It wasn’t my first time in Cabanatuan City but it was my first time to try one of the “must-try” restaurants in the city.
Located in one of the main streets of Cabanatuan City, Hapag Vicentico’s used to be an abandoned residence. The Spanish-era house was transformed bit by bit and piece by piece into a family restaurant. The restaurant was named after the patriarch, Engr. Jose Vicente “Tico“ Salazar, Jr.
“Ang Hapag-kainan ng bawat Novo Ecijano” is the restaurant’s tagline, offering a wide variety of authentic Filipino dishes and giving everyone a Filipino-style dining experience, the Novo Ecijano way.
The restaurant’s structure and details evidently have Filipino-Spanish-Oriental influences. The place has already been renovated, given that it was once abandoned, but they were able to preserve its antiquity.
Antique furnishings and some old collectable items give the restaurant a classical Filipino-Spanish era mood, perfect for what Hapag Vicentico’s has to offer.
There are two main dining halls upon entering the restaurant – this is where most of the walk-in guests are seated. Hapag Vicentico’s also has banquet halls, function halls, recreational areas, and other facilities. The indoor facilities are well-ventilated, and with cool temperature because of their air-conditioning system. Please click HERE to view their facilities.
We were guided and seated by one of their dining personnel to the dining hall on the left wing of the restaurant. Then, they gave us a paper menu-slash-placemat (very paper-consuming idea, not environment-friendly, they could have used reusable ones).
The food is just a bit pricey, but reasonable (and of course, good for sharing). My family ordered one of their famous and bestselling dishes, Krispy Kare-Kare. We also ordered Crispy Hito and Rellenong Alimasag, and of course Steamed Rice. I just can’t wait to see and try their dishes.
While waiting, they have served a pitcher of ice-cold water and they prepared the dining table with dining plates and utensils. My family also made a follow-up order for one of their best refreshments, Buko with Caramel, a coconut milkshake drink with caramel. The caramel makes you enjoy every sip of your coconut milkshake as it gives you a sweet-creamy taste with a bit rough and crunchy feel (maybe because of the sugar used). It is like “yema,” a Filipino type of custard made from egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk.
After few minutes of waiting, our food finally came in. Yehey!
Let’s start with Vicentico’s Rellenong Alimasag. There’s nothing too special about this dish, it is simply just crab shells stuffed with crab meat then deep-fried. It tastes good – just a typical taste of a crab meat. The serving comes in four (4) pieces. (in the image, there are only two pieces because the other two are already on our plates, haha!)
Next is the Crispy Hito. This is going to be my first time in my entire life to eat hito (catfish). Hito (catfish) is a known edible freshwater fish in Southeast Asia which can be found in swamps, ponds, streams, rivers and even in flooded rice paddies. It is best cooked by grilling, frying and even in Adobo. In Hapag Vicentico’s, Crispy Hito was deep-fried into golden brown perfection, with blanched sigarilyas (winged seguidillas beans) and native ampalaya (bitter gourd) on the side. Since it is my first time to eat hito, I am glad that Hapag Vicentico’s did not fail me. It has a very natural taste of a newly caught freshwater fish. It is really crispy to the point I enjoyed munching it, especially the fish-bones and fins, it is like chicharon (pork cracklings). This is now my favorite. 😍
And finally, the main star of the hapagkainan (dining table), Vicentico’s Krispy Kare-Kare is a Crispy Pata (deep-fried pork front or hind legs/trotters) served with Kare-kare sauce and veggies, the Novo Ecijanos way. And do not forget the bagoong alamang (shrimp paste) on the side (though I’m not really a fan of bagoong and I prefer to eat Kare-Kare as it is). In Nueva Ecija, their Kare-kare is a bit different from the typical kare-kare. They are using mashed or maybe puréed boiled and softened kalabasa (squash) as the main ingredient in making their Kare-kare sauce. I have not felt any touch of crushed peanuts or even peanut butter in the sauce (perfect for those who have allergies to peanuts – but when in doubt, always ask the server) and I am not sure if there is atsuete (annato) oil (probably a little bit). You can actually taste the sweetness of kalabasa (squash) and it gives thickness and a mushy texture to the sauce. Aside from the sauce, the veggies they use are also quite different from the usual kare-kare veggies – they have added boiled kalabasa (squash) and repolyo (cabbage), together with the usual puso ng saging (banana bud) and sitaw (string beans), only without the pechay (native Filipino cabbage). I think the Novo Ecijanos are really fond of using kalabasa in their dishes (just my two cents, haha!).
We actually ordered Krispy Kare-Kare for us to have the best of both worlds – Crispy Pata and Kare-Kare. Besides, the price difference between the two bestselling dishes of Hapag Vicentico’s is just P25. It is just that for an order of Crispy Pata alone, they will serve you the pork’s hind leg. In Krispy Kare-Kare, it comes with the pork’s front leg. Hapag Vicentico’s Crispy Pata was also deep-fried to golden-brown perfection. They have the pata deboned for you but they still served the meat and the bones together. The meat is juicy and tender, with a thin layer of fat with a crispy crunchy toasted pork’s skin. One thing I like about their Crispy Pata is it has less fat (maybe because we were served with a pork’s front leg) and it is not greasy or oily at all (making it less sinful, hahaha!) so you do not really need to worry too much about having a ‘putok-batok’ moment (haha! kidding… just eat in moderation). Since we ordered it as Krispy Kare-Kare, the Crispy Pata is best with their Kare-Kare sauce but you also have the option to eat it as it is with toyomansili (soy sauce, calamansi and siling labuyo) as your sawsawan (dip). Now I know why it is one of Hapag Vicentico’s famous and bestselling dishes.
Absolutely, Hapag Vicentico’s is a must-try restaurant in Cabanatuan City. The place is perfect for family dining, and even with your barkadas (group of friends).
I would also like to commend their dining team for being so nice and friendly, as well as the security personnel for helping us parking our car properly and for opening the car door for us (I felt special, haha! And I never expected that extra-mile service). Kudos! 👍
Hapag Vicentico’s main branch is located at 1077 Del Pilar Street, Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. If you are already in Cabanatuan City and you plan to commute, you can just ride a tricycle and tell the driver to drop you off in Freedom Park. The restaurant is just right across the Freedom Park. You can also take a short walk in the park after you dine just in case you want burn some calories you have consumed. Hapag Vicentico’s accepts reservations and they also cater events, functions and even corporate meetings. They also have branches in SM Megacenter – Cabanatuan (2nd level) and in SM City Cabanatuan (4th level). But, I highly recommend to visit and try their main branch first. For more details about Hapag Vicentico’s, you can visit their website or follow them on Facebook.