Tara sa Kanto!

Which of the following restaurants are you most likely to try:
a. One that is sikat or hot on Facebook;
b. One that is sosyal or lead by a chef who’s famous in Hollywood;
c. One that is kakaiba or offers something different and new; or
d. One that is mura or so easy on the wallet that you can afford to eat there every day?

Still undecided? Don’t worry! Kanto offers option “e” – a restaurant that is “all of the above.”

Sikat. To the uninitiated, “kanto” is simply Tagalog for “corner.” However, a quick Google search would lead you to Kanto Freestyle Breakfast. Kanto is much like a roadside carinderia, but classier and more popular. Not only does its Facebook page boast of at least 13,000 likes as of this article’s writing, it also promises to be a “source of affordable yet delectable food”. They proudly display Instagram-ready dishes, which garner glowing reviews and comments from satisfied customers who constantly sing them praises, tag friends to make plans with, or ask for more branches. Their regulars include popular celebrities like Cristine Reyes who was even hailed as “Kanto Queen”. This carinderia has been repeatedly featured in the TV programs of Solar News Channel, TV 5, GMA and ABS-CBN.

Sosyal. Kanto’s exquisite food presentation rivals that of expensive gourmet restaurants. This is because one of the brains behind Kanto is Chef Archie Val Juanta, head chef to Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Impressive as that sounds, Kanto didn’t click with its customers just because of its artful plating or Hollywood ties. It’s due to something more straightforward than that. According to co-owner Eugene Claravall, what makes Kanto so attractive is—quite simply—the food.

Masarap! True enough, the taste and quality of the food of the restaurant live up to its hype. On my first visit, I tried Batangas Beef Tapa and Honey Garlic Chicken, which were under the “Kanto Boy Breakfast” selection. Both were served with scrambled eggs, garlic rice and tomato pesto. Every bite of the tapa was an explosion of distinct beefy goodness. You can’t go wrong with a tapa-and-itlog combo, especially since the egg is whipped to light and fluffy perfection. The mildly flavored garlic rice made a nice complement to the eggs and beef. The tomato pesto neutralized the rich flavors. I can say the same about the Honey Garlic Chicken. The chicken itself was tender and savory. It tasted sweet, salty, and garlicky all at once. For dessert, I ordered Fluffy Pancake topped with Goya and Chocnut Ganache. If you love local chocolate and pancakes, this treat would not disappoint. As its name claimed, the pancakes were truly fluffy. They were also delightfully creamy and topped with a generous dollop of melted chocolate and Chocnut bits. My gratifying pancake experience even convinced me to order Bacon and Eggs Pancake for take-out. The bacon was the right balance of salty and crispy, making it a suitable match to the fluffy eggs and pancake. I must admit that the two strips of bacon on my plate disappeared rather quickly.

Kakaiba. Kanto is certainly not your typical restaurant. The picture-perfect dishes featured on its Facebook look like those served in pricey restaurants inside exclusive hotels. And yet, they are served in a carinderia (Kanto Libis), in a garage (Kanto Kapitolyo), and on a sidewalk (Kanto Mandaluyong). These unlikely settings are what make Kanto unique—a rare quirk, which it really celebrates. Claravall explains that idea of Kanto was conceived in Lime 88, a bar—which he also co-owns—that serves “street food na pina-sosyal.” He noticed that like our Asian neighbors, the Philippines is known for its street food. “So why not glorify it?” he remarked. This sparked the concept of street food with a posh twist. With Kanto, Claravall and his business partners did the reverse of what some restaurateurs do. Their idea was to “bring the Pancake House experience to the masa.” The logo of Kanto—a simple cartoon of a plate and black utensils on a lined, yellow square—was intentionally designed to resemble a street sign. In fact, the walls of Kanto Libis are painted with a solid yellow, interrupted only by the familiar pattern of diagonal black and yellow stripes. Even the lights, reminiscent of street lamps, were deliberately chosen to recreate a street setting.

Mura. Of course, the “Pancake House experience” is generally inaccessible to the masses due steep food costs. That is why three-digit prices are conspicuously absent from Kanto’s menu, with the highest being Php 99. For everything I ordered (Batangas Beef Tapa, Honey Garlic Chicken, Bacon and Egg pancake, Fluffy Pancake Topped with Goya and Chocnut Ganache, scramble, and iced coffee), I spent only Php 466. Had I ordered similar dishes in another restaurant, I would have probably paid at least twice that price and certainly not have the same level of satisfaction. What’s more, Kanto is open 24/7 and accepts orders for delivery to anywhere in Metro Manila.

I’m definitely going back to Kanto. No other restaurant in the Philippines brings gourmet food to the streets with such interesting appeal and budget-friendly prices. And as they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” I’ve done a lot of eating and, so far, Kanto has done a lot of proving.

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