any pizza lover.
TON NIK & PAO
Specialty: Italian and grill
If you want the comfort of dishes that you’ll be sure to enjoy and will fill you right up, Ton Nik & Pao should be your first choice. One glimpse at their menu, composed of pasta and meat off the grill, is sure to make your mouth water.
Ton Nik & Pao’s lasagna is one of their bestsellers. Layers of al dente lasagna sheets are topped with chunky marinara sauce and sealed with thick mozzarella cheese. Super tip (and you have to trust us with this one): Your table won’t be much of a happy one without their baby back ribs. The tender and fall-off-the-bone rack has a sweet and hickory blend. Unique to the food hub experience is the French onion soup, also generously topped with mozzarella cheese.
Specialty: Chicken wings
Budget: starts at P99 (four pieces)
Wings Central was described to us as traveling around the globe through chicken wings. And travel we did. Super got its food passport stamped in New York, Nagoya, Mexico and Saigon.
New York is the classic buffalo wing recipe, while Nagoya has the sweet and savory sauce (reminiscent of the Korean soy-garlic glaze) with toasted sesame seeds. Mexico, on the other hand, is your basic barbecue glaze but with a paprika kick, and Saigon has more of a sweet touch with its caramelized sauce and onions.
The beauty of Wings Central’s chicken doesn’t stop at its “United Nations” taste. This tiny kiosk seems to have discovered the secret to cooking wings. All of the flavors we tried were the glazed and saucy versions, but none of the wings lost their crunch!
This is the bar to celebrate life, its owners insist. In The Life Lounge, tables aren’t just filled with bottles of beer (they have Heineken available on the tap, too) and chow like your local bars. The lounge is filled with music from the rock indie scene every night and can also transform into a huge beer pong party (or any kind of party that you wish to throw). The best part? The bar closes till the last customer leaves.
The Life Lounge also serves your favorite classic cocktails. The bartender for the night created this still unnamed cocktail for Super. Made of cherry syrup, white rum, lemon juice and garnished with a slice of lime, it was fantastic— tangy, sweet, with an amazing kick. We dubbed it Cherry Kiss. Here’s hoping we find it in The Life Lounge’s signature drinks list!