Year End Special: Mantra Bistro

Year-End Special: Mantra Bistro!

And we’re back! After the rush of year-end obligations and the Christmas holidays, we finally found some time to try out an up and coming restaurant we’d just heard of while browsing articles on social media. After all there has to be something great afoot if even expats are said to be flocking to a food spot in the metropolis. This was what brought us back to Legaspi Village to visit Mantra Bistro, located at the Grand Midori on Bolanos Street.

We had been forewarned that the exterior was “unassuming” (as many of our favorite culinary finds have been). If it had not been for the colorful sign saying “Mantra Bistro” and the warm greeting “Come In, We’re Awesome”, we might have missed the place entirely. We quickly discovered that the Mantra Bistro actually covers two rooms: the actual restaurant/bistro, and the “Tapas by Mantra” bar just a connecting door away. Since it was a bit too early for us to enjoy the edgy and dim lighting and bar fare at the Tapas area, we remained in the main bistro area, which felt more like a slightly upscale casual dining restaurant than anything else. Its classy interior had few, but striking, designs on the walls evoking traditional Indian motifs in more contemporary color schemes. This simple but elegant decor was the first feast for our eyes on this evening.

We started our evening with a complimentary appetizer of fried roti chips with a tangy, savory tamarind dip. This did much to whet our appetites for the hearty dinner ahead. We decided to try the Rogan Josh, a goat curry with tomatoes and spices, which we paired with the Dal Tadka, a dish of yellow lentils stewed with cumin seeds, chili, and garlic. Since this was our first time to try the food at Mantra Bistro, we opted for the “mild” spiciness level for our food.

A real treat of the evening was having some warm roti bread alongside our spicy selections. The Rogan Josh was rather on the hot side, with a full bodied curry just slightly tamed down by the stewed tomato. The meat was carefully slow cooked to the point it was practically falling off the bone. The Dal Tadka was less spicy but just as flavorful, with the lentils stewed to just the right consistency. The serving sizes of these bowls were rather hefty, making them perfect for sharing for 2 up to 4 people.

But the best part of the night were the drinks we got to wash down our hearty meal with. I chose some sweet lassi, my favorite yogurt drink, to cleanse my palate. Lee chose some hot masala tea, which in other cookbooks or cuisines is also known as karak. Karak is something he’s been trying to find in the city ever since he returned from overseas, and to serendipitously have it on this evening was a real joy.

Ever since the inception of this blog, we’ve tried a number of Indian and Indian-themed restaurants, but so far, Mantra Bistro has met our expectations not just in terms of quality but even in authenticity. There is something to be said after all when even homesick expats troop here for a good taste of home. We look forward to enjoying more of the dishes from this exceptional place, hopefully in the near future!

Food Score: 5/5: Where do we even begin? The food defies the stereotype of Indian cuisine being “very hot” and “overly flavored”; the dishes bring out a more subtle yet memorable blend of flavors. We appreciate having hot bread, a unique appetizer, and of course delicately prepared drinks to round out our dining experience. Our only nitpick would be having a few too many meat bones in our goat curry, but otherwise it was all good.

Ambiance Score: 5/5: Mantra Bistro is both classy and artsy, taking care not to fall either into being overly uppity or downright kitschy. It’s a great place for business/client meetings, as well as for nights out with family and friends–which can even continue on at the bar next door.

Service Score: 5/5: The servers were very courteous to all the patrons, and did not hesitate to present us with options for our meals or answer our questions. The team was very professional and sharp all throughout, from our arrival to the time we headed out the door.

GERD Score: 4/5: Mantra Bistro is a great place for people with GERD because it lists down the ingredients used for each menu item and because we could adjust the spiciness of the curry based on our preferences. Of course, Indian cuisine is meant to be shared so it’s always bring to have company along.

Neurodivergent Score: 4.5/5: Although the fact that this is a bistro means there are plenty of alcoholic drinks, non alcoholic options such as lassi and fruit juices are available. Though bread is a perfect partner to many of the curries and sauces on the menu, gluten free options such as basmati rice, zeera rice, saffron rice, and biryani dishes are also prominently featured. People sensitive to various natural spices and flavorings may need to inquire about these, or pick milder dishes for their culinary trip.

Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5: We’re glad to have found this spot, which we would recommend for people wanting some authentic Indian cuisine. Cheers to you, Mantra Bistro!

Mantra Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Whistlestop

A city that never sleeps needs its share of 24/7 food establishments to cater to denizens at all hours. One of the longest standing in this business is Whistlestop, nestled among the bars and restaurants of Jupiter Street, Bel-Air in Makati City. After a few hitches in previous plans, we finally seized the opportunity of a sleepy Saturday morning to grab brunch here, in preparation for a day jam-packed with activities.

 

We eschewed some of the usual breakfast fare of pancakes, bacon, and sausages for dishes that would do just as well for lunch. Lee decided on the 1977 Vintage Tapa, while I most uncharacteristically chose to start off my day with Beef Kebab.

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The 1977 Vintage Tapa was flavorful, a balance of well marinated sweet and salty tapa flakes, and perfectly seasoned garlic rice. However, the sunny side up egg was rushed and the meal was too oily for my tastes.

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The main downside to the Beef Kebab was the size of the kebab pieces themselves. Apart from increasing the portion size, I believe that this dish could have been improved with the use of more spices in the meat to give the dish its characteristic kick.

 

It would take us more time to thoroughly sample Whistlestop’s extensive menu of all-day selections hailing from various cuisines. We hope to find more culinary gems and must-haves during future visits here.

 

Food Score: 3.5/5: The menu at Whistlestop is inclined towards a combination of bar chow and hefty main courses and entrees, making it ideal as part of a bar crawl or a recovery scenario. At least for the dishes we picked, there was more that could be done in terms of flavor and presentation.

Ambiance Score: 4.5/5: Whistlestop evokes the feel of an old-time saloon, a look that goes easily from day to night. It is a place wherein one can relax among friends for brunch, fill up for lunch or dinner, pre-game for a night out, or recover in the early hours.

Service Score: 4/5: While we appreciate the servers telling us off the bat which items were available, a little more attentiveness would have helped make our dining experience better.

GERD Score: 3.5/5: Being a watering hole, its menu options for people with heartburn leaves much to be desired, but in fairness, there are at least some options along with a list of ingredients in some menu items. Having a buddy or two tag along might help make the meal ideal or at least doable.

 

Neurodivergent Score: 3.5/5: Some of the dishes at Whistlestop rely heavily on preserved and seasoned meats, which may be a no-no to some diners with dietary restrictions. There is little too in the way of non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverage selections.

Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5: Over the years, Whistlestop has definitely earned its reputation as a 24/7 dining spot. It is a good place to go when ending a bar or restaurant crawl in the area…if one is not planning to stick to a strict diet! For us, our search for our recovery food fix still continues. 

Whistlestop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hineleban Cafe

In this day and age, food and advocacy easily go hand in hand, as seen by drives such as “Restaurants Against Hunger” with different restaurants having special menus and donations for the refugees of Syria. Some establishments go a step further than advocacy by incorporating their causes in their everyday work, be it in their menus or in-house shops. An up and coming exemplar of this is the Hineleban Cafe, located near one of Makati City’s busiest districts.

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The word Hineleban is an indigenous term referring to the “Mother Tree” at the heart of a rainforest. The Hineleban Cafe is one of several projects of the Hineleban Foundation, which is dedicated to reforestation and empowering the Philippines’ indigenous peoples to take back their roles as custodians of the environment. The cafe is a venue for showcasing and marketing goods from the foundation’s research and development farm, the Tuminugan Farm in Bukidnon, Mindanao.

Much praise has been heaped on Hineleban Cafe for its coffee (which has helped make it a spot for gatherings and events). However, we at Team Glasses have long sworn off this brown gold for health reasons, so what could draw us to this cafe? The answer: adlai. Adlai (Coix lacryma-jobi) is a grain that is native to Southeast Asia. In the USA it is called “Job’s Tears” or Chinese Pearl Barley. It has been cultivated for both sustenance and medicinal purposes by different tribes in Zamboanga del Sur and other parts of Southern Philippines. In more recent years, adlai has been touted as a supplement or alternative to rice, owing partly for its health benefits as well as its acceptability to diners more used to rice, especially well milled white rice.

At Hineleban Cafe, dishes that would normally be served with a cupful of rice or a bowlful of pasta are instead graced with a generous serving of adlai.

 

We decided to have our adlai in two ways during our visit to Hineleban Cafe. We went with one of the all day breakfast meals: longganisa hubad served with egg and adlai, and with another more innovative idea which was longganisa bolognese, which was adlai cooked with a sausage and tomato ragout. To wash this all down we had hot chocolate and a cup of red berries caffeine free tea.

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A most creative tea strainer

The longganisa hubad plate was a good balance of flavors, with the starchiness of the adlai complementing well with the salty and garlicky mix from the longanisa. The salted egg salsa also added a subtle kick to the dish, which would be something we can suggest for anyone to start their morning with. Only nitpick here would be the oiliness, but that’s really the nature of the beast when it comes to longganisa.

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Not rice. That’s adlai for you

As we discovered, adlai makes a very interesting alternative to pasta, owing to its chewy texture. It is reminiscent of eating a plate of orzo, or Italian pasta shaped like a large grain of rice. However, adlai has a lighter flavor and a rather different mouth feel. When mixed with a ragout, such as in the case of the longganisa bolognese, one can have a delicious and very filling meal in a bowl. The ragout itself could have used a little bit of a kick, owing to its mild flavor, but we admit that this is a matter of personal preference.

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Adlai with a sausage ragout, Pinoy style!

For those who are not fans of adlai, Hineleban Cafe also serves dishes made with bread, and of course its selection of exquisite brewed coffees. What makes this cafe a must for future adventures is its way of bringing forward an often forgotten advocacy, which is that of furthering the role of indigenous peoples in protecting the environment. In this world today, we need voices to help each other speak out and promote new, sustainable ways of living. Thankfully, the Hineleban Foundation and the Hineleban Cafe are among them.

 

Food Score: 4/5: All things considered, such as getting used to the taste of adlai, Hineleban Cafe does a great job of integrating this grain with cafe favorites such as breakfast meals and pastas.

Ambiance Score: 4/5: Hineleban Cafe shares a space with a bike and surf shop, thus giving the surrounding area a busy, almost utilitarian feel. However the cafe itself makes good by making their space seem like a cushy urban loft. The selection of books in its reading nook are a great help too.

Service Score: 4/5: We arrived here on a quiet Saturday morning, and the place had only a few staff on hand. While we were very well served with much courtesy, we do hope that the service is able to keep up during peak hours like the dinner rush.

GERD Score: 4.5/5: Hineleban Cafe and its adlai are something worth trying, since there are plenty of menu options for people dealing with GERD. Also this is a good place for a spot of tea as well. Definitely worth a visit.

Neurodivergent Score: 4.5/5: All hail adlai for being gluten free! That alone is a great relief to some neurodivergents. The caffeine free tea is also worth a try here, and an option for those wanting hot drinks while their companions sip the coffee that Hineleban Cafe is known for.

Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5: Hineleban Cafe is more than just another “third wave” cafe or trendy yuppie spot; it’s really a cafe with a mission. And providing a reliable source of adlai to this city is a plus too. We hope that more people will visit this cafe and learn about its advocacy in the coming years!

Hineleban Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe

On some days when we wish to start off early, but at the same time avoid the lunch crowd, brunch becomes our best solution. A place that has been on our radar for some time thanks to its pastry and confectionery selection is Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe, located right in the heart of the Makati CBD. We took advantage of a free morning to head over and put its heartier entrees and breakfast fare to the test.

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For our repast, we had a choice of all-day breakfast sets, pastries and cakes, as well as different entrees. Eventually we decided on the Sundried Tomato Pesto, and the Beef Stew. Since this was a rainy morning, we also asked for hot chocolate on the side.

The Sundried Tomato Pesto came with a side of two hefty and well buttered rolls. The still warm bread was fragrant and very light on the tongue, but heavy on the stomach. The pasta itself had an interesting balance between tart and nutty, owing to the rather chunky tomato pesto mix. By itself it would have been a light snack, but with bread it was a complete meal.

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The Beef Stew was as hearty as they come. The beef chunks were tender and the gravy base was lightly seasoned with pepper, which reminded me of shepherd’s pie. It made for a heavy breakfast that was perfect before our day’s adventure.

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As it turned out, the hot chocolate was a great choice. It was both rich and creamy, with a deep chocolate flavor.

Were it not for the need to head out and get moving, it would have been wonderful to linger a little longer in the cafe, thanks to its cozy and inviting interior. Perhaps another sleepy morning will lead us back to Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe, ready to put more dishes to the test.

Food Score: 4/5: The menu is comprised of local and ‘continental’ breakfast and entree selections, with few signature or outstanding dishes. In terms of quality though, the food is very tasty and serving sizes are adequate for one. Platter options exist among the starters, good for sharing.

Ambiance Score: 4/5: This is what one would expect from a brunch dining spot: cozy, airy, and with many comfortable seating spots. The feel is like eating in one’s home kitchen, sans the mess and bustle. Very great for meeting with friends,

Service Score: 4.5/5: The servers were accommodating and prompt, considering that the place soon filled up for the early lunch crowd. They were very timely and quick to set up tables, and attend to both incoming and outgoing diners.

GERD Score: 4/5: The variety of options here at Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe leaves any diner, even those with GERD, satiated without the worry of the acid acting up badly. For some dishes though, it’s still best to share with a friend.

Neurodivergent Score: 4/5: There are many options with natural, non-processed ingredients, which is a plus for those with sensitivities to additives. The balance between non-caffeinated and caffeinated beverage options is pretty optimal.
Team Glasses Score: 4/5: Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe is not only an excellent source of desserts and bakery delights, but it is a great place to consider for leisurely brunches with friends, or even for a solo stop with a good book and some music. This place serves as a haven of calm in the busy metropolis.

Mom & Tina's Bakery Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Bac (the Team Glasses Sick Day Special)

There are some days that can only be cured by a bowl of soup, particularly one that is a step above instant chicken noodles. We happened to have one of those off days recently thanks to a sudden shift in the weather, but fortunately, we found ourselves within walking distance of Pho Bac, another Vietnamese restaurant that serves just what the doctor ordered.

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Pho refers to a number of Vietnamese noodle soup recipes, usually made with a mix of rice noodles, meat, and an assortment of herbs. The restaurant Pho Bac serves up chicken, beef, and seafood soups, as well as variations such as pho with egg noodles, or with mixed seafood. Other dishes available here include salad noodles, and house specialties such as Vietnamese crepe and chao tom (shrimp on cane with rice wrapper).

Since Lee and I were feeling under the weather, we chose to have two different bowls of pho: mi ga or chicken pho with egg noodles, and bun ca or pho with fish and rice noodles.  Both orders of pho were served with small dishes of bean sprouts and basil leaves that we could add to our soups according to our respective tastes. No other strong spices or condiments were necessary for our meal.

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In my past experiences eating chicken pho, I have found that much of the flavour comes from the spices in the broth. However Pho Bac’s mi ga also derives its taste from the egg noodles themselves, which lend a certain heartiness to an otherwise mild dish. In contrast, the bun ca also features small cubes of tofu and a hint of chili, giving a little extra kick to the soup. These interesting soup dishes were not only tasty but also very filling. In fact I daresay that the pho in this restaurant is large enough to serve as an afternoon snack for two or three.

In some ways, food is medicine in itself, if only for its giving the body what it needs to boost its natural immune defences. And while pho is definitely not a cure-all, it does fit the bill for those ‘off’ days when a little warm soup is all that one needs to get back in fighting form. Fortunately Pho Bac is found at a number of locations, ready to serve the hungry, peckish, or peaky diner needing that extra bit of heartiness to get on.

The Food Score:  4/5. For some diners, the pho may be too mild in flavour; in fact we could hardly taste the spice in the bun ca. However on the whole,  one definitely gets value for one’s money in this restaurant. This is where one can find comfort food without breaking the bank.

Ambiance/Service Score:   4/5. The particular branch we were at was rather cramped, and difficult for diners to move around in. However the staff was helpful and attentive, and the food was served as promptly as possible.

GERD Score: 4/5. Considering that even the globules of spice in the pho didn’t set me off that much, it’s definitely heartburn friendly to an extent. But it has to be said that considering the size of the pho itself, it’s not meant for a single person with GERD. Only upside to that is, more to share.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5. The trouble with soup in general is that one isn’t always sure what goes in the stock. So sensitive diners may need to pass on the pho, or at least inquire what ingredients were used. Herbs and spices may not agree with some people or interfere with their medications, so it’s also best to inquire about these before ordering.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5. If one is looking for soul food on a bad day, this is worth a visit. After all, good food in itself is therapeutic, and a good bowl of pho from here fits the bill.

Pho Bac Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Mediterranean (the Alexander the Great Special Part 1)

The Cafe Mediterranean

The Alexander the Great special (Part 1)

Apart from food, one of our shared passions happens to be World History. We decided that for this month we’d pay an ironic tribute to one of the most celebrated conquerors of ancient history, Alexander the Great, by writing about restaurants featuring cuisines from end to end of his empire. Well what better place to start other than the Cafe Mediterranean?

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The Cafe Mediterranean features Greek, French, Italian, and Turkish cuisines, to name a few.  The ensuing variety in the menu is something I have always appreciated, since there are choices for snacks or appetizers, as well as entrees and platters for a small gathering. On our latest visit here, we were joined by some of Lee’s immediate family, thus giving us an opportunity to try out platters and group meal selections. To start off our dinner we chose a sampler plate of four appetizers: kofta (lamb and beef meatballs), tapenade (minced olives with olive oil and capers), labneh (strained yogurt), and foule (fava beans with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice). The kofta in particular was flavourful and juicy, while the tapenade’s sharp tartness was perfect for whetting our appetites for the rest of the meal.

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For our entree, we ordered two different platter sets: the gyro platter with beef, tuna, chicken, and falafel, as well as the kebab platter with chicken, beef, fish, and kofta kebabs.  These platters were also served with sides such as hummus, tabbouleh, and salad. We also ordered biryani rice and couscous to accompany our food instead of the usual pita bread.  The meats were all lightly seasoned, cooked just right to retain their natural flavour and juices. The falafel in particular was a treat; when served warm its crisp outer crust readily gave way to its delicate, slightly sweetish chickpea interior. However the biryani was a little wanting in terms of flavour, but certainly not in quantity. In fact these two platters were more than enough to satisfy our party of 6.

This visit, and our other ventures to Cafe Mediterranean, have never been disappointments. One feature of Cafe Mediterranean is that is a “Restaurant Against Hunger”. Diners can order from a special menu of Syrian dishes, and proceeds from these sales are donated for the welfare of Syrian refugees. This is their way of paying it forward and at the same time, providing excellent food nonetheless.

So would Alexander the Great himself have partaken of this sort of meal (or at least its precursors?) Heaven only knows, but certainly food this good is worth traversing an empire for.

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The Food Score:  4.5/5. The slight problem with the biryani aside, the food here was filling and very satisfying in terms of taste and quality. The serving sizes are reasonable, and their drinks selection (especially the yogurt drink lassi) is a treat.

Ambiance/Service Score:   3.5/5. Unfortunately the service, at least in this particular branch, is not attentive. It took a while for us to call the attention of the staff if we needed something. The ambiance of this restaurant is relaxed and casual, though it can only go so far given its location in a busy mall.

GERD Score: 4.5/5. Thankfully, the place has plenty of selections for people who have heartburn. Most of the dishes here are grilled, not fried which is a plus. However, the one thing everyone has to note is that the quantity of food per order can be a bit much for a single person, so to be on the safe side, share and just add one extra order of bread.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5. Spices and some flavourings used in the dishes here may trigger some sensitive diners. Some of the dishes use preserved meats (such as the pizza) so it may be best to give these a pass or at least some thought before ordering.
Team Glasses Score: 4/5. If one is looking for authenticity, this may not be the place to go. However for us, since we just want some good Mediterranean themed food to share, this is definitely one location we are returning to.

The Cafe Mediterranean Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Paris Délice

After a rather hectic set of days for this week, Kat and I decided to take a visit one of our usual haunts, a French fast food place by the name of Paris Délice. And since we here at Team Glasses Food Blog have a fascination on French food, we can call ourselves as casual and familiar people who enjoy dates here.

Let’s go to their staples first, baguette sandwiches. In our visits, we’ve tried Le Mozza, L’Americain, and Le Parisien. For my exacting tastes, bread is always best freshly baked or at least in the level of crispiness between too soft or too brittle. They manage to get that nice Goldilocks zone on the ten inch baguettes often, and the ingredients are crisp and fresh. What you see on their pictures is what you get, which is appreciated. For the latest sandwich we had, I present to you Le Farmer, a simple looking sandwich that packs a punch with its symphony of fresh vegetables, ham, and brie. Just like their other choices, it’s both light and filling as a meal. C’est magnifique!

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Le Farmer

And then off to their pastas. Previously, we’ve tried the Salmon Fume which unlike most of overdone carbonara dishes drowning with cream; this is close to perfection itself. The sauce isn’t the star of the show, but rather, everything on it. The pasta’s well done, the salmon strips cooked well, and the sauce doesn’t overpower the two. Hints of basil leaves also helped balanced out the flavors of course. For today however, we had the poulet au pistou which is their take on chicken pesto pasta. Unlike other pesto preparations, this one was not cloying and overpowering to the palate.  This delicately flavored dish owes its character to its light creamy pesto sauce as well as the lightly seasoned chicken chunks. It is well balanced, like many of the other dishes in this restaurant.

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Poulet au pistou

Food Score: 5/5. For its price range, the food exceeds typical ideas of grimy fast food and gives the sense and the reality that the food reflects your money’s worth with a bit more than expected. And we definitely love the fact that it’s made out of fresh ingredients from vegetable to bread.

Ambiance / Service Score:  4/5. The place is comfortable to stay in for a bit with a vibe, perfect for dates or just a quiet get together with friends. Lastly, service is cordial and warm and in the off-chance that the owner’s there, feel free to speak in French which is appreciated. My little nitpick would be just a bit more light, but that’s more of a matter of preference.

GERD Score: 5/5. While dairy or tomato sets me off in high amounts or steady portions normally, I never encountered any burping and acidity. As long as you keep in mind that citrus, soda, or things like tomatoes isn’t exactly your friend anymore, you’re pretty set. Noting down your trigger food and how you eat is your friend.

Epilepsy Score:  4/5.  Dishes here do not have high levels of preservatives, which are considered to be seizure triggers. Also the fruit juice selections at this place do not usually cause unwanted drug interactions with anti epilepsy drugs. However if one is sensitive to gluten, food options in this place would be more limited.

Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5. Paris Délice caters to our food needs as foodies with medical bugaboos, and at the same time has as welcoming vibe to anyone who eats there. This place is definitely a restaurant we continue to come back to.

Paris Delice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato