Jammed in the middle of a red light district with bars lining the neon streets for block after block, lies one of my favorite places on the planet. This is where I go when I have an urge that finds no relief elsewhere. The ambiance of this place is thick and brimming with culture. The air is alive with an electric aroma that gives you goosebumps. The electric aroma of tacos.
Approaching the street front restaurant, the crowd sitting outside is the first thing I noticed. This is because they are the most diverse group of people I have seen gathered in one place here in Manila. There are literally people from every walk of life represented here. From European backpackers to a group of Japanese businessmen, the customers are united by one love. Tacos.
There are people sitting drinking beer from sweating bottles. They puff cigarettes, and everyone is talking or laughing loudly. Right there at the entrance is a cook grilling on a flat top and nearby, another guy working at smokey BBQ pit.
Servers are everywhere. The place is slammed and really the only thing missing is a loud Tejano band.
There is no “front door”, as the entire front wall is open to the street. Inside, the walls are covered in black Sharpie graffiti scrawled drunkenly by past fans. Framed by graffiti are brightly colored Hispanic artworks universally splashed over with an orangish light that give the place a very psychedelic feel. The smell of the street tacos on the grill permeates everything.
The drinks are strong and cheap, but for most people this is where you go after you’re drunk. The crowd is loud, but it ‘s street food, baby. This is how is should be. It’s got energy, jive. Like a mix between Tijuana and Bangkok. You smell of coal fire and BBQ long after you leave. It’s the perfect place before, during and after a night on the town. Enough about how it feels, let me tell you why people love this place.
El Chupacabra offers simple, traditional style Mexican street food. Yes, they have a load of things on the menu like burritos, nachos, wings etcetera, but what made them famous are the tacos. There is, of course, some Filipino influence on the food and ingredients. They use a few things like calamansi instead of lime, local chilis for the hot sauce but other than that, from what I could tell, it is traditional recipes. Traditional Mexican street food. That’s hard to do when you’re on an island 14,211 kilometers (8830 miles) away from Mexico. The tacos are simple; just pick your choice of what type of meat you want. There are tons of different choices, anything from shrimp to intestines. Whatever you choose gets slapped inside two corn tortillas and topped with cilantro and chopped white onion. From that point, you can drench it in their garlic cream sauce or the aforementioned hot sauce. Totally up to you what you put on it and when you will stop eating.
One of my favorite things on the menu is the Sisig Taco. Sisig is a Filipino classic dish and there are or oodles of different varieties. To keep it simple, the most common type of Sisig consists of parts of pork face like the cheeks and ears and maybe some nose 🙂 Relax, I know you’ve eaten hot dogs before. Sisig is prepared with spicy local Filipino chili peppers, chicken liver, and fresh white onion all served sizzling on a hot iron. It’s basically Fajitas without the tortilla, AKA the perfect base for a taco. Sisig has got a nice sourness from vinegar and a kick from the chili. The texture is crunchy from the cartilage and earthy from the liver, making all its notes well balanced. It is really a great dish and wildly popular here in the Philippines.
Just a footnote: Pig ear by itself has become quite a surprise ingredient at many trendy restaurants. It is identical to Sisig‘s texture, so don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
But back to tacos. The goat taco is really good. The Lengua Taco is great. But, the pork carnitas… the pork carnitas are to die for. When you go and order “one of this and one that”, make sure you do yourself a favor and get a minimum of two carnitas. That is assuming you like pork that has been slow cooking for hours soaking up gallons of flavor. It’s almost mushy with juiciness before it hits the hot grill. Grilling gives the carnitas just enough crunchy brown bits of texture for an overall flavor profile similar to the very best pulled pork.
My second favorite is the Lengua taco. I love Lengua. When I was a kid, there was a taco truck across the street that had great sandwiches called Tortas. One day I asked some Hispanic people that were eating outside which sandwich was the best. They told me Lengua, so naturally, I ordered a Lengua Torta. The torta arrived and appeared to be garnished exactly like all the other sandwiches I had ordered there. Round, fluffy flatbread stuffed with avocado, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, and I even think there were refried beans in there, as well as what appeared to be beef. I tried it, and it was a fantastic, juicy, and tender sandwich. That sandwich set a flavor benchmark for every torta to follow. They watched me eat the whole thing then told me Lengua was Ox tongue and laughed at their joke. I didn’t care then because it was delicious. So, thank you guys for the introduction to Lengua.
It can be hard to find a good taco in Manila, Philippines. I have spent way too many years eating great tacos in Texas and California to not have them in my life. Thankfully someone must be looking out for me because El Chupacabra’s stuff is on point, thus solving any taco craving related issue. Oftentimes, the best spots to eat are a real dive. My go-to restaurant for when I want a great taco is El Chupacabra.
Phone:(02) 895 1919
Address: 5782 Felipe, Makati, Metro Manila