Cocina Juan’s Thomas Adviento brings Central American flavors home for his family and friends to enjoy

Maginhawa Street near U.P. Diliman in Quezon City is actually one of the metro’s best-kept secrets when it comes to discovering unique, value-for-money cuisine. The strip is lined with cozy hole-in-the-wall restaurants and is a melting pot of businessmen, students, intellectuals, artists, residents and basically anyone who loves really good food and the company that goes along with it. Right smack in the middle is Cocina Juan, a breath of fresh air if you’re looking for something other than the usual Japanese, Italian, and Chinese.

With its Central American food that’s given a Filipino twist, this beatnik bistro (which also moonlights as an art gallery) definitely stands out. And we have Thomas Adviento, 32, to thank for migrating from his travels the rich flavors of Central America into the rustic, family-owned Cocina Juan—which actually started out as an ordinary, family-run Tex-Mex restaurant in June 2008.

“I started this with my brother Juan who’s in Canada now,” shares Tom. “He’s the chef and he crafted most of the original menu. But after my trips to the U.S. and Central America, I saw opportunities to add a bit of variety. I was in Nicaragua for four months and I had friends there who owned restaurants. During weekends, luto luto kami. I’d share Filipino food with them, and they’d share Nicaraguan food with me—that’s where I learned the recipes.”

His visit, Tom shares, felt close to home as his Nicaraguan friends valued food and family celebrations probably as much as we Filipinos do. Upon coming back to Manila, he immediately shared his newly-acquired recipes with his family—composed of generation after generation of food lovers—and they became instant family favorites, like the lemon-marinated Chicken Cheese Chimichurri. “It’s a recipe that originated from Argentina,” shares Tom. “Chimichurri is a parsley-based sauce that’s similar in consistency with pesto, and is good with grilled food.”

Eventually, Tom added to Cocina Juan’s menu items like the Dynamita—Anaheim chilies stuffed with cheese—and the Sopa Borracha Con Frio Crema, which is a sponge cake drizzled with caramelized rum and topped with vanilla ice cream. Nicaraguan food, however, isn’t the only thing that Tom’s injected into the restaurant—it’s his hospitality that makes visiting Cocina Juan just like visiting home. Coming from a hectic night at work as a call center trainer, he goes out of his way to drop by the resto, chat with his guests (some hail from as far as Nicaragua!), and sees to the restaurant’s daily operations. Heck, anything for family, as they say.

Cocina Juan is located at 100 Maginhawa St., U.P. Teacher’s Village, Diliman, Quezon City. Open from 12 noon to 12 midnight. For reservations, call (2) 434 3911.

Photo by Nicky Sering.

This article was published in HIPP Magazine’s November 2009 issue.