Taqueria Real in Pampanga Gives You A Near-Authentic Mexican ExperienceNovember 16, 2014
- Pamela CortezWords
The nightlife in Angeles City, Pampanga, has a less-than-stellar reputation. Known mostly for girly bars teeming with seedy strangers, Walking Street is the most infamous of them all, with door after door of ramshackle clubs. It feels like a cross between a backpackers’ street and a red-light district—you get cheap restaurants stacked beside rows of bars and clubs with scantily-clad women all at the door. Some parts terrifying, but some parts electric and exciting, this place is also home to a colourful restaurant scene, inevitable because of the varied nationalities that come through the area. There’s Mediterranean, Korean, Greek, Malaysian, Thai, Italian among others, all priced so much better than any establishment in Manila. This year, right smack at the beginning of Walking Street, a tiny Mexican eatery entered the mix, serving up tacos, burritos and other favorites from 5pm-5am during the busiest throes of the area.
Taqueria Real is more of a shack than it is a restaurant. There are around 5 seats altogether, and a stark white banquette where you can stand and eat your taco while watching fights break out and less-than-discreet transactions take place. The tiny kitchen is equipped to reheat and plate rather than cook ala minute, but the smells are enticing nonetheless. The menu is short and uncomplicated—tacos, burritos, quesadillas and rice plates make up the mains, and there are elotes, bunuelos, horchata, and Mexican soft drinks. All you need to do is choose your meat and the way it is served. The choices are limited but all sound decent: al pastor, carnitas fritas, cochinita pibil, tinga de pollo, beef barbacoa, carne asada and chicken inasal.
Tonight, I’m having whatever’s left, as I’ve come at around 11pm and Taqueria almost always sell out of their whole stock. The soft tacos come with a thicker tortilla, which isn’t my favorite (I infinitely prefer the fresh, thin, mealy kind), but it’s secondary to the meat. The tinga de pollo, made with tomato and chile sauce is shredded then piled on with pickled red onions, and a dice of onion and cilantro. I have it slathered with their homemade hot sauce which is equal amounts spicy and sour. Everything is a satisfying bite, but still lacks a certain punch. The cochinita pibil is much, much better, and reminds me of the tacos I used to have all the time at my first stint in college, in a little place called Wahaca. Cochinita pibil is made by slow roasting pork that is marinated in some sort of citrus (oranges, limes or lemons), coloring it with achiote or annato, then wrapping it in banana leaf. For only PHP 70, this thing is a steal because it is hefty, and the quality spectacular. The pork flavors are complex, with the distinct bitterness of orange and a sweetness that can only come from the juice and fat of the animal. What I didn’t particularly care for was the addition of cheap cheese, which seems to dumb down the ingredients that stood up well on its own.
The rice plate, at PHP 130, was great value for money. Served with beans, rice and pickled red onions, it was filling enough for one very hungry individual to devour in minutes. The beef barbacoa we chose had been pulled as it was incredibly tender. The beefy liquid and jus ran all over the plate, making it a wonderful mess and soaking the rice and beans with the flavor of oregano, garlic, and chiles. The Al Pastor, which is meant to be their best dish, wasn’t ready for carving, but I’ve been hearing so many good things about that it that I wouldn’t mind making another trek to Angeles just to see their take on the Mexican staple. Taqueria Real offers horchata free with every meal, and they do it quite well, with the distinct blend of cinnamon and sweet milk from rice making it a solid companion to the spice of your taco or burrito.
It can be argued that some of Taqueria Real’s ingredients could be improved, but with the price you’re paying for, it’s really the meat that matters, and it can be incredible. What makes Taqueria Real even better is the novelty of it all. It comes with the territory; the frenetic ambiance transports you to a busy street in Tijuana, complete with clandestine revelry and the eclectic characters you are bound to meet. Their food wouldn’t be this good anywhere else—Taqueria Real has made quite a fine home for itself in Angeles.
What’s your favorite Mexican eatery in Manila? Would you trek all the way to Pampanga for Taqueria Real? Sound off in the comments below!
Address: Walking St, Fields Ave, Angeles City, Pampanga