The Best of Pampanga
Once upon a time, in 1972 to be precise, Didi’s Pizza opened its doors for the first time. It was Pampanga’s very own pizza, a homegrown brand that was a favorite of my cousins and me during the long internet-free summers of our youth. It was our Shakey’s and Pizza Hut and Yellow Cab all rolled, or more accurately, tossed into one magnificently tasty pizza. I remember it was square shaped, not unlike another pizza of yore, Magoo’s in Magallanes. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we didn’t really care about Neapolitan-this or wood-fired that… all we wanted was a crispy crust and meaty toppings. Didi’s is still around in Balibago, I believe, just after the long bridge from downtown Angeles City, on the right side of MacArthur Highway going to Clark. It’s still worth visiting, especially for their pioneering Sisig Pizza.
In 2016, another homegrown pizza restaurant was established on the historic highway, but this time, further South, in the City of San Fernando. It’s Pep & Ronnie; and there’s nothing ordinary about it. In the daytime, it’s filled with government and corporate types, along with students from nearby schools. In the evenings, it becomes a pub, and late at night, it morphs into the hottest club in the city, complete with acoustic performances, hipster vinyl nights, and beats from the country’s most popular DJs. Pep & Ronnie’s is many things to many people at different times and different days of the week, but one thing is constant: the pizza. It’s damn good. And that’s to be expected, because Kel Zaguirre of Locavore, Poke Poke, and Fyre fame, is the pub’s Chef Consultant. He dreamt up all the pizzas and pastas, and he asked his childhood friend, Chef Joseph Nano, to migrate to Pampanga to guarantee quality and consistency.
The true test of success in Pampanga is this: when the notoriously finicky and picky eaters of the province embrace and patronize a restaurant and adopt it as part of their regular dining rotation. That’s pretty rare there, but like Didi’s 45 years ago, Pep & Ronnie’s has done just that. My hyper-critical cousins in San Fernando swear by “their” P&R. And I agree. The toppings are unique – salmon sashimi and arugula or itlog na maalat and tinapa are standouts – but it is the crust, still thin, still crispy, that seals the win. Pep & Ronnie’s can stand side by side with Crosta, and even Gino’s, as the best new pizzas of recent years. So what are you waiting for, Kel and Joseph? Manila deserves Pep & Ronnie’s too.
03 3 Blonde Chicken Parmigiana 03
5 Pep & Ronnie Facade
4 Sushi Pizza