12 Sep2007

1b

After driving 8+ hours from Manila to Vigan, with a few pitstops, we finally made it to Vigan (for last June’s roadtrip). We quickly located our hotel, dropped off our bags, and decided to grab some lunch. Nearly everything you read about Vigan mentions Cafe Leona, so we figured we couldn’t go wrong by starting our Ilocos adventure there. Located on Crisologo street, right near the heart of town, it is best described as appearing quaint and old from the outside. Inside, there are several rooms but only one dining room was open to guests that day, and it was filled with smokers. That, to me is a serious STRIKE NUMBER 1; trying to enjoy any food while several neighboring diners are puffing away on cigarettes in a stuffy low ceilinged dining room is NOT something I usually tolerate. But we were hungry, so we decided to stay anyway…

1c

Once seated and given a menu by a waiter, we were instead directed to view the dishes on offer at a nearby buffet. Now that is almost certainly STRIKE NUMBER 2. Any restaurant that is so well-thought off for its food but serves it turo-turo style, with fat coagulating and other vegetable dishes continuing to cook, WHEN IT DOESN’T HAVE TO, speaks volumes of laziness and a lack of understanding what makes any dish delicious…coming right off the flames fresh. We decided NOT to have the buffet and insisted on ordering from a menu, at which point they told us it would all come from the buffet anyway and they wouldn’t be cooking to order. We should have left then but didn’t.

1e

Instead, we ordered some bagnet, which was brought to the table barely tepid, with a side dish of KBL (tomatoes, onions and bagoong)… the KBL was more interesting that the bagnet, and frankly, I made better tasting bagnet at home on my FIRST attempt. We also ordered monggo which had small dried shrimp and ginger and sili (chili) leaves. This was delicious and didn’t suffer much from sitting on the buffet. We also ordered pork igado, a native specialty with innards et al that was not particularly memorable.

1d

We also got a plate of the famous Vigan longannisa that frankly, reminded me more of a “travel poop” (that inevitable first bathroom visit after a 20-hour transpacific flight) more than a vaunted food specialty from Ilocos. It was wickedly hard, wickedly overcooked and wickedly solid. We ate much better longannisa elsewhere on the trip… The last dish we ordered was some fried bangus which was just so-so.

1a

The bottom line? Buffet may be the modus operandi for lunch but it was horrible. HORRIBLE. The food was lifeless, flavors unremarkable, and arrived at the table tepid if not cold. I would NEVER send anyone to Cafe Leona after that experience, and considering the number of wonderful meals we got elsewhere on the trip. I think the restaurant is a victim of its travel book and blogger popularity and nothing more than a tourist trap, though I must say there were oddly a lot of locals eating there that lunchtime. At PHP1,100 for 4 people, the price was not bad, but the food left a lot to be desired.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. choy says:

    the last time i was at cafe leona was perhaps four or five years ago. we were fortunate to have been brought there by a local bigwig who was allowed to order a la carte and we were treated to some local fare that really tasted good.

    i would have used the word “memorable” but sadly, i forget what it was that we had. except that the bagnet was good and there were other dishes that our party of ten really enjoyed.

    or maybe we were just really hungry. it was a 3 p.m. lunch, after all.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 10:48 am

     
  2. Maria Clara says:

    Management turn things around without any notice or perhaps they have a new chef in the house still undergoing ala carte lunch skills lesson 101 or perhaps it has a magnetic aura that keep locals coming back! It has its own roster of patrons and people have varying degree of taste. Longanisa wherever their provenance is – they are wickedly good when piping hot as the fat content settled when cold. Sorry to hear your disappointing lunch but looking forward to your joyful escapades in Vigan.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 11:20 am

     
  3. Frenz says:

    Cafe Leona may be a well-known resto in Vigan because of its proximity to the cathedral. their food, however, is not that memorable. i only have two favorite restos in vigan: the mcdonalds (because of its amazing architecture) and cafe uno (with its bricked walls, beautiful paintings, and ‘to die for’ pakbet with bagnet and chocolate strawberry shake). cafe uno has a homey, quaint and modern ambience :)

    Sep 12, 2007 | 12:10 pm

     
  4. myra_p says:

    LOL@ “travel poop”

    Had the same impression when I ate at Cafe Leona. My home-made meals at Villa Angela were infinitely better — hot, fresh, flavorful and comfy. They ask you the night before what you want to eat the next day, then go to the market in the early morning. We would wake up to the smell of eggs, longganisa or bangus, fried rice, whatever side dish the cook felt like preparing, and this yummy beef soup I cant recall the name of… Sweet native bananas were always on the table too. So perfect.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 1:10 pm

     
  5. CecileJ says:

    From your description, you would’ve been better off eating the yummy Vigan empanada prepared roadside (near the Church, if memory serves) and eaten piping hot with sukang iloko! Then a bowl of sinanglaw (hot soup with unidentifiable beef parts but which I found quite tasty, never mind if I worried that it was a Vigan version of Soup No. 5!)

    Sep 12, 2007 | 3:00 pm

     
  6. DADD-F says:

    My family vacationed in Vigan about 3 or 4 years ago. I am not sure but it seems that we also had lunch in Cafe Leona–I think. The restaurant we lunched in had really good food and served some foodstuffes a la carte. A bit pricey for us although the range was practically that of similar establishments. If we’re talking of the same restaurant, how sad that the management failed to maintain its good standards.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 3:09 pm

     
  7. Socky says:

    The moment a “good” restaurant offers buffet, that’s the beginning of the end. And you don’t know what else they’ll compromise on for a few more bucks and customer count.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 3:16 pm

     
  8. Marisa says:

    I guess I was right, I didn’t like the food there either, even if I was a hungry traveller that time. I always thought the reason was I compared it to ilocano food cooked at home… Greasy food overcooked/fried meat (making it tough…

    MM, I cant answer your poll. Its soo hard to choose ( I actually thought about it veery hard),then it hit me! I can’t do without any of these! I guess I can for a time only.

    Sep 12, 2007 | 3:27 pm

     
  9. myra_p says:

    CecileJ, thanks for jogging my memory re the beef soup/sinanglaw. If anyone out there has a recipe, I would love to have it. Have had dreams about this soup (eaten with very garlicky sinangag), but too far to drive back to vigan to have it again…

    Sep 12, 2007 | 3:42 pm

     
  10. sometime_lurker says:

    Hi, sorry, off topic, but i wanted to hear your views about this:
    http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/topofthehour.aspx?StoryId=92105

    Sep 12, 2007 | 6:23 pm

     
  11. Marketman says:

    sometime lurker, I watched the verdict being read. I guess my main reaction is that ALL government officials who have taken advantage of their position should be metted the maximum punishment by the law, and that includes anyone currently in power…

    Sep 12, 2007 | 7:20 pm

     
  12. Traci says:

    i agree with myra_p.. the best meals i had in vigan were at Villa Angela. the meals were simple, hearty and comforting, and the longganisa was ‘to die for’, in fact we brought some home with us!

    Sep 12, 2007 | 9:00 pm

     
  13. bea tenchavez says:

    went to cafe leona last feb. we really enjoyed the bagnet and longganisa there, perhaps our best meal in Ilocos….we had a very late lunch so service was quite good and everything was fast and clean….

    Sep 12, 2007 | 9:50 pm

     
  14. Carmen says:

    My family and I had lunch at Cafe Leona in 1999 and that was when we discovered bagnet. We didn’t have any problems with the food or the service. Maybe they weren’t so famous yet then. We just went there because it was near the hotel we were staying at, and it seemed like a good place to eat. BTW, it is beside (or maybe part of, I don’t remember anymore) the house of Leona Florentino who is the mother of Isabelo delos Reyes and a poetess.

    Sep 13, 2007 | 10:39 am

     
  15. Cecile says:

    Went to Cafe Leona two years ago. What a huge disappointment, especially the bagnet. It tasted like ordinary lechon kawali to me.

    Sep 13, 2007 | 11:06 am

     
  16. Fred says:

    Cafe Leona is the premier restaurant that side of Vigan by sheer lack of competition. The food and ranges ranges from passable to disappointing. Their prices are not worth the food. In Vigan, I insist on lunching at Gaizel’s in the public market carinderia, famous in its own way. Then in the evenings I am forced by convenience and company to go to Leona.

    Sep 13, 2007 | 7:12 pm

     
  17. MegaMom says:

    I’m so sorry that your first foray into Ilokano food while in Vigan was a near disaster. I hope you had the chance to enjoy other cooking, and give the regional cuisine the chance to redeem itself.
    Yes Fred, I know what you’re talking about. I think you are correct that in general, the closest you would get to a fresh, home-cooked Ilokano meal in Vigan is at the market.

    Sep 13, 2007 | 10:12 pm

     
  18. MegaMom says:

    One more thing, I forgot to mention that some old houses in Vigan have excellent cooks and if you know insiders, you can have them cook a meal for you. They charge by the plate. ;) I heard that many tourists enjoy this experience – good food and bahay-na-bato ambience.

    Sep 13, 2007 | 10:42 pm

     
  19. Mariano says:

    Never been a fan of Leona’s. I like Grandpa’s Inn, though. I love their Ilocano version of tinolang manok where the broth is thickened with chicken blood. A MUST in Ilocos is a drive to Daoang’s (or Dawang’s, not quite sure how to spell it) in San Nicolas, I. Norte for their pikit-mata-sa-sarap na dinuguan with bagnet. Zero ambience (a few start buzzing flies and eyeballing with askals is the set-up there) pero, man!!!!, the food. But go early, they cook only so much that by 11:00 AM the food’s gone.

    Sep 14, 2007 | 10:06 am

     
  20. Skunkeye says:

    This is horrible, but we were tired and hungry after driving from Manila… we had Cafe Leona on our schedule but the service was so slow and the buffet so unappetizing – maybe they weren’t even serving food in the early afternoon, it was so long ago (2000?) – that we actually got a driver in our entourage to get us longanissa, the local empanada and bagnet off the street and ate it there. It was divine.

    Sep 14, 2007 | 10:22 am

     
  21. wil-b cariaga says:

    having lunch in someones house is better, there is no better way to taste local food in Vigan than being invited for lunch etc, the local food is best served at home. . . before, Cafe Leona has a BBQ night. . . food is better because it is fresh from the grill, and you dine al fresco on the cobble stone street. . .

    Sep 14, 2007 | 1:13 pm

     
  22. wil-b cariaga says:

    yep Gaizel’s. . . its a carinderia but they have good food. .. . famous for tricycle and jeepney drivers. . . and folks who dont have time to cook. . .

    Sep 14, 2007 | 1:17 pm

     
  23. sugar says:

    sigh.. its so sad to hear eerr read that.I’m from vigan and in my opinion Cafe Leona has its ups and downs. they use to have thai food every thursday nights which is cooked outside by a local from thailand.Its really really good especially their yum moo yang(grilled pork with delicious sauce with onions)but then their thai cook dont work there anymore so their thai food is not that good as before BUT still is ok. Now they serve pizza which is cooked in a “pugon” (clay oven? am i right?) its really good especially the Bonito special (garlic,”tuyo” and
    wasabi) the crust is thin and is cooked just right! Cafe Uno is also my favorite, it’s very homey and they have comfort foods like soups,pasta,frapps and local delicacies. i think i’m gonna go there right now. i’m starving. hehe

    Sep 25, 2007 | 4:26 pm

     
  24. leo says:

    i was in vigan for semestral adventure. hey, there’s a new restaurant called la mirada. a little bit difficult to find for first timers in vigan, the place is just two blocks away from the cap bldg (its that imposing white palatial building beside what they call plaza maestro) the food is really great. my escort bigueno says its the cleanest and most decent place to dine while in vigan. for travellers going this far, you can also try the spa located at the second floor level.

    Nov 14, 2007 | 10:21 pm

     
  25. roel says:

    i am a regular costumer of cafe leona, for me, this resto is the very best resto in ilocos sur.. and those people who are complaining bout cafe leona was the person that are very very ignorant about the local food of vigan.. cafe leona is much better than other resto like la mirada.. the japanese foods and italian style pizza and pasta of cafe leona was so vey yummy… masarap balik balikan like our co-costumer always sayin… kaya huwag nating pansinin ang mga sinasabi ng mga walang utak na tao.. ignorante lang sila mga kaibigan…

    Nov 15, 2007 | 9:39 am

     
  26. Marketman says:

    roel, you are entitled to your opinion, as are others who have commented. But I wrote the original post, and stand by my views of the meal I had at Cafe Leona, it was mediocre at best. I wouldn’t go back unless the food improved dramatically.

    Nov 15, 2007 | 10:33 am

     
  27. randy says:

    i was on a short vacation from new york last month. fine dining in la mirada is comparable to those in manhattan. cafe leona is great too for its local dishes which i miss much. cafe uno’s grill is commendable.

    Nov 15, 2007 | 10:11 pm

     
  28. roel says:

    marketmam, are sure of what are you saying about cafe leona? can you prove that?… if i will say that all your statement are totally wrong!! can you?..

    Nov 19, 2007 | 1:28 pm

     
  29. Marketman says:

    Roel, everyone can have different views, people’s tastes and experiences may not mirror yours exactly and there is nothing to prove. I had a mediocre meal and THAT IS MY and my family’s opinion. Let it go, you are just starting to sound a bit desperate. And other readers above echoed some of my sentiments so it isn’t extraordinary. If you think it is totally wrong, then start your own blog and write your own food reviews, and award Cafe Leona 5 stars or whatever you want, and maybe then you will be a happier person… And YES, I AM SURE THAT I WILL NOT GO BACK TO EAT AT CAFE LEONA UNLESS THE FOOD IMPROVED DRAMATICALLY. Whereas, I would gladly go back to several other restaurants in the Ilocos region that we visited on our recent trip. And P.S., just LOOK at the food on the lunch buffet above, it has been sitting there for hours, not cooked to order…not too many restaurants with high ratings serve their food buffet style. And if you aren’t a smoker, having to eat your lunch in a smoke filled room is not at all pleasant. Oh, and READ the comments above, they are on both sides of the spectrum, BUT NONE, say the food at Cafe Leona was spectacular. Many say it was disappointing. So there you have it.

    Nov 19, 2007 | 1:39 pm

     
  30. josephqt says:

    If you loved the bangus and longganisa in Villa Angela, ask Maricris’s mother to make you chicken adobo next time. They made the best chicken adobo i have had in my entire life!!!

    Dec 14, 2007 | 3:30 pm

     
  31. brownman says:

    i am from vigan and i’ve read all of what u can say about cafe leona and other restos in the city. for me, i have to agree that the food in CL is soso. i’ve tried eating there a couple of times when i was still in vigan and i have to say it never tickles my tastebud. in my opinion, the best place to dine in when you’re in vigan is cafe uno – w/ it’s ambience and delectable foods. i particularly love their pork sinigang and sisig. it’s a must if you eat there. it’s amazing how alot of u likes the cooking of villa angela, it’s also one of the best i have to say. i didn’t get to try la mirada tho, but i heard it serves good food as well. don’t forget about hambre resto, i tried eating there once, and it’s ok. can’t wait to go back. i miss everyone there in vigan. and the food. :(

    Dec 16, 2007 | 7:00 pm

     
  32. cyberbuddha says:

    Went to Vigan for my honeymoon sometime back. Same experience with Cafe Leona. Very small place, highly overated, cold, hard longanisa. Was one of the worst vacation meals I’ve had. My wife and I were also about to try the Vigan empanada by the plaza roadside near the shopping area/market. When we sat down and were about to order, we looked at the bottle of vinegar and sili on the table. Inside were hundreds of little squiggly worms, almost microscopic if you don’t look closely, but you’ll notice them because of the fast rate that they wiggle. Needless to say we cancelled the order and left. Is this the “secret ingredient”?

    Jan 2, 2008 | 2:19 pm

     
  33. andre says:

    my first time in vigan this february. my friend invited me to this place called la mirada. i never thought that this city also has a great fine dining restaurant. try the spa too. the manager, forgot her name, is so accomodating.

    Feb 24, 2008 | 9:03 pm

     
  34. grace says:

    well… its my first time to visit vigan… last march 7,2008 we had a tour… vigan-laog tour, neway… when we arrived there, we had our lunch at cafe leona.. the place were nice and beautiful, yah, like the usual, (first timers always say the place they’ve visited was beautiful) neway… it was really nice.. the food at cafe leona was very tasty… most specially their “pinakbet” hehe… some other time.. i’ll be bringing my parents in that place…

    Jul 22, 2008 | 6:08 pm

     
  35. Ana Rose says:

    Cafe Leona has that perfect Vigan ambiance. As for quality of food, it’s on the average, nothing great. I ordered grilled T-bone and they overcooked it. The experience was like eating rubber. I am a forgiving person. I will visit them again and may be have a few drinks and skip the other dishes.

    Nov 8, 2008 | 11:42 am

     
  36. lyka says:

    The food and service there in Cafe Leona is terrible. We we were there in Vigan 2 days ago, we had our dinner there. It really took too long before the food was served. We were dining outside the resto,my cousins already had their 3rd stick of cigarette but the food was still not served. We already then wanted to leave but we were already tired to walk around to look for another place to eat, so we had no choice then but to wait and wait and wait. I really wont recommend this place. TERRIBLE!

    May 25, 2009 | 8:05 am

     
 

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