So Valentine’s Day (or VD, as I call it in my 14th of February greetings to my friends) was ignored in this corner of the internet. That’s because I’m a firm believer that romantic love doesn’t really need a designated day to be celebrated—especially not one that puts a lot of weight on performative and commercialized displays of love. If you want to send someone flowers or chocolates or sweet notes, do it when you feel like it, whether it’s February 14 or not (but better when it’s not, when prices of flowers aren’t jacked up). Or you know, just try to be consistently thoughtful with your words and actions when it comes to your loved one the whole year round.

Dinner dates, for example, don’t always have to be fancy every single time. While a French menu would undoubtedly be impressive, “impressive” isn’t a sustainable value when it comes to relationships. It’s great for making first impressions and special occasions, but that sense of comfort and warm familiarity is what makes a connection feel like home.

And what feels more like home than the food you’ve grown up eating? Comfort food isn’t just for rainy days or during times when someone needs a little pick-me-up. It also hits the spot when you just want to reaffirm the stability and security in your relationship. Filipino food is familiar, delicious, satisfying—and when presented with a little twist, pretty exciting.

Juicy suckling pig served with crispy skin at Rico’s Lechon

Lechon is a dish that is always meant to be shared—and that includes between romantic couples. Rico’s Lechon recently opened its fifth Metro Manila branch at the SM Mall of Asia Complex, bringing more of Cebu’s best spicy suckling pig to the metro within a tropical-themed setting that lends itself conducive to Pinoy salu-salos, especially with its 200-seating capacity. Now, a dining crowd that big may sound a little unromantic, but this branch comes with an al fresco setting and a view of the Manila Bay sunset. Now that’s pretty romantic, right?

Inside Rico’s Lechon at SM Mall of Asia

Aside from both regular and spicy (and crispy-skinned) lechon, the menu at Rico’s Lechon is a rundown of Filipino classics: sinigang boneless bangus, sizzling chicken steak, tortang talong with lechon, fried chicken coated with homestyle sauce, lechon fingers with sweet and sour sauce. Lovers can enjoy a really hearty meal here, with zero pretentiousness needed to make the experience more enjoyable. They can then cap off their evening with any of the restaurant’s new shake flavors that are as rich as their popular dishes: mocha, cookies and cream, fruity strawberry, bloody watermelon, and sago at gulaman.

Bench Cafe’s manifesto for its diners

Casual but sophisticated, simple but substantial, local but global—this is the kind of dining experience that Bench Café promises. With its second branch now open in Greenbelt 3, Bench’s dining concept restaurant, created in partnership with FOODEE Global Concepts, brings its brand of Filipino cuisine to a wider audience. Familiar flavors are made tastier and presented creatively to pique the more globally curious diner. Sisig served in lettuce cups and garnished/flavored with calamansi foam, crispy lumpia presented in a cone and accompanied with tinapa mousse and salsa—their dishes are as impressively plated as any other contemporary dining joint’s, meant to catch the fancy of the Instagram foodies.

Bench Cafe’s Tortang Talong

With the hip and celebrity-driven vibe of Bench, Bench Café naturally captures the same young and experience-hungry market. If you and your S.O. are up for a little impromptu adventure, then a dinner date here would be a good bet. Order some dishes, ‘gram them before taking a bite, and marvel at how your favorite flavors can be visually presented with imagination. Don’t forget to share a cup of the ube halo-halo before calling it a night.

The crowd favorite Ube Halo-halo

The newest Rico’s Lechon branch is located at the SM Mall of Asia Complex, Level 1, South Wing, Seaside Avenue, Pasay City. The second Bench Café is located at the second floor of Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center in Makati.