Where to eat in La Union

Published March 6, 2021, 8:39 AM

by Sandy Daza

Surfing on the food wave of Elyu

Our Foodprints show on Region I just took off. After being locked down for close to a year, I was so excited to start work again. Our mission in the show is to do our part in jump-starting local tourism, showing the hungry and excited traveler where to find good food.

This is over a week of looking for the best finds of the region. Our target provinces this time are La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte.

I have been to both Ilocos Sur and Norte on a food quest and, to me, when you talk about pure Pinoy food, nothing beats these provinces. The ingredients of the dishes here are all local and unique. The popular dishes here are what I’d call local cuisine without any foreign influence.

In the two provinces, I almost know where to find the hidden food gems. We would always skip La Union for when it came to food, I never heard a buzz about this province. Today, I discover how wrong I’ve been.

Our first stop was San Juan, La Union. Like all over the world, this place too was hard hit by our common COVID-19 enemy. But I am happy to report I see a slight increase in visitors from out of town. With hope, with the vaccine in sight, normalcy will be restored soon.

Food in San Juan is different. It reminds me so much of Hawaii, where people walk around in shorts and slippers. Here, because of the mix of the crowd both local and foreign, food is also a blend of various cuisines both local and foreign. It all started with surfing. Locals as well as foreigners started coming here to enjoy the waves. They tell me we have some of the nicest surfing sights in the world. Soon after, many surfers from all over took residence here.

Batchoy from Flotsam and Jetsam

I was just in a place called Flotsam and Jetsam, fascinated by their setup. They are right beside the beach and they have mats and tables where you can drink, dine, and just lounge around. I didn’t expect to find a great-tasting Ilonggo batchoy here. That’s what I like about the place. You find the unexpected. They also make a mean pizza. The few establishments I’ve visited so far make good pizzas.

The discovery of this trip for me is a tiny Japanese restaurant called Chu’s Diner. Located in the Great Northwest Food Park, it has a sushi bar and it also offers other Japanese cooked dishes. The owner is a Japanese named Chu, now a resident of San Juan. He came here also because of his love for surfing. At one point in his life, he was a professional surfer who reached the top in surfing competitions in Japan. I was so impressed with photos in action but more with his humble disposition.

But it doesn’t stop there. He has an authentic and delicious Japanese restaurant here. As the restaurant is located beside the sea, he says the superior seafood he can find is ideal in offering many Japanese dishes. The yellowfin tuna here, according to him, is comparable to the ones we’ve tried in Japan. I concur for I tried his sashimi platter with seafood staples like mackerel or tanguingi, fresh or seared, and salmon. With a little dab of soy and wasabi, winner! His healthy poke bowl, Chu says, has Hawaiian influence. It is also very good! He makes mean tsukomen ramen. The broth was up to par with the ones I’ve tried in Japan. The noodles, though, were a bit overdone. Delicious nonetheless. I also loved his tonkatsu curry. This has the kick in the spice and the slight sweetness of the pineapple in the curry sauce. His sukiyaki rice is also a must-try. We finally ended with a sushi platter. Also outstanding.

In Ilocos, I almost know where to find the hidden food gems. We would always skip La Union for when it came to food, I never heard a buzz about this province. Today, I discover how wrong I’ve been.

Chu seems like a perfectionist and you can see it in his food. He has been making raves (not waves) about his place, and expanding the place to triple the size it is today. He is building a yakitori place. That spells success I must say. I wouldn’t mind traveling this far for his food. So good and unexpected.

We ended our evening at Kermit La Union where they make fantastic drinks and cocktails. They too make a mean pizza. What a wonderful way to end the night! The morning after, I had the healthiest, most delicious breakfast at San Juan Surf Resort’s restaurant Seabuds. It was all plant-based main dishes served with garlic brown rice, tofu-based scrambled eggs, chopped tomatoes, and cucumber. What bound all of it together was the super sarap sukang Iloko! I was so, so impressed at how delicious and close to the original it tasted. To top it, each one was healthy and guilt-free. You have to try this.

Pizza from Kermit

So far, my food trip in La Union, because of all these discoveries, has been a success. Thanks to our foodie guide Mansky Nacimento, exploring La Union’s dining scene has been nothing less than exciting. We’re having fun and so will you when you come see for yourself what La Union has to offer.

Happy eating!