The Philippines may share the same colonizer with Mexico, but both countries embrace their respective food cultures very differently. It was only in the last few years that we’ve actually been introduced to more authentic Mexican cuisine, and most Filipinos have yet to distinguish the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex food. Thankfully, one food cart located beside Som’s Noodle House is slowly introducing how tacos and gringas (another term for quesadillas) are prepared and served in Mexico.
If you’re walking along Algier Street in Poblacion, Makati, Taco Chingones cart beckons passersby with the sounds of meat and onion sizzling on the comal (a smooth, flat griddle used in Mexico). Upon our arrival at around four in the afternoon, the staff were already busy cooking chorizos on a bed of onions. The cart’s steel frame blends in with the white and gray tones of the residential neighborhood. Taco Chingones was built from owner Aljor Perreras’ fondness for Mexican cuisine. He not only travels to Mexico regularly, but grew up eating Mexican food in California. “I travel to Mexico a lot,” he shares. “Three times a week, I’d be in one of those places (in Mexico) eating 10 tacos at a time! When I was there last July, I thought, I gotta bring this experience to the Philippines.”
Taco Chingones makes sure you have the authentic Mexican experience. “We import the spices and chilis because for Mexican food, it’s really critical that you use the right chilis.” Aljor explained that although there are substitutes for these ingredients, he wants the cart to cook the food exactly as they do in Mexico. The commissary’s shelves are filled with chillis and spices flown from Mexico and the US: guajilo, chipotle, puya, and árbol, just to name a few. “These are the things that our dishes have and what gives them that distinct Mexican flavor.” Everything from the taco’s meat filling to the salsa and sauces are prepared with these imported ingredients.
The menu currently has five straightforward but extremely tasty items. You can have the Al Pastor (pineapple infused pork), Bistek (marinated thinly sliced beef sirloin), Lengua (ox tongue braised with birria sauce), Chorizo (Mexican sausage with spices), Carnitas (braised pork), and Carne Molina con Papa (ground beef with Mexican spices). Anyone used to the larger taco servings and hard shell style of Tex-Mex establishments shouldn’t feel shortchanged by the four-inch tortillas that serve each of these meats. Each taco contains two tortillas that carry the fillings: “Two tortillas are used. The first plot that the meat and salsa are sitting on is wet, so you need another tortilla to support it. It’s always two soft tortillas,” Aljor explains.
Since the tacos are served along the streets, these four-inch tortillas let you finish each piece in just three bites. “Bite here,” Aljor says while pointing to the left side, “then here,” indicating the right, and then finish the taco off in the middle. The correct way to eat a taco is to move your head to each side; this avoids the juices from spilling off.
Although the taco pieces seem small, each piece treats your mouth to the meat’s tenderness and the power of the spices. The chorizo isn’t too salty or sweet; the taste is just right and keeps you full just after a few bites. The carnitas are tender and complement the onions with cilantro. But the ultimate favorite has to be the lengua: it’s a familiar meat made even better and served differently in the form of a taco. After just one bite, I said “Oh my god!” loud enough for other customers to hear.
The Al Pastor serves pork that’s cut down from a stick. “The idea actually came from the Middle Eastern people that went to Mexico. They brought in shawarma and Mexicans made their own version of it.” Aljor says. “Only in Mexico, they use pork and not chicken and beef.”
You can also have any of these meat fillings in the gringa or quesadilla, which layers feta and mozzarella cheese between two larger flour tortillas. This larger size spreads the meat across the two kinds of cheese. We recommend the gringas for those who want to share or want another kind of ingredient with their meat.
For now, Taco Chingones is serving the tacos at PHP 50 and the gringas at PHP 100. A few passersby stopped by for a quick snack during our visit, making this cart a convenient place to have a filling but fast bite. At the same time, Taco Chingones is a place for everyone to hang out after hours and eat taco after taco during lengthy conversations. Like any other friendly food cart along the street, Taco Chingones is a comfortable place for everyone to enjoy excellent food without breaking the bank. The cozy street side location is an added plus for urban dwellers on a fun night out.
Have you tried the tacos and gringas from Taco Chingones? What’s your favorite among the menu items? Let us know in the comments below!
Address: Algier St. corner Jacobo St., Poblacion, Makati