Like many ethnic cuisines, Mexican food is enjoying a renaissance of sorts and Manila has quickly jumped on board the global bandwagon boasting its own quick proliferation of small taquerias and cantinas.
While the quesadilla, the taco, and the burrito may have been popularized long ago by local Tex-Mex chains, the past five years have been all about the pursuit of authenticity. Restaurateurs have informed Philippine palates by introducing some of the more traditional tastes found south of the border. Today’s popular Mexican menus include tamales, mole, horchata, and mezcal—all of which are now as easily understood and appreciated as much as guacamole, enchiladas, and tequila.
Concurrently, chefs and diners have also sought approachability and familiarity in their exploration of Mexican food. Korean-American chefs from southern California have popularized the fusion of flavors that they grew up with and have created new classics such as bulgogi tacos and kimchi slaw-filled tortillas.
Closer to home, Filipino and Mexican cultures have clashed with the emergence of the now ubiquitous sisig burrito and other fused fares such as chicken adobo tostadas topped with crunchy chicharon.
Blue corn chips with guacamole and cherry tomato salsa with shiso; and Chicharrones
Chino, the newest player in the Manila food scene, and the first international branch of the original Chino Hong Kong, defines its identity as a Mexican-style establishment that takes inspiration from Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques.
Owned and led by American-born Filipino chef Erik Idos and his long-time partner, Tracy Wei, Chino serves up creative takes on familiar Mexican favorites along with inventive dishes that use fresh ingredients from the Philippines, Japan, and Mexico.
Grilled corn with chipotle and cotija cheese; Brussels Sprouts with Arbol miso and cotija cheese
Evident in his approach to food are the many years Idos spent at Nobu under the tutelage of Nobu Matsuhisa. Having first started as a line cook at Nobu 57 in New York City, he was then asked to open Nobu San Diego. Eventually, he opened Nobu Hong Kong as its executive chef in 2010. Four years later, he and Wei, a trained pastry chef and the woman responsible for Chino’s sumptuous alfajores and Thai tea tres leches, opened their first restaurant in Kennedy town, Hong Kong’s latest culinary hotspot.
Ceviche with dayap, citrus, and cashews
"I think the food scene has grown here over the last few years," says Idos. "There are a lot of great restaurants around right now and lots of talented chefs. With what we do at Chino, we think Manila is ready for us."
For newcomers to Chino Manila, Wei recommends the best way to first experience Chino is to ask your server to do an omakase menu for the table. “If it's your first time, we will make sure you try all our signature dishes,” she says. We will course out the dishes from light to heavy and will check on you throughout the meal. Having the omakase is the best way to really understand what we do.”
The meal begins with a range of starters from the rustic to the elegant. Top picks include the grilled corn with chipotle and the house made cotija cheese, the fried Brussels sprouts with arbol miso, and the market fish ceviche, an elegantly presented plate of fresh fish seasoned with citrus dayap and garnished with cashews.
As expected, the menu includes an array of tacos and tostadas including interesting renditions of goat barbacoa in arbol miso served with a cucumber mint salsa, crispy fish and chipotle Kewpie mayonnaise, and delicious chicken and eggs tostada. A white fish and furikake tostada is quickly becoming a Manila favorite as are the tasty calms with chorizo.
Poke tostada and Whitefish tostada
Crispy fish taco and Chicken Tinga taco
Goat Barbacoa tacos
Clams with chorizo and Wagyu skirt steak with grilled corn salsa
Alfajores and Thai tea tres leches
Chino’s beverage offerings include an impressive collection of tequila and hard-to-find mezcal which you can sip neat or enjoy in a cocktail. A special collaboration with local brewery Joe’s Brew has resulted in the Chino cerveza that pairs perfectly with the spiced chicharrones and the chorizo queso fundido.
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Open from 6:00 pm to Midnight, Tuesday through Sunday