One of the restaurant owners, Misty, prompted, looking at me and my girlfriend. There was a pause just as our eyes locked. To say no would mean triumph in self-restraint, but to say yes would mean the good things were not to be over. At least not yet.
Knowing well what Balai Ilocos offered should have meant not resisting the second helping of rice, so we ended up having another round of rice and a great meal.
A year-old restaurant along Aguirre Avenue, Balali Ilocos is a small, family-run place that offers Filipino and Ilocano food. With the tagline “Na-B.I. ako”, the restaurant is the project of Princess Aquino and managed by her children, who also manage the restaurant’s food truck and branch in Pagsanjan. Niño Mendoza, Princess’ son, not only manages the branch in BF Homes but also cooks the dishes as well.
Filipino food at Balai Ilocos may seem deceptively simple, but the age-old recipes guarantee a delicious, homestyle meal in a cozy setting embellished with capiz doors, wooden tables, and chandeliers.
Naturally, bagnet is the first thing that comes to mind when Ilocos is mentioned. The idea of deep fried pork belly just makes any stone heart flutter, and Balai Ilocos’ is a good version. The skin is crispy, the meat tender and flavorful, the opposite of which is a common mistake of many bagnet places that have popped up in the past few years. If you’re hoping to get more than a plate of bagnet, get the Balai Ilocos Platter, a mix of bagnet, igado, and Paoay longganisa, which is hailed fresh from Paoay where the family is from.
Balai’s Binagoogang Bagnet is a sweet and savory spin-off of the regular bagnet, this time with vegetables and shrimp paste, which are offered separately so that guests can decide whether they’d like their meat mixed with shrimp paste.
For folks craving something other than bagnet, Balai’s Pinakbet and Igado are worth trying. Igado is a minced liver dish that’s common in Ilocos, while Pinakbet is a little more common, though with Balai’s version, it’s slices of eggplant, okra, squash dusted with tiny shards of bagnet.
If there’s a dish to really rave about, though, – yes, it’s that good – it’s Balai Ilocos’ Mechado. Called Di Makakalimutang Mechado (Unforgettable Mechado) in the menu, the dish deserves the attention and accolade for good reason. The beef is marinated in soy sauce and other special ingredients and cooked for hours until the result is tender chunks of beef in a pool of deep, dark tomato sauce.
This dish is so damn good that people take out the leftover sauce (even without meat) because alone, it’s good in itself and also two things: it’s not yet acceptable to lick bowls in public and you can mix the sauce with rice at home and have another awesome meal.
188 Aguirre Avenue, BF Homes, Parañaque City
WORDS BY IAN BENETUA
PHOTOS BY IAN BENETUA AND JESS JACUTAN