Kapampangans’ love for food is so much evident in the many creative dishes that have found national approval and acceptance. This has paved the way for the establishment of commercial eating places and restaurants all over the province and even in the city of Manila, founded by enterprising Kapampangans who have parlayed their love for cooking into profitable businesses, long before fastfoods became the standard of a typical Filipino dining out experience.
Pre-war restaurants ran by Kapampangans include the famous Carbungco Restaurant. It was put up by Ambrosio Carbungco of Floridablanca, a former chef of Casino Español. It had a branch in Manila as well as in Antipolo, where the restaurant became a favorite stop of local tourists. Carbungco Restaurant also took city and provincial orders for banquets, picnics and weddings, offering prompt and efficient service every time.
Opposite Cine Palace along Ronquillo St. in Manila, one could drop by for a quick chow at Panciteria Ramon Lee. Lee, who hails from Sta. Ana put up his noodle restaurant which he touted as “the place where all friends meet friends”. The Panciteria was well known for its best-tasting, economically-priced Chinese dishes, whipped up under the supervision of an expert Cantonese cook and most economical prices. Lee also handled the catering of banquets and lauriat parties, served either outside or within city limits.
At nearby Sta. Cruz, at 1726 Azcarraga St. (Recto) was another favorite haunt of foodies ran by a Kapampangan proprietor, Gregoria Villanueva of Sasmuan. Star Restaurant, so named because it was just across Cine Star, took pride of its all-Filipino origins, in the face of American-ran diners like Dixie’s and Plaza Lunch. Its advertisement proclaimed: “Bandi yang Filipino, pamañgan bale, Malinis, Maniaman at Mura. Subucan ye”.
San Fernando, being the province’s capital town, was the hub of the best eating places where whole families can go out and have their fill of their favorite dishes and snacks. There were excellent roadside restaurants that one could visit, like the Panaderia y Panciteria of Andrea David de Nuqui strategically located near the railroad station. Nuqui’s unique carinderia also housed a sari-sari store as well as a beauty parlor, which promised “courteous service, excellent cuisine at moderate charges”. In 1933, Nuqui bagged its biggest commission yet, by becoming the official caterer of the 1st Pampanga Carnival Fair and Exposition. Also around the town were smaller popular haunts like the Carinderia, Cafeteria y Panciteria of Emerenciana Dizon, located at Felix del Pulgar St. and Magnolia Rendezvous.
The war slowed down the country’s restaurant businesses, but in the years of rebuilding, many more restaurants started sprouting again all over Pampanga. Still existing today is Everybody’s Café, which started as a 2-table affair put up by couple Benito and Carmen Santos on Consunji. The cafeteria was a hit among Americans as well as the locals, and in 1965, it opened a more spacious branch at Del Pilar. It now also has a branch in Angeles City, serving the same sumptuous dishes like paku salad, betute, buru, kare-kare, bulalo and sisig it has become famous for.
In Angeles, the only pre-war bar that was still in existence in the 1950s was the Star Bar along Henson St., which featured orchestra music. But like Esquire Club (put up by Paz Pamintuan and husband Frank Von Heiland), Star Bar catered more to adults and American servicemen from Clark. Family-oriented restaurants included Dely’s Kiosk, Selecta Café (both on Rizal St.), San Miguel Canteen (beside Pat Theater), Esting's Cafe (at the side of Marte Theater), Angeles Jaycee Canteen (on Plaridel St.) and Hi-Way Kiosk, the last two, both managed by Mrs. Gloria Tinio. Another popular spot was Spic ‘n Span, “The Symbol of Satisfaction”, famous for its excellent food at reasonable prices. Spic ‘n Span, located in Balibago, accepted professional catering of banquets, club meetings and private dinners.
Today, Kapampangan eateries are finding stiff competition from quick-service restaurants and international fast food chains. But it is heartening to know that once hole-in-the-wall Kapampangan establishments like Razon’s, Kabigting’s and Nathaniel’s---are doing well despite the coming of these giant burger-and-fries joints. Bright lights, fun giveaways, adorable mascots may give these stores initial appeal, but in the end, there’s nothing like familiar, home-cooked meals prepared and served the Kapampangan way to comfort a hungry tummy. That certainly is the best part of eating out!