For Mother’s Day, I decided to take my mother to one of Marikina City’s most delicious secrets: Isabelo’s, a charming little restaurant tucked away–well, I won’t be giving away the secret. I heard about Isabelo’s a year ago and have always been intrigued by it, especially because finding it seems akin to a treasure hunt. You don’t just walk into Isabelo’s. You have to either e-mail or call to place your order, and only after confirming your order will you be able to get the directions to the restaurant.
My reservation at Isabelo’s was pretty last minute, so I was happy that the restaurant was able to accommodate me and my mother anyway. My original order of Seared Tuna with Mango Salsa, however, was not. Portia, the chef and owner of Isabelo’s, informed me that Isabelo’s likes to serve food extremely fresh, and tuna bought so late in the day will, expectedly, not be. So I ordered an alternative menu and, with the map in my lap, my mother and I went on our way.
The directions were simple enough; getting over the location once we got there wasn’t. There are no arrows around pointing you to Isabelo’s, and definitely no signs telling you you’ve arrived. All you will see is a gate that bears no hints of the fairy-lit outdoor eating area it conceals.
The look of the whole restaurant was fairly whimsical, and consisted mainly of outdoor seating, although there is a screened-in area a little further in the back. Some tables were positioned underneath trees, and others, like the table we had, were located on little huts on raised platforms. Since it was nighttime, the whole place was illuminated by fairy lights, candles, and lanterns.
After marveling at how pretty the place looked, we then proceeded to marvel at the food we were served. Since we had placed our order well before we got there, everything was practically ready in a flash. The first to arrive on our table: Spinach Artichoke Dip.
Portia told us this was something we absolutely shouldn’t miss–and with good reason. The dip was a little bowl of hot cheesy heaven. If you gobble up the bread, you can just spoon the dip into your mouth or order more bread, whatever rocks your socks. Our next orders soon arrived: Pinoy Tuscan Salad and Greens w/ Roasted Vegetables, Walnuts & Orange Vinaigrette.
Of the two, I have to say I loved the Tuscan more, mainly because I have a great fondness for tomatoes and basil. But the salad was also great and incredible hefty, and we didn’t think we could take any more eating until the salmon and the carbonara arrived.
The two slabs of salmon were drizzled with oil and topped with quite a handful of herbs was incredibly flavorful; however, I would have liked to see salmon fillets used since they’re thick and free of fishbones. The carbonara was deliciously creamy and plentiful, and eating it for a few minutes didn’t seem to leave a dent in the serving! After the meal, Portia herself came to each table to share a little bit about how the restaurant started, and she also asked where we were from. Apparently, Isabelo’s is also a secret among Mariqueños, since most of the tables served throughout its two years played host to folks from Makati, Parañaque, and other cities in Metro Manila, with Mariqueños making up a fraction of its diners.
Isabelo’s is definitely one of those restaurants that deserve all the praises it gets, and hopefully, it will continue to delight more people for a long, long time. Some people have suggested that the restaurant move someplace more crowded and accessible like a mall, but that will just spoil the charm of Isabelo’s and the idea that a truly good meal is worth a trip. Besides, its intimate setting is part of what make it such an excellent find.