What do you get when you mix nature, a vibrant university culture, and idyllic province life? Los Baños, a first class municipality in the province of Laguna, is all these things brought together – and so much more. Sitting two hours away from Manila, this small town offers a contrasting set of charms that is sure to capture anyone looking for a quick escape. It is where you can find the border of the infamous Mt. Makiling and is also the home of the University of the Los Banos, the biggest university in the whole country with its whopping 15,000 hectares.
Despite retaining its provincial charm, the rich population of students in the municipality has shaped to have a distinct campus life, one which is clearly reflected on its list of visit-worthy food spots. Los Banos is dotted with notable culinary hotspots which range from the classic ihaw hits to organic menus. Thinking of visiting soon? Here are the top seven places you should include in your food trip list:
1. Herb Republic
Address: Km63 Lopez Avenue, 4030 Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Even back during the days when the majority of Los Baños restaurants cater to budget-conscious students, Herb Republic has been a standout with its seed to table concept. This unassuming restaurant tucked in the main lane leading to the university served as the go-to place for those looking for healthier options with its range of organic offerings. Inside, the restaurant looks like a welcoming home with its vibrant paintings and rattan furnishings, with only a few scattered chairs set up to accommodate guests. The food, however, is as noteworthy as its interiors. You can choose from fresh garden salads and traditional bites that use only the freshest of ingredients. Orders can take a little while to get to the table because they make sure they are freshly prepared, but the waiting time is definitely worth it once you sink your teeth on them. We recommend the fresh garden salad which is a fusion of well-tossed greens with crispy flatbread on the side and the restaurant’s best-selling roast herbed chicken plate.
2. Spice Jar
Address: 9390 Lopez Avenue, Batong Malake, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
If there’s one restaurant that can perfectly show the evolution of Los Baños as a culinary destination, it would be Spice Jar, a Tex-Mex resto that has been serving affordable grub for both students and academic professionals in town. The place started as a hole-in-the-wall that offers mean plates of tacos and burritos but has recently renovated to take on a more modern-looking, IG-worthy look. Despite the change, however, Spice Jar remains true to the quality of food it offers. It has budget meals for students that already come with a main viand, rice, salad, and a glass of drink, and bigger plates for those who don’t mind paying a little bit more. You can order the Bacon Jack Grilled Chicken with Silantro Rice and Salad if you’re famished or the Seafood and Chicken Paella for that burst of good old Tex-Mex flavor. Don’t forget to try their smaller bites, too! Their Nacho Grande is outstanding.
3. Seoul Kitchen
Address: 9005 Pearl corner FO Santos st., Umali Subd., Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Los Baños can be easily considered as a melting pot of cuisines thanks to the rich population of the students living there, a considerable portion of which hail from foreign countries. Seoul Kitchen, though one of the newer players in the food scene of the university, is one place that has been enjoying popularity in town thanks to the mixing of culture (and, let’s admit it, the popularity of K-food). The restaurant is constantly packed with students and professionals alike, not only because of its clean aesthetic but its wonderful, wallet-friendly offerings as well. On the top of our list is the Cheese Lappoki, a spicy dish with ramyun, rice cakes, and a slice of gooey melted cheese. It’s rice meals are probably as good as what you can grab in Seoul, too (try their bibimbap) and their desserts, the same. Their strawberry cake is equal parts delicious and pretty.
4. Nicdao Grill and Resto Bar
Address: F. O. Santos, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Now here’s a place that stays true to what Los Baños is originally all about. Way before trendy restaurants began sprouting in the vicinity of the campus, the majority of the student body has always relied on budget-friendly meals to get by daily. It isn’t surprising for people there to grab a silog or siomai meal below 50 bucks – it is quite literally part of being a UPLB student to know where to find filling meals that won’t break the bank. Nicdao Grill and Resto Bar is one such place that still captures the core of the earlier batches of students who went to the university with its affordable grilled dishes and street food grub. The place is popular in the area for offering some of the best sticks of isaw and barbecue, but the restaurant – which is also the perfect place for a night of inuman – also offers food plates now for those looking for a more filling meal. Check out their boodle fight offerings to get a literal taste of Los Baños’ campus vibe.
5. Ginhawa Craft Studio and Cafe
Address: 124 Maahas Road, Celso's Event Place. near IRRI gate, Los Banos, Laguna Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Combining art and good food is Ginhawa Craft Studio Cafe, a creative space found inside the UPLB campus that offers art workshops for kids and adults. The cafe, which is owned by UPLB alumni Yvette Co, is the renovated water plant building that has been a long-time fixture in Los Baños. Here, budding and aspiring artists are given the chance to explore their creative side through art projects and possible creative collaborations with Yvette. What makes this cafe a standout, however, is the good coffee and Fil-Chinese cuisine it offers. For an art studio, Ginhawa Craft Studio has a pretty packed menu – you can choose from pastas, burgers, and well-crafted drinks during your visit. Our favorite is their dumplings. We recommend you to try their Homemade Hakao Shrimp Dumpling and Five Spice Tofu Pasta. Pair them with a glass of Yellow Ginger Latte for that ultimate Asian cuisine experience.
6. Siento Cafe
Address: 10665 Demarces Subd, College, 4030 Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
As a place where it is normal for students to spend all-nighters poring over their studies, Los Baño has always been pretty rich when it comes to coffee shop choices. It’s easy to spot a good old cafe in almost every corner of the town, but Siento Cafe is one that easily stands out with its unique offerings of handcrafted brews and cakes. Its name, which means “I feel” in Spanish and “a hundred” in Filipino, offers pretty limited seats, but what the cafe lacks in floor space, it makes up with its cute interiors and pretty affordable menu. The place is known for its really good desserts and brews that it’s often packed with groups of people. One of their best-sellers is the Ca Phe Sua Da, their version of Vietnamese coffee that will give you an extra kick of energy for when you’re running low on batteriy. They also offer a rotation of cakes from Hiraya Bakery – top on our list are the Tablea and Black Pepper cake slices.
7. Mer-Nel’s Cake
Address: Lopez Ave, Los Baños, Laguna (Cake station) Brgy. Maahas, Los Banos, Laguna, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines (Catering place)
This may not exactly be a restaurant, but you can’t leave Los Bañoswithout buying a box or two of this legendary cake. Though the town is well-known for its Original Buko Pie, Mer-Nel’s cakes is a close second when it comes to being one of the iconic foods that symbolize the municipality. In fact, you can even find a big statue of it propped on one of the landmarks on your way to town! They offer a variety of flavors, but their classic chocolate cake, with its signature bittersweet and butter flavor, remains their ultimate best-seller. It’s become so popular that it has become a staple for parties and other celebrations for those living in Los Baños—it’s even common to see students going home to their families for the weekend with a box or two. Thanks to its hype, Mer-Nel’s has already expanded into the catering business and has opened a few branches in other parts of Laguna.