There was a social media firestorm yesterday when an article came out at the ABS-CBN website telling the public that Cebu Favorite Lechon Zubuchon is coming to Manila. I know Cebuanos love lechon and as a Cebuano, I consider it as a heritage dish. I did not expect, though, the extreme reactions that the article generated from my fellow Cebuanos. Are we going to destroy friendships over lechon? Well, here is my take.
Kalami Cebu's Ultimate Guide to Lechon Cebu
What is Cebu's favorite lechon? I do not think we can have a unanimous answer for that question. There are so many excellent lechon makers on this tiny island in the Philippines. There are the branded ones. There are the Sunday regulars. There are even hometown favorites. Cebu is the home of the best lechon in the world and Cebuanos can eat lechon any day and any time of the day. By the way, in the vernacular, we call lechon, inasal. Here is my personal classification of the best inasal or lechon Cebu:
I. The Lechon Restaurants
In the past couple of years, some entrepreneurs started restaurants revolving around this Cebuano specialty. These restaurants serve a good menu of Filipino dishes but their main purpose is to solve your lechon cravings. These are the places we bring guests from out of town or balikbayans to let them try our island's most famous dish. These places are also frequented by foreigners who put the quality of food handling as a priority in picking a good place to eat.
These restaurants look posh and classy. These have good air-conditioning, nice interiors, and Instagram-worthy lighting. The lechon restaurants, therefore, are the best places to eat lechon besides eating it at home. Price is not that expensive that is why many companies even hold their events in this type of restaurants.
Here are the most popular ones that belong to this category:
I would give credit to Zubuchon for starting this trend. They have a good tagline using a quote from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain "The Best pig ever!". The restaurant puts lechon front and center. It actually worked and some restaurants soon followed suit. Their lechon has the crispiest skin but the flavor and even how it looks is different from what Cebuanos have grown up eating. A whole Zubuchon looks paler than the traditional lechon which has bright red or dark red skin.
No wonder, there was some furor about this brand being labeled as a "Cebu Favorite". Well, they are branding their pig as Zubuchon. They are not using the word lechon for it. Actually, "Zubu" is the old term for Cebu while "chon" is short for lechon. Zubuchon uses special and non-traditional ingredients as well as some tweaks in the preparation like spraying the pig with coconut water before being roasted. So, if you wonder why it tastes different well it is because it is a Zubuchon and not your Dad's inasal. For other things to try in the restaurant, you should get their Kamias shake and try the other Filipino dishes with a lechon twist.
Rico's Lechon has been one of the most popular lechon suppliers in Cebu in the past decade. Their signature lechon is their spicy lechon. Rico's Lechon is the favorite of ex-President Joseph "Erap " Estrada. If Zubuchon has Bourdain, Rico's has Erap. Rico Dionson's family partnered with the Pages family to open a classy Filipino restaurant featuring Lechon. When the partnership broke down, the Pages family retained the restaurant while Rico's Lechon decided to put up its own brand of Lechon Restaurants.
Rico's Lechon has been aggressively marketing and expanding in the past couple of years and they use the tagline "DaBestGyud". They opened restaurants in Mactan Promenade and in Vibo Place. They also have a smaller place in F. Cabahug Street. In the restaurant, they serve items like dugo-dugo, pancit, kinilaw, and their version of tinolang manok. Their inasal is featured in a couple of hotel buffets in Cebu City.
3. House of Lechon
When the Pages and Dionson families broke up the partnership for their original lechon restaurant venture, the Pages family retained the old restaurant and rebranded it last year as the House of Lechon. What makes them different is that they also offer Carcar lechon here. Carcar lechon is a type of lechon that is served with a sauce made from the drippings and oil of the lechon. The salty sauce makes you eat more rice.
The House of Lechon has a good location making it a favorite also of working people. Their main branch is just a walking distance from Ayala Center Cebu and the nearby offices and hotels. I have brought several guests here and they were so happy with their dining experience.
II. Eatery Type and Food Stalls
Before the rise of the branded lechon restaurants, Cebuanos were happy eating at eatery-type lechon places. Some are stand-alone establishments while others are situated in malls. These restaurants serve some of the best lechon especially if it is newly delivered. One good example for this category is CNT. CNT used to be king of retail lechon. They are trying to join in the fray in the first category by opening a new branch at SM Seaside but I still prefer their branch in Guadalupe, near SM and even their Ayala food court branch because it reminded me how spartan or "bugoy" were the lechon restaurants.
III. Street StallsA lot of lechon is being sold at the roadside especially on Sundays. Some have an area to eat but most of them are just like take out counters for lechon. If you go along A.C. Cortes Street in Mandaue, you will see many lechon stalls of this type. One of my personal favorite lechon stalls is the one near the Cebu Provincial Capitol.
If you happen to be early on these stalls, you can pick which part of the lechon will you bring home. Watching a freshly cooked lechon being chopped right in front of you while you're jockeying for position with other buyers is something you need to experience to fully appreciate why lechon is such a big part of the Cebuano culture. You actually know that an inasal or lechon is good when people try to cheat their way to get to the front of the line so they can bring home their preferred part of the lechon. Some will even wait for the next lechon just to get their favorite parts. Lining up is so crazy sometimes because you are competing against all sorts of folks, like dudes with body odor, grandmothers, and women with children. And what is the prize? A half kilo of piping hot roasted pig. At lunchtime, you will always say it was worth all the trouble.
There are areas that are known lechon hotspots. Talisay City and Carcar City are two of the best places to buy lechon outside Cebu City. My friends from Talisay say that their city is the home of the best lechoneros. I would not argue with them because I tried some inasal from Talisay and I never had any complaints.
IV. Out of Town
When I go for a Southern Cebu road trip. I always eat lunch at Carcar Public Market. You can actually solve your lechon craving by sampling all the lechon skin that is being offered to you there. I like their lechon oil because it makes the lechon more flavorful. The best part though is the price. You might say that they are just 80-90% as good as the ones in the city but when you realized that the lechon is just half the price you will probably declare it as the peso for peso champion among lechons.
V. SpecialistsSome of the best lechon makers do not have stalls. They do not sell inasal by the kilo. These are the enterprises who we usually call when we have a party and we need a whole lechon. A majority if not all in the first four categories also sell whole pig but these specialists just do it by order basis and they have done it for years. Their brands have their own loyal following. Here are some of the most popular lechon specialists:
Alejo's in Labangon
Really great traditional flavors. It is a favorite in the Guadalupe, Banawa, and Labangon area. They are really busy during Christmas.
Cang's in Lahug
Strong hints of star anise. I am just a bit confused sometimes because there are more than one Cang lechon brand in Cebu and their offices are situated in the same compound.
VI. Lechon BellyLechon Belly has become so popular in the past couple of years. This version of lechon is boneless and only use the belly part of the pig. It is actually a great alternative to the traditional lechon. A couple of companies are raking thousands or even millions of pesos by making lechon belly. Here are some of the best ones:
1. Cebu's Original Lechon Belly
They started it all and their spicy lechon belly is a favorite of mine. Some people say that the flavors are in the bones but the lechon belly is as tasty or even better than the average lechon. I once had visitors from Luzon and I let them taste several lechon brands while they were here. When they were about to leave for Manila, they made sure to drop by Cebu's Original Lechon Belly and they bought a couple of kilos for their families as pasalubong.
If you love it spicier, I suggest you head to Tatang's. Super crispy skin plus super spicy meat, it is perfect for fans who love spicy food.
3. Kusina ni Nasing
This brand has become more popular lately and they are a regular fixture at Sugbo Mercado.
The Lechon restaurant also has a great version of the dish. In fact, some people prefer the boneless version over the traditional one when they eat at Zubuchon branches.
Kalami Cebu's Lechon Choices:
Best Skin: Zubuchon and Tatang's
If you happen to get a Tatang's or a Zubuchon that just came off the lechon pit, you should eat some of its skin. It is super crunchy. It is almost like your favorite chicharon. Even by just looking at it, you know it's going to make a loud crackling sound in your mouth.
Best Spicy Lechon: Rico's and Cebu's Original Lechon Belly
Rico's has mastered the Spicy whole lechon. That was the trademark of Rico's back when they were just content in taking whole lechon orders. Cebu's Original Lechon Belly is spicy but not overpowering. It is definitely one of the tastiest lechon that you will ever have.
Best Regular Lechon: Alejo's and CNT
These two were the traditional lechon superpowers before Lechon restaurants became the trend. They still have a great following, especially during the holiday season. Their names are always mentioned on surveys about the best lechon in Cebu.
Best Restaurant: Rico's Lechon at Axis and House of Lechon
Great locations and very nice interiors. These two brands have elevated the quality of lechon eateries. Who would have thought that a restaurant built around lechon would work out? I would also give Zubuchon some credit for showing the entrepreneurs that it can be done.
Best Budget Restaurant: Cebu's Original Lechon Belly and CNT
I love eating at Cebu's Original Lechon Belly in Parkmall. It's air-conditioned and it has some interesting dishes that complements their lechon like their creamy beef soup. Another plus is that they are open 24 hours a day. When I am in Guadalupe and SM area, CNT is also a good choice for a no-frills lechon meal. It has the excellent CNT lechon plus some carenderia type dishes. You have to time your arrival well at CNT because sometimes they run out of lechon.
Best Meal Deal: Tatang's Eat All You Can
Love lechon so much? Tatang's has a great Eat All You Can deal in their branch in Wilson Street, Lahug I think every Mondays.
Best Bargain: Carcar Lechon
People in Carcar are lucky because the delicious lechon is very affordable in that city in the Southern part of Cebu. I usually eat it in one of the carinderias inside the Carcar Public Market. I prefer to eat Carcar lechon immediately than taking it home.
Where I Buy on a Sunday: Lechon Stall near the Capitol
Ask a Cebuano and they probably have a different favorite lechon stall. I grew up in Guadalupe and we usually get our lechon by the kilo here. The stall can be crowded as early as 10 in the morning and even earlier sometimes.
Where to buy on your way to Mactan: AC Cortez
If you happen to forget to buy lechon while on your way to beaches of Mactan, better pass by A.C. Cortez (the one going to the old bridge) and you will see a lot of lechon places that tempts you to bring some to your outing.
Where to buy before flying out: Rico's at Mactan Promenade, Zubuchon, and Ayers
There are now several lechon stations that are near the airport. They are like reminding all visitors of Cebu to bring some home. If I were to choose, I would pick the one with the fresher lechon because I would be able to pick my favorite parts plus the skin won't degrade as fast.
Best Buffets with Lechon: St. Mark's Hotel
If you love buffets, well St. Mark's Hotel has a buffet featuring Rico's Lechon at less than 500 pesos per person. That is basically less than the price of 1 kilo of lechon in retail. If you have such an appetite for this pork dish, you know where to go.
Kalami Cebu's Final Note:
It's a fact that there are very many good lechon places in Cebu. I actually admire the passion of Cebuanos in bashing or defending his or her favorite lechon brand. I felt, though, that there was some sort of overreaction about the Cebu Favorite tag. To be honest, there is no clear favorite. Some people might do surveys and declare a brand as the best but in reality, we have a robust local lechon industry meaning a lot of entrepreneurs are making money. That is actually good.
If a particular brand is really that bad then it could have closed down years ago. When I asked the lunch people at a mall in Fuente yesterday, nobody actually knew about the #LechonWar or #LechonWars. It made me think that indeed, the social media firestorm could actually be much ado about nothing.
Eat lechon moderately and keep supporting local businesses. #eatlocal #supportlocal
Rico’s Lechon – Mactan Promenade
Unit 3 & 4 Mactan Promenade, Airport Road, Ibo, Lapu-Lapu City
Rico’s Lechon – Mabolo Branch
The Ridges Commercial Bldg. F. Cabahug Street, Panagdait, Cebu City
Rico’s Lechon – Axis Escario Branch
Unit E15 and E16 Axis Entertainment Avenue, Vibo Place N. Escario St. Cebu City, 6000
Rico’s Lechon – Corporate Office
One Paseo, Maria Luisa Road, Banilad, Mandaue City
(032) 344-0119 | (032) 239-2830
Rico’s Lechon – Commissary
Highway 77, Talamban Cebu City, 6000 Cebu City, Philippines
(032) 344-0119 | (032) 239-2830
Zubuchon:SM CITY CEBU
Unit 005-006, Lower Ground Floor SM North Reclamation Area, Cebu City
10:00 a.m. -9:00 p.m.