The Inspiring Story of Paolito’s: Cebu’s Home for Sutukil

This small but popular sutukil restaurant in Cebu has an interesting history behind it.

Sutukil is Cebu’s contribution to the culinary scene in the Philippines.

It is an abbreviation for the most popular cooking techniques on the island, namely Sugba (grill), Tuwa (stew), and Kilaw (cooked raw with vinegar). These techniques are commonly used in seafood, inspiring several restaurants to feed hungry Cebuanos with a variety of delicious meals.

Paolito’s STK Ta Bai! is among the select go-to restaurants for this type of Filipino cuisine.

You may have visited two of its branches in both SM Malls, but its original location is in a residential area in Orchid Street near the Cebu Provincial Capitol.

It may take a while to locate since it’s not situated along the main road, but this eatery has a history worth remembering.

Paolito's STK Ta Bai! specializes in Filipino cuisine and has been featured in many media outlets.

The restaurant was set up by the Alcovers, after their previous toiletry supply business went bankrupt. The family persisted, praying that they would be able to set up a carinderia (a street side restaurant serving homemade dishes), with dishes made by their patriarch Jerry Alcover, a Carcar City native.

Jerry’s eldest daughter and manager of the restaurant, Karen Alcover Cabahug, recalls the moment their prayers were answered. Her father gained a P200,000 commission (around $4,000 in today’s currency) from selling a lot of food with her aunt, and in a snap, their business was ready to set sail.

They set up their small restaurant in their garage on Orchid Street, with only five tables and serving a menu of only five dishes.

Originally, taxi drivers were their target market, but none ever came. Instead, lawyers and employees became their primary customers because of the restaurant’s proximity to the Capitol area.

Their carinderia grew bigger and bigger, eventually opening two SM Mall branches in 2015 and 2017, until they became the popular seafood restaurant that Cebuanos have come to know and love today.

This seafood restaurant still stands today, and even has branches in major malls in the city.

Paolito’s (which was named after one of Karen’s siblings) now serves a wider array of Cebuano food delicacies and Filipino food staples for different types of foodies.

The restaurant is filled with figurines, memorabilia, and paintings, making you feel like you’re in a museum. The wooden walls, chairs, and tables give off a very vintage aesthetic, like an ancestral house.

A display of decades-old memorabilia gives this sutukil restaurant a homey and vintage-like atmosphere.

The Alcover family is also known for being faithful and devout, which can be seen through the restaurant’s display of religious figures, one of which includes the patron saint of Cebu, the Santo Niño.

Aside from serving Cebuano food delicacies, the Alcovers also show their Catholic faith through their exhibit of the Santo Niño.

Because it is a sutukil restaurant, their main offerings are seafood classics, but they also have other dishes made from different kinds of meat. Their specialty is definitely the Tuna Panga (grilled tuna jaw), which they cook outside the restaurant.

They offer many Filipino cuisine specials, but the Tuna Panga is their best-seller.

HOW TO GET THERE

The restaurant is located on Orchid Street, near the Cebu Provincial Capitol. The closest landmark is the BPI Bank along the highway across from the Capitol.

You can ride a jeepney to Jones and ask to be dropped off at the bank. Paolito’s can be found on the street behind Angus Dan, a restaurant that’s a few meters from BPI.

The parking lot is located behind the restaurant if you wish to bring a private vehicle.

Trying out the food in Paolito’s is among the many things to do in Cebu City that is a must. With hundreds of local restaurants to choose from, this one stands out for having great sutukil food options and an interesting story that will inspire future restaurateurs.

Paolito’s is one half restaurant, one half ancestral house – bringing a vintage atmosphere to visitors as they enjoy their delicious meals. Their food is renowned by many of its past customers, including several media personalities in the Philippines. It’s definitely a Cebuano food staple that is here to stay.

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