food + drinks by Justine Limjoco

We Wouldn’t Mind Being Stranded at Tortuga

This Katipunan college haunt will whisk you off on a tropical food getaway.

Following a trail of college students celebrating their free cuts and long breaks, I spot a familiar space along Esteban Abada. On first glance it looks remarkably like Walrus—the favorite inuman of university students along Katipunan Avenue. This new spot gives off a similarly tropical vibe which is highlighted by the presence of wooden tables and vibrantly colored walls. As a lover of the beach, I am instantly drawn in by the distinct smell of coconut rum and the sound of clinking Brew Kettle bottles from within.

The moment I enter Tortuga, I feel as though I’ve been whisked off to an island getaway. Tiki masks, bamboo poles, and ambient, cove-like lighting perfectly evoke the feeling of an exotic locale. As I bask in my own tropical daydream, I am disrupted by the mad and unforgiving sound of my own stomach. It’s roughly 1pm—right on schedule. I quickly order their bestseller, the Jungle Pumba, a thick cut of grilled pork belly.

As I wait, cocktails in coconut cups garnished with leaves soon appear, and suddenly I feel as if I’m in 50 First Dates. A combination of pineapple juice and coconut rum, the Cocomo’s flavor is subtle; not too strong, but not too syrupy either. Non-fans of pineapples might be taken aback, but the surprise chunks of fruit at the bottom cleverly tie the whole drink together.

As I enjoy the first of my afternoon cocktails, I spot the Jungle Pumba coming at me from across the room. I already knew it was going to be juicy and tender as promised, but my favorite part turns out to be the glazed sauce drizzled on top of it. It is the absolute best flavor-packed barbeque dish.

Being a peanut butter enthusiast, I couldn’t not try their Kare-Kare Bites: golden-fried ox-tripe slivers served with a thick kare-kare dip. The slightly sweet and textured dip delightfully complements the crunchy slices of battered meat. Even though I’ve loved this Filipino classic all my life, it’s the first time that I’ve tried the dish served this way—and boy, does it do it justice.

“We wanted to go for a raw and relaxed vibe,” Paola Betita, one of Tortuga’s owners, shares.

Together with three other partners, it turns out the team is the same one behind Walrus. While Walrus has become a student’s go-to for an after-class drink or a pitcher of Strawberry Fields Forever, Tortuga has people coming back for the food.

From savory rice meals to sliders, the food delivers its customers a uniquely delicious Island-dining experience. With its casual-cool ambiance and mood-setting menu, Tortuga exudes a relaxing, easygoing vibe that will leave you happily shipwrecked.

Justine Limjoco
Justine Limjoco is a contributor to The Neighborhood.
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