Station 3. Boracay. On the narrow Calle Remedios Street, we walk into what looks like a façade of an Asian spa or a Balinese home. But, actually, Subo is neither of them. It’s a Filipino restaurant that highlights family dining and local cuisine. And, if you think it’s so named because “subo” means to feed and it makes sense for a restaurant, wait until you hear the story from its owner, the creative traveler and entrepreneur Boyet Sacdalan.
The restaurant is tucked in a neighborhood of establishments, shops, and stalls a short walk from D’ Mall. The high-ceiling structure stands out with its elaborate design that plays with wood, stained glass, capiz, and local materials. Wooden tables and chairs and a garden of herbs adorn the front yard. By the door hangs a fancy, old lamp that sets the mood for a cultural presentation every night.
The staff dressed in a traditional Filipino attire greeted us at the entrance and signaled us to take off our shoes. I did with excitement, trying to recall the last time I stepped on a shiny wooden floor well-polished with a coconut husk.
The restaurant has charming interiors. By the window grills, there were bottles of different shapes and colors. On the walls were large paintings reminiscent of the works of national artists. On the shelves were interesting pieces of collections including lamps, sculptures, jars, and plates. And before we finally found a seat, we’ve already scrutinized everything. Art was all over the place.
The whole ensemble was art.
Be Brave. Reinvent.
I sat across Boyet, a humble, low-profile businessman who’s been described by many as a passionate storyteller, antiques collector, and innovator. Boyet has lived in the island since the early 1990s, and since then tried to find his space in the competitive business environment of Boracay.
It was 2000 when he got a big break after he was offered a small space at D’ Mall. He put up a shop that showcased home accessories and furniture. He sourced them from different places in Luzon—Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Baguio, Vigan. Trip after trip, shop after shop, he relied on his meticulous eyes and impeccable taste for art to bring home only the best items for his display room. There were lamps, plates, decors, windows, throw pillows, furniture, and more. But while the business soared and customers continue to buy his entire showcase, Boyet got burned out after some years in the routine. “I can’t do this forever,” he told himself.
Boyet saw the need to reinvent himself. The market seems to want something else. He, too, wanted a new challenge. That gave way to the growing Happy Planet clothing chain, which was earlier known as Lonely Planet. And then, fast forward, he got into the restaurant business, one restaurant after another—a decision he calls leap of faith. “Just start even if you don’t know. It’s not the skill that will determine your success. It’s the courage,” shares Boyet about his experience.
The space where Subo stands now was initially planned for a house. But paying rent while watching a house slowly take form and shape was lost opportunity, Boyet thought. He realized he need to do something else with it, but what it was, he was clueless. Then came into the picture a seasoned chef, Sunny De Ocampo, who frequently visited Boracay before moving abroad. Infusing ideas to the adventurous businessman, he and Boyet decided to collaborate in a restaurant business. As Boyet describes it, “Sunny was as easy as Are you ready? Let’s do it!”
So, they did start a restaurant. Boyet, new in the restaurant business and unsure of his new venture, bravely took the challenge of bringing something novel to Boracay. Among the few things he was sure of was the concept. He wanted Asian dining. And then the people he was working with. The rest of the details—his restaurant’s name, for instance—he still had to think about. Until it dawned on him during one of his trips that he got himself into something tough, unfamiliar, and challenging. And there came the name subo, which means he got into something. “Napasubo yata ako,” he said.
Now, Subo is one of the top restaurants in Boracay, thriving in the stiff competition between local, traditional dining versus ubiquitous, commercial brands. It offers not only good food, but a complete dining experience. The sense of family, having abundant food, and the joy of sharing it—that’s uniquely Subo.
What to Order at Subo Boracay
Subo has a good menu of regional cuisine, all with large servings, sophisticated presentation, and flavorful taste. Some of the must-try in their menu are the chicken paro-paro and buko puso salad.
SAMPALOK PORK RIBS—Just the right spicy, sweet, and salty pork ribs marinated in sampalok (tamarind) and sprinkled with peanuts.
CHICKEN PARO PARO—The iconic chicken inasal in achuete oil, turmeric, and lemongrass comes with papaya atchara relish and crushed peanuts.
BUKO PUSO SALAD–Fresh buko, banana heart, green beans, sliced tomatoes, fresh onions, garlic, chilli, and fragrant herbs with beef strips and calamansi dressing. The rich flavor and texture of the ingredients make this salad a must-order when dining at Subo.
PERLAS NG SILANGAN—Poached fish ball in Bicol’s laing and coconut milk elegantly presented in sea shells.