Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bring Me to Baja

Mexican food and I have had a long-running love affair. Like a lot of Filipinos, it started with Pancake House’s Best Tacos in Town. Believe me, it deserves that name. The flour shell -crisp and flaky- cradles ground beef that is distinctly smoky and pleasantly sweetish, the tomato salsa always fresh and slightly tangy. With a few sprinkles of Tobasco, it is probably one of the most addicting dishes I have ever encountered. From then on, my fascination with Mexican cuisine has grown to include other dishes such as steak burrito, chicken enchiladas, quesadillas, all washed down with a potent Margarita on the rocks.

Sadly, for the longest time, the Philippine culinary landscape was lacking in really good Mexican joints with staying power. There were a few that attempted to penetrate the local food market dominated by Chicken Joy, and some were actually quite good. But, for one reason or another, all of these exclusively-Mexican restaurants or food stalls just cannot keep up with other foreign flavors that have infiltrated our shores. So, when Matt and I wanted really good Mexican food, the closest would be Manana in Boracay’s White Beach.

That is why you could imagine our excitement when a couple of our friends told us that they are opening a proper Mexican restaurant in Makati. When Baja had its soft opening, we were one of the first ones there. The food at that time, I must admit, was just ok. Not disappointing, but at the same time, not the drool-inducing flavors that I was hoping for. It took a while for us to make our second visit, which was once again pleasant, but not mind blowing.

Then, just recently, there was a buzz amongst my friends in Facebook about the re-vamped menu of Baja. Art- one of the owners- decided to add a few more dishes and also tweaked the recipes a bit, hoping to counter the luke-warm reception his new “baby” was being given by Manila’s Mexican food lovers. Suddenly, I was hearing raves about their food, especially the fish tacos. I have never tried this particular taco flavor before, thinking that any Mexican dish out of California (where this dish is most popular) must be void of fat or sodium, therefore lacking in the flavor department. But then, the clamor for it was just relentless, so I knew I had to try it. Besides, they have several flavors of Margaritas- using only top-shelf ingredients- and that I can certainly not say “no” to.

One Friday evening, Matt and I- along with our good German friend, Tilo- met TG-Boy and Rocky at Baja for dinner before a night of dancing and drinking. Being a payday, the place was packed with yuppies celebrating the end of yet another work week. Luckily, TG-Boy and Rocky arrived early and were able to get a nice comfy table inside. The interiors are fun and campy, like a laid-back cantina strewn with southwestern d├ęcor and brilliant, festive colors.


To get the night rolling, I ordered a single Melon Margarita. They have a bigger one, but I always order the smaller ones because I enjoy trying the different flavors that they offer. Baja’s margaritas are probably one of the best ones I have tried in the country, second only to those of American franchise, Chili’s.

Matt and I decided to share two dishes. First to arrive was the Carne Asada Burrito- a rolled flour tortilla stuffed with shredded marinated beef, guacamole, beans, salsa and rice. I remember liking their carne asada tacos, but this time it was even tastier and served at a better temperature. I would have wanted more condiments with it, but that was entirely my fault. I should have asked. (Note: Their traditional burritos do not contain rice. So, if you are used to your burritos having rice like I do, make sure to inform your waiter.)

Then, a huge plate big enough to have a town fiesta on arrived at our table. It contained the much talked about Taco Platter- four tacos (regular, chicken, carne asada and fish), cheese quesadillas, chips and salsas. I have seen quite a few spectacular food presentations, but this one definitely takes you aback. The serving is quite generous, big enough to be a grown man’s main course or split into four as an appetizer. This is definitely their signature dish. The regular ground beef taco is actually reminiscent of Pancake house, only supersized and meatier (and it comes in a soft tortilla). The carne asada, as I mentioned, is also tasty, and the same goes for the chicken. But what truly takes the prize is the fish taco. Imagine the best beer-battered fish you’ve ever tasted, but with a southwestern kick, smothered in a peppery, aromatic mayo, topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and lots of cheese. (Expletive deleted.) Really, there’s nothing left to say. No kidding, I’m spiritually eating it right now.

This restaurant is truly deserving of a second chance. Since I am friends with some of the owners, I am happy that the food has improved so much that I can write a good review about it. As much as I love my friends, I also have to be fair to my five (and counting!) readers and give my accurate and objective opinions about restaurants and their food.

So, is Pancake House’s Best Taco in Town still deserving of its moniker? Honestly, I think they should be scared.

Baja Mexican Cantina
3/F Greenbelt 3
Ayala Center, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 7560127