The chef's picks for where to eat, stay and play in the Philippines.

By Stephen Gillanders
Updated May 23, 2017
© Anjali Pinto

Stephen Gillanders won San Pellegrino's Almost Famous chef competition as a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He went on to work for star chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and he will open his first restaurant, S.K.Y., in Los Angeles in 2016. In the meantime he’s spending three months as a chef-in-residence at Intro, the incubator restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago.

I hadn't been on a vacation for years, so I was very excited to take a trip back to the Philippines, which is where I have my roots. It was one of many stops I made during a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia—others included Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and South Korea. My culinary training is classic French, so the trip expanded my repertoire as a chef greatly.


Killer Calamansi Muffin: Real Coffee & Tea

Real Coffee & Tea is pretty famous on the island of Boracay. The owner of the café is a westerner who visited the island and loved it so much that she stayed. Calamansi is a tart and super flavorful citrus fruit, like an orange-lime hybrid, that grows in Southeast Asia. The café uses it to make a really good muffin.

2/F Sea World Station 2 Balabag Boracay, Aklan Province 5608

Local Seafood: Mama's Fish House

© Stephen Gillanders

Check out Mama's for fresh, local seafood, especially shellfish. If you have access to a kitchen, you should also visit the nearby D'Talipapa Seafood Market, where you can either buy your own seafood or take it to a nearby vendor, who will cook it for you.

© Stephen Gillanders

Boracay Beach (near Diniwid Road)

Succulent Roast Pork: Marikina Public Market

My mother is from the Marikina Province, so it was great to have a chance to visit. It's located on Luzon island and there is a fantastic open air market that sells all kinds of traditional dishes, like whole roasted lechon pig by the kilo and sisig, which is a hash made with garlic, black pepper, chilles, vinegar and crispy pork.

© Stephen Gillanders

Captain Venciong St, Marikina, Metro Manila


Helmet Diving in Boracay

© Stephen Gillanders

You climb down a ladder until you reach a sea bed (about 10 feet below the surface) while wearing a helmet made of glass plates. The helmet makes it possible for you to breathe underwater and see Boracay's colorful sea floor with an abundance of tropical fish. We went through Red Coral Sea Sports.


Hidden Valley Springs Resort

© Stephen Gillanders

About 35 miles south of Manila, the area has incredible hidden waterfalls, jungle and bamboo walkways. The resort is made up of casitas–traditional Filipino houses. I picked a cacao pod on a cool tour of the jungle.

© Stephen Gillanders

4001 Alaminos, Barangay Perez, Calauan, Luzon

Laguna Hot Springs Resort

There are hot salt and fresh water springs in Laguna, including some that are exclusively reserved for guests of the resort. You can soak in the springs, or you can take wellness classes and get massages in them.

315 Purok 3 Barangay Pansol, 4027 Calamba, Laguna

Greenbelt Mall, Makati City, Manila

Check out this shopping center for local handmade crafts. It’s located in the Ayala Center in Makati, in Metro Manila, which is near Glorietta and SM Makati. Greenbelt Park Walkways, Makati, Metro Manila