Why Italians and tourists alike give Mabuhay Restaurant good reviews according to owner Chef Dario Guevarra
Filipino-owned Mabuhay Restaurant ranks first among the 6,750 restaurants in Milan, Italy on the list of travel guide online platform Tripadvisor, as of writing. The Pinoy restaurant garnered five-star ratings in all categories namely Food, Service, and Value; and has more than 300 reviews, all of which are praises and commendations.
For its owner Chef Dario Guevarra, who established the restaurant in July 2019, being on top just means that Filipino cuisine is world-class and can win the hearts of any race. But what are Mabuhay’s secrets on being number one in Tripadvisor after being in the business for only two years?
Knowing the customers’ food preference
Chef Dario told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle that guesting on a local TV reality show “Family Food Fight,” where he taught the contestants how to cook the Filipino all-time favorite adobo gave the restaurant good exposure. Also, his edge over other restaurateurs was his experience—having cooked for Italian restaurants for 12 years allowed him to understand the flavors Italians look for in food. He would adjust the taste of the Filipino dishes according to the local’s palate so that they would learn to love and crave for them.
“For instance, in pork and chicken adobo, I lessened the saltiness and garlic flavor because Italians don’t like salty food and too much garlic,” explains Chef Dario, adding, “And since Italians preferred healthy food, we also grill our food instead of frying.”
But, unlike what Pinoy did with Italian spaghetti sauce, turning it into sweet flavor by adding sugar, Chef Dario tries to retain the same ingredients of Pinoy delicacies to keep its authenticity. More than that, he also incorporates our traditional way of preparing some of our well-known dishes. “We serve our adobo wrapped in banana leaf, which we torch in front of the customers as we explain about the food and our way of preparing it,” narrates Chef Dario.
Other favorites are the tapsilog, bicol express, binagoongan, bagnet, tokwa’t baboy, ginataang hipon, siomai, pansit, lumpiang gulay, among others, all served fresh and hot. Also, in that way, if there are Filipino customers, they could easily revert the seasoning of the orders according to the preference of our taste buds.
Another bestseller to end a full meal at Mabuhay is their ube float, a concoction by Chef Dario’s wife Catherine Guevarra, who is also hands-on with the restaurant.
For customers looking for non-Filipino dishes, Mabuhay also has several Japanese offerings on the menu. Chef Dario is confident with his Japanese fare, vouching on his five year experience working in a Japanese restaurant.
The 42-year-old chef discloses that he included Japanese cuisine because it’s more popular in Italy and he was honest that he feared Filipino dishes might not be patronized. But to his surprise, both their Italian and tourist regulars frequently choose from their Filipino menu.
Staying true to Filipino’s hospitality
Apart from the food, diners on their reviews commend the ventilation and cleanliness of the place, which makes them at home and comfortable while dining.
More than that, another factor that gave Mabuhay a consistent five ratings on Tripadvisor is the excellent service of the staff, all of whom are Filipino. Known for our hospitality and proficiency to communicate in other languages, most diners find the staff friendly and accommodating.
Chef Dario said that they hired Filipinos because he wants to help fellow kababayans. Not to mention, his assistance extends beyond his crew. “I give tips to other Pinoys who are just starting their restaurant business here,” he says.
“Then, I also encourage other establishments owned by Filipinos to place their flyers in Mabuhay so that we can promote them,” Chef Dario continues. “I really wanted to change the image of Filipinos here, that, we are not just domestic workers but entrepreneurs too.”
Aware that it is not easy to manage a business in a foreign land, Chef Dario believes in the good traits of Filipinos such as being persevering, resourceful, and resilient. He has held on to these values, which helped him survive the pandemic. “During the lockdown here, I made sure to provide salaries for my staff. We almost closed the restaurant, but thank God, getting to the top spot of Tripadvisor helped us a lot,” he intimates.
Chef Dario was also thankful for the provision of alfresco dining, which allows Mabuhay to accommodate at least 100 guests compared to the 50 percent restriction of their dine-in sitting capacity, equivalent to only 20 people.
When the pandemic eases up, the couple, who are natives of Bay, Laguna, plans to branch out Mabuhay not only in Italy but also in Palawan, particularly near Tabon cave. They will be partnering with an Italian chef and will be including Italian cuisine in their existing Fil-Jap menu. “We are so excited to bring Mabuhay Restaurant to our country and let our kababayans also have the taste of satisfaction Italians and other foreigners are enjoying from us,” he ends.