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Korean star Lee Jae Wook enjoyed his kare kare here

Alchemy of Souls lead discovers Café Juanita, as we rediscover it

Lee Jae Wook

Alchemy of Souls official poster

Instagrammable maximalism of Café Juanita

The information came so accidentally, a mere tidbit to Café Juanita owner Dr. Boy Vasquez, but a headline surprise for us K-drama fans around the dinner table—Lee Jae Wook had just dined quietly here at Café Juanita the week of March 2023 he had a fan meet in Metro Manila.

Dr. Boy Vasquez with co-birthday celebrator Lilibeth Campos (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

We were swapping trivia about BTS, the hot reality show Jinny’s Kitchen, and our favorite K-dramas when Dr. Vasquez blurted out—“Oh Korean stars. One was just here to eat.” He said it so casually and nonchalantly that you’d think having a Korean oppa dine in your place was the most routinary thing.

“Who?” we (the women at the table) asked in loud unison.

“I don’t know the name. Will ask my staff,” Dr. Vasquez replied.

It would be some weeks later that we’d learn it was Lee Jae Wook who dined incognito at Café Juanita and enjoyed the kare kare. Apparently he was not the only Korean stars/idols who knew about Café Juanita. Some have been there with their entourages, but the staff didn’t pry and merely allowed them their privacy—their private downtime from their fan meets.

Kare-kare ni Juanita

Lee Jae Wook has a big fan base in the Philippines, following his recent top-rated drama series Alchemy of Souls, and before this, Memories of the Alhambra, Extraordinary You, When the Weather is Fine, his lovable and funny character in Search: WWW, Move to Heaven. The Move of Heaven star Lee Je Hoon (known for Taxi Driver) was also in Manila for his own fan meet around the time Lee Jae Wook was here, and we think, must have also dined nondescriptly at Café Juanita.

Apparently the Korean stars have heard about Café Juanita, the popular restaurant in Pasig City known for its Filipino cuisine and its unique ambiance. Not only is it a culinary destination—it is also an IG destination because it is so Instagrammable; each corner is an eye candy.

Instagrammable spot (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

Rich fabrics blend with rich bead shroud and Oriental icons at Café Juanita (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

For our dinner, lawyer and art collector Rene Puno and wife Anne (@annpunoskitchen) gathered friends to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Boy Vasquez, who opened Café Juanita 34 years ago. Dr. Vasquez has been a good friend for that number of years, who had a thriving medical practice (OB-gyne) until one day, he realized he had enough of round-the-clock stress and decided to open a restaurant instead. Not before long, word spread by word of mouth that Café Juanita was serving good Filipino favorites, even as the OB-gynecologist was having fun decorating and redecorating his restaurant—the knick-knacks and finds from his travels here (as far as Mindanao) and abroad. Café Juanita is maximalism-made-cozy, a happy place that offers something new for the eye with each visit, a chandelier here, a puppet from Bali there, a jacket of an ethnic Mindanao tribe there.

Indonesian puppetry on a ceiling ledge

Jackets from ethnic South as accents

Old world (vintage tiles, lamps), wood balustrade, clear crystal trees on the ground floor

That dinner, Café Juanita was a happy place for friends Rene, Ann, Mario Katigbak, the builder of luxe brands in the country (Bulgari, Tiffany until recently, Hermes, Roger Vivier, Cartier and another brand to come this year); mega-business couples Joel and Joy Rustia, Paqui and Lilibeth Campos, and latecomer but life-of-the-dinner Noel Onate.

Toast to friendship: Dr. Boy Vasquez (standing, far left) with, from left, seated, Joel Rustia, Lilibeth Campos, Rene Puno, Paqui Campos, Ann Puno; standing, from left beside Dr. Vasquez, Joy Rustia, Thelma Sioson, Mario Katigbak (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

Noel Onate (2nd from left) catches up mid-dinner. (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

The talk was about everything and everyone (the On-the-rise-Gen of social butterflies—that’s as far as we can say here), BTS (Lilibeth and Joy are clearly ARMY)—and the food. Dr Vasquez and his staff tweaked our old favorites, local and Asian. After cocktails enjoyed with a boat of assorted sushi, sashimi, Japanese Sembei (Japanese kropek and rice crackers), we had appetizers of Juanita Crispy Spring Roll, Vietnamese Spring Roll, Catfish Mango Salad, soup of Sinigang na Bangus sa Bayabas.

Rich visual setting for appetizer spread at Café Juanita (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

Juanita Crispy Spring Roll

We couldn’t say no to the main dishes, especially the Kare Kare ni Juanita and the Crispy Kurubota Pata—the meat was that tender but didn’t leave us satiated because the portions were small. They also served Sugpo sa Gata and Taba ng Talangka, Chicken Panang, Pad Thai.

Sugpo sa Gata

For dessert, we had a deadly Double Cheese Cheesecake.


Just as filling or even more filling is the bright and happy décor of Café Juanita. Now, that’s an understatement. It is maximalism to the max (pardon the redundancy) because Dr. Vasquez wants it that way—in food and décor, Café Juanita is his self-expression. This house from the ‘60s repurposed into a restaurant more than 30 years ago is a receptacle of the collectibles, from décor to furnishings, he’s sourced everywhere—chandeliers, figurines and statues, luminous beads strung into curtains—anything for your visual consumption.

Lighting gets the rich visual treatment at Café Juanita. (Photo by TheDiarist.ph)

Orientalia amid the maximalism

Seeing red at Cafe Juanita

Dinner corner at Cafe Juanita

The Korean oppa diners, like other guests, must have found it a unique place in Metro Manila—a visual feast for your social media. Actually a feast for friendship.—Thelma Sioson

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