Our first extended-family revenge vacay entailed planning not only for accommodations, but also for the all-important question: “Where do we eat?”
Previously, this was easily settled by booking our favorite pandemic getaway, Crusoe Cabins in Calatagan, Batangas. Prices were fair, lodgings were comfortable, service was great and the food offerings were tasty and extensive enough to satisfy both vegans and nonvegans. What vegans had to do differently was preorder meals prior to arrival.
But with the sudden surge in vacationers, it was fully booked months ahead and could not accommodate our party of 14.
We settled on San Fernando, La Union. It was so much farther, but we were up for a good time so long as we were all together.
Despite being assured beforehand that the hotel could accommodate vegans, we learned they couldn’t.
The “vegan pizza” on their menu was vegetarian. We were able to order it with no cheese and they made a tomato-based pasta, but we couldn’t subsist on that for four days.
It looked like the four-star hotel it claimed to be, but they were overwhelmed by the number of guests, and service was oddly lacking the typical Filipino hospitality we’ve enjoyed even in the humblest of locations. Like, they wouldn’t replace our diminishing bar of soap by Day 3 despite our requests. Was that the Ilocano stinginess people joke about?
However, we also experienced the trademark Ilocano helpfulness. When we asked a shirtless man by the side of the road for directions to an off-the-beaten-path joint, he happily went out of his way to lead us directly to it.
We had 30 vegan-friendly places on our list but they were mostly in San Juan, 20 minutes away. So, we had to venture out for each meal because even the nonvegans weren’t happy with the hotel’s food.
We narrowed down our choices to places that could cater to all eating preferences, for our big group of seniors to babies. Also, none of them are air-conditioned as we preferred natural ventilation (we are, after all, still in a pandemic).
This all-day breakfast place is tiny, but servings are hefty. Only a few of us went to dine in. We returned days later for more of their delicious donuts, and were pleased to discover they had a branch in BF Homes Parañaque. Vegan options: hummus with sourdough bread, kamote donuts, pan marangya—all pricey but delicious. (San Roberto St., San Juan, La Union; open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Also at 231 Aguirre Ave., BF Parañaque; open daily, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.)
Also a beach resort, the restaurant could accommodate our entire party but there were no reservations and the lines were always long. We got in at around 1 p.m., but the wait for our food took over an hour. Thankfully, everything was tasty and well-portioned. Vegan options: broccoli with garlic, sizzling tofu (omit the egg and mayo), turon.
Kape de Arko
This newly opened plant-based café offers the first vegan Ilocos empanada. The vinegar made it taste legit, though it didn’t stay crispy for long, as we ordered to go. The pesto pasta was sadly a miss, but the vegan strawberry cake was happily lapped up by both the vegan and nonvegan kids. (MacArthur Highway, San Juan)
Amare La Cucina (Italian)
This place was big enough for us, but it rained most evenings, so we just ordered in advance, and they delivered dinner to our hotel. Vegan options: salad, pizza and pasta. Just omit the cheese and cream sauces. (Surfer’s Road, Urbiztondo, San Juan)
This completely plant-based establishment is near Amare, so the kids and I just walked along a muddy eskinita to search for this gem right across Circle Hostel (which also serves vegan dishes). We took out Hungarian sausage and Chick’n waffle sandwich, and the cacao hazelnut and cookies n’ cream Waffles. Everything was gobbled up and even the nonvegans liked it. There was also a food truck serving vegan pares right beside it. (Circle Road, Urbiztondo, San Juan; open Thursday to Sunday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-8 p.m.)
This solar-powered beachfront café serves dairy-free drinks like macadamia lattes. They also offer free drinks if you participate in a beach cleanup! (Urbiz Garden Bed & Breakfast, 134 MacArthur Highway, Beachfront Collective, Urbiztondo, San Juan)
They serve smoothie bowls, fresh fruit shakes, popsicles, quinoa bowls and chia bowls, but the mushroom sourdough sandwich with lemony adlai salad was the happy surprise hit. (The Great Northwest Philippine Travel Stop and Viewing Deck, San Juan; open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.)
We had some coconut ice cream topped with mangoes to cool off from the crazy heat. (Inside Great Northwest, San Juan)
El Chapo (Mexican)
Parking fee is steep along the highway at P150, so our van parked at a gas station while I power-walked my way through the food spots. Grabbed some refreshing horchatas for the ride back to our hotel. (Open 12 noon-9:30 p.m.; San Juan. Also at Katipunan, Quezon City, and UP Town Center)
At P189 for two large cups, these vegan milk tea treats are a steal! We tried the Guimaras (mango lychee) and Alfonso (chocolate tablea). Good thing they’re available back home, too! (La Union, Makati, Parañaque, Taguig, Quezon City, Pampanga)
This wasn’t on our list, but it was our favorite find. Parking was ample and so was the seating. They also accept reservations. It was a dark and stormy night, but we enjoyed our last dinner in La Union because of the authentic and exciting Greek flavors here. Even the napkin holders and coffee cups were Greek. Vegan options: hummus, roka salata with no cheese. (MacArthur Highway, San Juan surf area) —CONTRIBUTED