In Barangay Bomber, Manila, between the University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University, lies Delos Reyes Street, an area where every BBQ-loving student can enjoy budget-friendly barbecue meals.
Visitors could find grill houses in each corner offering cheap, classic Filipino BBQ. They may grab a tray, choose from the available meat and seafood choices, pay and wait for their orders to get grilled and served.
Some grill houses in the area have become local favorites. Apart from being featured in vlogs and news articles, they mostly gain patrons through word of mouth.
Such was the case when UST student Hannah Alcantara and her friends ate along Delos Reyes St. for the first time.
“Lagi nilang binabanggit ito sa’kin, sabi ‘try mo si James and Che’s kasi masarap ang mga ihaw nila dito at very affordable,'” Alcantara said.
They ordered every grill house’s staple: Isaw, pork bbq, pork ears and hotdogs for a total of around P100 to P150.
One of Alcantara’s friends, Karoline Filart, said it reminded her of home. “It’s nostalgic for me. Kasi dati sa province, ito laging kinakain ko, kaya na-miss ko.”
Being close to the two universities means the restaurant becomes jam-packed with students like Von Alimorong, who has been a patron of the grill house since he was high school in FEU.
May it be after a long day in school or just to have fun, Alimorong shared that he has several memories of hanging out late along Delos Reyes St. with friends and batchmates. Some of whom have already graduated.
“Siyempre dito kami nagku-kuwentuhan ng mga kaibigan ko, kahit hanggang alas-12 ng gabi, madaling araw. May one time nga na madaling araw na bukas pa rin mga tindahan doon,” he said.
It’s an easy option for these students if they are craving for grilled dishes. The street offers al fresco dining so they can be loud, and if one of them doesn’t feel like eating barbecue, they can scour the area and come back with other take-out options.
But what Alimorong likes about the barbecue lane the most is what he calls the sense of being “Filipino” where there is companionship not just from friends, but also from the people around.
“Something unique sa Pilipinas ‘yung feeling na iyon. Kunwari ‘pag sa mga birthday party, tapos lalatag nila yung lechon sa lamesa. Lahat sabay sabay kumakain, di mo kailangan maging formal,” he explained.
Alimorong shared that he usually orders pork BBQ sticks with two cups of rice.
James and Che’s BBQ House was recently featured in the popular Korean Vlogger Jessica Lee’s video, What It Takes to Be a BBQ Vendor in the Philippines. What started as a way to earn an extra income became an eight-year journey for Jameson and Cherry Alonzo, the grill house’s namesake.
“Kasi before, talagang libangan lang namin, umaalis siya dati. Pag wala siya [Jameson], ako, wala akong ginagawa,” Cherry said.
“So nagpatayo kami ng ganito, para at least ‘pag nasa labas siya, may libangan ka na, may income ka pa.”
Cherry’s brother, Bong, manages the grill house and runs the shake stand right in front of the grill, jokingly calling himself the “and” of “James and Che.”
Bong shared that their family business celebrates every anniversary in March by giving away free chocolates and including a free soft drink for every order, which started back from their first anniversary.
“Dati, pati ultimo Valentine’s day, may handaan kami. Pa-donut, chocolates, lahat ng pwede naming ipang-giveaway, kasi parang pasasalamat na rin namin sa costumers namin,” James said.
“Kahit yung iba, pag nakita [yung handaan] dito pupunta, tapos kinabukasan, doon na ulit sila [sa iba]. Okay lang saamin, at least natikman nila.”
Both of James and Che emphasized that budgeting for such an event is no joke, as saving up for the next anniversary starts right after the last one ends. They needed to give as many as they could away, which meant buying them wholesale in warehouses.
“Sa chocolates, isang time nag grocery kami noon, sa SNR P19 [isang piraso], sa Landers P17, pero sa SM P10,” Cherry said.
The initiative is being held to give back to their customers, primarily students in the U-belt area. Cherry recalls the students who would come back even after they graduate.
“Meron nga since senior high school pa lang sila sa FEU, hanggang ngayon [kumakain dito]. Ang iba [sabi sakin] may wife na [sila] sa Makati, sa ganito, ganyan, pumunta pa rin [sa amin],” she said.
James and Che recently opened another grill on Dapitan Street, welcoming more customers who enjoy what the original branch in Delos Reyes St. offered.
Students and patrons, on the other hand, continue to be on the lookout for some good barbecue meals with good company.