Thursday, June 16, 2011
This Chihuahua's Got Cojones
Funny how just five years ago, I remember noticing a void in Manila’s foodscape and found myself asking: Where did all the Mexican restaurants go?
I have been alive long enough to see how the common Pinoy’s fascination with Mexican food has evolved. The early incarnations were nothing great- quite edible but never beyond mediocre, to say the least. These Mexican joints of the 80’s and 90’s were mostly either dark, cavernous drinking spots, which are actually more popular for their pitchers of Zombie than their food (think Tia Maria’s), or small fast-food-type stalls that churn out soft tacos with microwaved ground beef (think Miggy’s). With globalization acting like a nuclear bomb, our exposure to what is deemed to be proper Mexican (or its half-breed cousins, Baja-style and Tex-Mex) virtually wiped out Mexican food as we knew it. We began looking to the American franchises as the benchmarks for what Mexican food should be- Friday’s fajitas, Taco Bell’s soft tacos and Chili’s Margaritas.
But any self-respecting Mexican food lover would soon realize that these bastardized recipes are not the real deal, not even close. Soon enough, even the dizzying allure of Chili’s softball-sized sour cream just does not cut it.
Enter the new breed of Manila’s Mexican restaurants. Mostly run by actual Mexicans or Filipino balikbayans, these restauranteurs claim to know what real Mexican food should look, smell and taste like. Terms like “carne asada”, “chipotlé” and “molé” have now become part of the local vocabulary, having been introduced as some of the major components in Mexican cuisine that we previously knew nothing about. Every newly-opened Mexican joint promised to be more authentic than the last, offering something fresh and exciting that Manila’s food addicts have never seen before.
Chihuahua Mexican Grill is part of the Mexican “boom” that has infiltrated the metro. Owners Elian and Ines are prominent personalities in the local food industry, having published a coffee table book together called Manila’s Best-Kept Restaurant Secrets, and each doing their own thing that keeps them constantly in the scene. It’s always fun bumping into them at food and wine events, with their animated storytelling and easy-going personalities. It is almost no surprise that they have decided to open a Mexican resto since I imagine them being perfectly at home in the middle of a crazy tequila-laced fiesta.
The food is decidedly Tex-Mex (Elian, although of Lebanese descent, grew up Texan), so the food is quite familiar. The difference lies, I believe, in how these simple dishes were prepared.
The Nacho Grande, for instance, although served in a utilitarian stainless mixing bowl, is out-of-this-world- crisp corn tortillas topped generously with chili con carne, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, jalapeños and cheese. It doesn’t matter if the chip you got had more chili than guac, or more salsa than sour cream. Every inch of that bowl was packed with flavor, and I had to restrain myself from finishing the entire bowl on my own.
Matt and I shared the basket of tacos, which came in threes. The chopped chicken and pork came topped with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and sour cream. If it looks spare, no need to worry- take a pit stop at the salsa station and you are free to load it up with as much sauce as you wish. There is also a selection of hot sauces to choose from, but I believe only a few bottles are opened at a time.
Although the tacos weren’t my numero uno dish, it was not lacking in flavor, therefore I could not help but enjoy the tacos nonetheless. The fresh habañero salsa was spot-on and gave the dish the kick it needed.
The burrito bowl with grilled chicken is another dish I liked a lot- I loved the moist, aromatic rice and the dense texture of the refried beans.
Something that is a universal favorite is the steak burrito, which my friends and I are hooked on. The thinly-sliced beef is tender and tasty, and the burrito as a whole is deliciously moist. This I will order for myself on my next visit. No sharing, Matt.
And, of course, a self-professed lush cannot step foot into a Mexican joint and not have a Margarita. A good one, in my opinion, has to be strong and tart- Chihuahua’s version delivers on both counts. Their frozen Margaritas have quite the knock-out punch, and even I- quite the ‘rita expert- had to restrain myself from ordering more than one since I did not want to lose that delicious dinner. It was hard to hold back, though, because those things are pretty darn good.
Another thing that is so awesome about this place is that they are open until the wee hours. So, those looking for a Mexican fix after a drinking binge in Makati can happily munch on a burrito at 3AM.
From the onset, Chihuahua seems to have all the components that make a successful Mexican resto- deliciously-potent Margaritas, addicting bowl of nachos, familiar and tasty dishes done right. These guys know what they’re doing and I believe the good food and the little details- special hot sauces, Mexican-sized (yes, they are almost the height of an actual Mexican) tequila shots- are those things that will keep people coming back. I, for one, am one of those people cheering them on, because God knows we all need a burrito at 3AM once in a while.
Chuhuahua Mexican Grill
7838 Makati Ave. (right across A.Venue)
Tel. no. (632) 897 0087