When visiting the northeastern towns of Laguna province or the coastal town of Real in Quezon, we almost always take the so-called backdoor route along the foothills of the Sierra Madre, rather than the busier southern route through the South Luzon Expressway. Not only is it shorter from our place in Taguig, it’s also more scenic. In recent years, too, we’ve seen several restaurants and cafes mushroom along the route as more and more travelers take this option.
There are two major backdoor routes actually. The first one is the newer Marilaque Highway (for MAnila-RIzal-LAguna-QUEzon) that passes through the Sierra Madre foothills at Antipolo and Tanay before going all the way to Infanta, Quezon. The second is the Manila East Road that passes though the towns of Angono, Binangonan, Morong, Baras, Tanay and Pililia on the northern shores of Laguna de Bay on the way to the northeastern section of Laguna province.
The Marilaque Corridor
This route has been a favorite of ours for its scenic views of the Sierra Madre foothills at Baras and Tanay. (Tanay itself is an eco-tourism magnet that includes destinations such as Mount Daraitan, the Tinipak River, Masungi Georeserve, Sangab Caves, Daranak and Batlag Falls and many more.)
There are various resorts and food pit stops along this route – including hole-in-the-wall types that offer good food and cater mostly to bikers. There’s the Camp Cafe Resto Bar at the Ten Cents to Heaven Leisure Camp, the Sierra Madre Hotel & Resort, Cafe Katerina and Jariel’s Peak (in Infanta). Most of the time, though, we end up at our favorite: Paseo Rizal Mayagay in Tanay, a cozy dining place just before the Pranjetto Hills Resort.
The restaurant itself is spacious. From its wide windows one can have a nice view of the pine trees and rolling hills along the route. The place is a nice alternative to the restaurants of now- congested Tagaytay. During one February foray we regretted not being able to bring jackets; the temperatures can really drop during the months of December to February in these parts.
Paseo Rizal serves affordable and delicious Pinoy meals including sisig, adobo, crispy pata and bulalo (or beef shank/marrow stew which seems to be popular in these parts). Most times we stay around long after lunch to sample their coffee along with crispy turon and suman – all in latik sauce.
Interested in art? Wooden sculptures all over the place and displays of paintings by local artists adorn the second floor where the main restaurant is located as well as at a small arts museum on the ground floor. Besides the main building housing the resto, Paseo Rizal has several gazebos scattered around the landscaped grounds. Some of the gazebos double as view decks, affording nice views of the rolling hills and verdant landscape of the Sierra Madre. We could stay here all day and relax with a good book.
The Manila East Road Pit Stops
While relatively few dining places line the Marilaque Highway, the exact opposite is true for the Manila East Road with town centers located almost along the highway. We won’t get into an exhaustive list of the cafes and restaurants here. Rather we’ll limit ourselves to a few dining places that has caught our attention.
After a pre-Holy Week visit to Tanay and its Parola or lighthouse located at a fish port with excellent views of Laguna de Bay, we were starving. A quick check with Google revealed the Kainan sa Tabing Lawa just walking distance away from the Parola. If a restaurant’s food is as good as its looks, we would have gone somewhere else. Kainan sa Tabing Lawa is a rustic-looking, native-style cottage with very ordinary tables and chairs/benches. No air conditioning to boot. But our intuition and growling stomachs told us to stay here. And fortunately so.
The place was already packed when we came in but the very attentive staff pulled out extra chairs and a table and ushered us towards a newly built extension of the resto overlooking the lake. The huge crowd was an indication, if any, of how good the food here is. Kainan is a lakeside resto so we decided to try their pla-pla (large tilapias) and crispy shrimps. We threw in an eggplant salad in bagoong (shrimp paste) along with pinakbet (vegetables stewed in shrimp paste). Simple, no-frills Pinoy dishes but definitely delectable. The fresh ingredients no doubt helped make our Kainan experience truly memorable.
After our Kainan feast it was time for some coffee and dessert. An air-conditioned place would also help. Leo remembers a travel blogger who has been biking in these parts mention a café in the next town: The Daily Beans Coffee Lounge and Restaurant at Km. 56, Manila East Road in Bgy. Hulo, Pililia.
Turns out that The Daily Beans is a restaurant with a coffee lounge (as their name indicates anyway). The resto on the second floor serves Filipino food including all-day breakfast plus French and Italian dishes. But we were looking for coffee and dessert; the coffee lounge is located on the first floor and offered a cool, relaxing stop for what had been a hot and humid day.
Daily Beans has a choice of coffee beans from different Central American countries and also offers various fruit smoothies. Their coffee is surprisingly good. We got two different slices of cheesecakes to go with our coffee. The coffee lounge also offers other snacks including pasta and sandwiches. Coffee notwithstanding, we almost fell asleep here while enjoying our stay.
Special Mention: Kafe Paradiso Mabitac – situated inside Kota Paradiso Farm Estates in Mabitac, Laguna just after Pililia town heading east. Kafe Paradiso is an open air restaurant serving Filipino and Western dishes. We only got to snack here once but the place is another cozy pit stop with plenty of food choices.