Tambai in Burgos Brings Yakitori to the StreetsDecember 19, 2019
Burgos is Manila’s happening hipster neighborhood—I’ve even heard someone call it Williamsburgos, a punny ode to Brooklyn’s hip enclave. It’s littered with excellent Japanese and Korean restaurants that were popular even before its revival, then El Chupacabra elevated the area from seedy hole-in-the-wall to a buzzing area.
Alongside girly bars and dive bars is a standout tequila bar, a Latin American chicken joint, and soon, Erwan Heussaff’s latest venture, and a Thai street food place called Crying Tiger. Quietly though, at the end of last year, a tiny shack called Tambai opened its doors in the neighborhood.
A few doors down the same street as El Chupacabra is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it space, all gray concrete so at night it blends in with its surroundings. There’s an awning that hints at a dining area, but it’s dressed in black, too. The only indication the place exists is a stream of people, sitting at stools, standing around cocktail tables, or lining up at a window carved out of the ground floor of a building. Upon closer inspection, there’s a tiny kitchen in the back, and chalkboard walls with simple menus scribbled over them. It’s a stark, minimalist place, which, ridiculous as it sounds, just feels and looks cool. It’s Williamburgos personified, really.
Tambai is simply a yakitori joint. There’s probably less than 20 things on their menu, with only one rice and one salad option that stray away from the sticks. It’s genius Pinoy street food elevated for the crowd that stumbles their way to the area because of its underground dining reputation. The place however, has actually been in the works for quite some time. Partner Melvin Viceral recalls always buying cigarettes from the Manang who owned the sari-sari store that stood in Tambai’s place, and urging her to rent it out to him. He waited patiently, almost 2 years, until he said she prayed on it and decided it was time to do something with the space. He joined up with buddies Franco Ocampo and Jerome Valencia, who is the chef behind Tambai’s recipes.
The name Tambai perfectly encapsulates Viceral’s vision: he wanted a place where he could literally “make tambay”, and the name came about during one of those eponymous sessions. It needed to have Japanese flair, too, because that’s the kind of grub he wanted to serve up, hence the subtle change, which does make it seem to have a Japanese nature, too. The food, in all its simplicity, reflects this Filipino-Japanese marriage as well, taking advantage of our love for street barbeque, and crossing it with a traditional yakitori grill.
There’s sticks of beef, pork, and chicken—all well priced, which can come in a platter for only PHP 280. They’re a bit hit and miss, but the place is still finding its bearings at this early stage—the plain pork and chicken sticks disappear when compared to the grittier, dense beef isaw and a delightfully chewy gizzard.
Bigger options or “laki-tori”, are well-seasoned, too, with a meaty rib finger showered in a bit of spice. Best yet was the soft shell crab on a stick, a steal for what it was peddled at, with all the crunch from a good breading, and the sweet, briny soupy meat from a good quality crustacean. The Blue Kettle beer they stock is a perfect match to the skewers, never overpowering what should be the stars of the show.
Tambai is what it is– an no-frills joint that is great for everyone from a barkada on a budget, to inebriated customers stumbling in at the late hour. It further cements Burgos’ status as the eclectic but welcome antithesis to all the uber-trendy identikit restaurants that are popping up everywhere. Succinct menu, simple booze offerings, and a killer vibe– the guys at Tambai have ticked all the right boxes to make this the place to be.
Have you been to Tambai? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts with a comment below!
Pepper.ph was invited to feature the above establishment. Therefore, the feature includes no rating whatsoever, which can be influenced or biased.
Address: 5779 Felipe St., Poblacion, Makati