I checked out homegrown diner Halina Restaurant at noon today at its location at the Arenas Building along Pendatun Avenue across the GenSan Oval Plaza. I needed to find out if it was still serving its bestsellers which made it famous during its heydays in the 80s.
The main dining area was still as spacious as I remembered it, more so by the fact that only one table was occupied by a couple enjoying their lunch. There was nobody else around aside from them and I had to call out for the waiter who was then busy having his lunch in one dimly-lit passage beside the counter. Found out that this waiter was also the cashier.
I immediately ordered what I came for and took my seat near the entrance with its good vantage of the street. While waiting for my food, the big clunky TV hanging on the ceiling showing an old Regal movie starring Babalu and Redford White tried to entertain me.
Halina Restaurant looks like it needs a major make-over. The walls and the ceiling cry out for a repaint and the decor or what looked like figurines seemed headed for antique shops. The package airconditioning unit near the door has a big sign which says, “OUT OF ORDER” and I had to plug in the only stand fan I found inside near my table to cool me.
I remember that Halina Restaurant used to be the choice venue for weddings, parties, conferences and seminars because of its location at the heart of the city and its attractively priced food packages. It was also a favorite hangout of students and young professionals since they served the one of the best chicken barbecues in GenSan and other short orders at very popular prices.
My personal favorite though was their papait and its melt-in-your-mouth slices of goat’s meat and innards minus the “goat” taste and smell. It was so delicious that I always order it for snacks since lunch or dinner was reserved for their Mongolian Chicken Barbecue.
While reminiscing Halina’s glory days, the waiter cum cashier arrived and served my Mongolian Barbecue with Java Rice! God! It smelled sooo inviting and looked so appetizing! I had to take its photo first before helping myself to it with my bare hands.
Upon taking my first bite out of the chicken leg, memories of pleasant afternoons shared at Halina with my old friends came rushing back! The taste was the same as I had imagined and remembered it. No fancy flavors, no overpowering spices …. it is still Halina’s old, home-grilled style delicious juicy and tender chicken!
The yellow java rice, although oily now for me for comfort is still the Mongolian Chicken Barbecue‘s perfect foil!
Next came the Papait which still came served piping hot in a small bowl just like the old times.
I nearly burned my tongue at my first sip of the Papait’s soup. I felt it needed more ooomph but then again, I remembered that it was actually Halina Restaurant’s original version of this goat dish – not too strong and minus the pungent smell. The big vertical slices of meat were still as tender as only Halina could serve them and tasted as heavenly as before.
In less than 15 minutes, I devoured everything, with my mind set at returning once more before the week is over!
By the time that I was paying for my bill, four more tables have been occupied by other diners, all of them ordering Halina’s still famous-as-ever Mongolian Chicken Barbecue, a testament to a lesson that I have learned today to “never ever judge a restaurant by its looks alone but by the food that it whips out“.
Halina Restaurant’s Mongolian Chicken Barbecue is priced at P90 while its Papait will cost you only P40. It still has not jumped into the “unlimited rice” bandwagon of GenSan’s ubiquitous chicken restaurants.