Get to Know More About Fil-Mex Cuisine Through Silantro KapitolyoOctober 18, 2019
In the last few years, quick service Mexican and American-Mexican eateries have started sprouting everywhere, with a number of cantinas and taquerias setting up shop in the city. While most of Mexican cuisine here is in the tradition of Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex, the term “Fil-Mex” was first coined in a little place down the road from the bus terminals of Dagupan, Pangasinan. That place is Silantro, owned by longtime friends and Dagupan natives, Paolo de Venecia and Francis Sanchez.
What is Fil-Mex? It is “Mexican adjusted to the Filipino taste buds,” says de Venecia, who developed the dishes that made Silantro the bustling little hub it is in their Dagupan and Kapitolyo branches.
De Venecia’s love for Mexican food started when he worked for a brief time in the U.S., in a Japanese restaurant that had a mostly Mexican service staff. “Every day I was eating Mexican food,” he recalled. “Laki ng influence sa akin – It was a huge influence on me.”
A look at Silantro’s menu sees where the borders are drawn and where they’re blurred. While they have the usual fare of Mexican quesadillas, nachos, tacos and burritos; they also have a burger, lamb chops, steaks, skewers, and ribs on their main course menu. Their Beef Quesadillas and Nachos are recommended for first-timers, and are customer favorites, swimming in beef chunks and a melt of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. The flavors are a mite lighter than usual Mexican fare, with a sweet aftertaste. A lot has changed since they first opened in Dagupan four years ago, says De Venecia. The original menu included full-out fusion dishes such as caldereta and Mexican-style bangus.
It was a gamble to open up the first Silantro branch in Dagupan in 2010. “Hirap mag-introduce ng brand – it’s hard to introduce a brand, especially in Pangasinan.” As he described it, Dagupan was known for their papaitan, and most other restaurants served traditional and native dishes. But the locals welcomed the change, and the crowds followed. It was enough incentive for them to bring Fil-Mex to Kapitolyo, Pasig. Bracing themselves for Metro Manila’s more competitive dining scene and a more discerning and vocal audience compared to Dagupan, they managed expectations upon opening.
“I wasn’t expecting it to pick up! We started with a small kitchen, dining area…then we noticed, every week, the crowds grew by twenty percent. After two months, I stopped counting.” To this day, weekend dinner lines extend up to the second house next to them. Silantro Dagupan also saw the spoils, as visiting Manilenyos would dine at their original branch on a trip to the region.
With two Silantro branches under their belt, they hit the home run in the starting restaurant check list. Both had menus that catered to Filipino tastebuds, and were situated in areas with bursts of high traffic such as a bus terminal in Dagupan, and a church in Kapitolyo. A happy coincidence, says de Venecia. But what they did on purpose was keep prices down, some of them for as low as PHP 75. “Mexican food is not supposed to be expensive.” says de Venecia.
Says Silantro’s Operations Manager, Anne Cruz, “Ang goal ng Silantro, kaya ang price niya di gaanong kataas or gaanong kababa, para lahat makakain. Kahit ordinary people diyan, pwede siyang mag dine with us at pwede mag enjoy ng food namin. So hindi lang siya para sa mga social, para sa mga higher level. May trabaho ka man, o wala, pwede kang kumain.” (Silantro’s goal, that’s why the price is not too high or too low, is for everyone to eat. Even ordinary people can dine with us and enjoy our food, it’s not just for socialites, it’s not too uppity. Even if you have a job, or not, you can eat.)
And people have kept coming back to eat. Shy of its second year, there are plans to renovate the Kapitolyo branch to accommodate more diners and provide a more comfortable waiting area, according to Cruz. As for more branches, even de Venecia wants to keep their reach limited, “Maginhawa, BGC, Makati. Three more branches, that’s it.” he says.
We could use more places like Silantro. It has shown the best of what Mexican fare could be, and bridged it to locals through fusion food. They made their own niche, while living up to casual dining without kitsch and the pretensions, as it should be.