For the second year in a row, the Best of Cebu (BOC) search took place amid a pandemic.

While the challenges of covering all bases and covering as much ground as possible have always been there since the BOC started in 2013, these had been coupled with restrictions in the last two years. These restrictions brought about by the global health crisis have also been unpredictable, leaving the search highly dependent on whatever was implemented next.

Despite the inevitable setbacks and delays, the BOC 2021 list of winners has been completed.

This would not have been possible without the support of Primary Homes as well. As SunStar Cebu and the premier developer of residential projects in Central Visayas are in a mutual pursuit of excellence, the partnership made perfect sense. Primary Homes has always been a reliable partner of the communities it has built and shares the same passion of providing the best products and services.

For the 2021 search, both home-based businesses and established brands were included in all categories, so long as they remained open throughout the year.

Every day, the BOC team would post a category on its social media pages asking people to tag the brands they know and love in the comments. This gave us an idea where to look and where to even begin.

Instead of asking interested participants to send over their entries like in 2020, we ordered as regular customers from the brands this time, either online or onsite if they had a physical store and if it was open for dine-in. These entries still had to undergo a blind taste test.

Some of the categories under Leisure and Services which were not included in the BOC 2020 due to temporary business closures were brought back in 2021. However, there were also categories which we had to leave out because of the circumstances.

The People’s Choice categories, which had been there for the longest time, also had to be dealt with differently as it turned out to be nothing more than a popularity contest for some of the brands.

The team had received complaints from customers about some of the winners for poor quality or service. In 2021, there were no more polls, and all the brands had to go through the same blind taste test rounds as all the others.

The blind taste test always involves repacking and labeling of food with just ABCs so there’s no way of identifying a certain brand by looks alone.

Like always, the brands were judged based on the quality of their products, the consistency in flavor between every visit or order, and customer service.

“But who’s to say that one dish tastes better than another?” “Isn’t it all subjective?” These are fair questions and ones we typically get asked.

Deciding whether one brand is better than another is never easy, and impressions can be skewed by a lot of factors in play. Thankfully, there are people with more trained palates and experience in making judgments. They also have extensive knowledge in the subject at hand.

We sought help from five judges this year. Three of them were also part of the BOC 2020 panel, while two are new. As most of the judges are chefs and/or restaurant owners, we made sure to assign them to categories which their own brands or businesses were not part of.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride but the standouts this year won us over with the way the flavors infused their products and each of our taste buds, how smoothly the transactions were processed from ordering and asking for recommendations to the packaging and delivery of food, and how the products were still at their best despite the prep and travel time required.

From confections deliciously executed in chocolate to meat that’s moist and sapid even after the cooking process, from freshly baked bread with that luscious crackle to tender-beyond-belief meat and creations that could launch a thousand Instagram shots, the Best of Cebu 2021 are ready to be revealed.