When it comes to Mexican in Manila, I’m not sure if I’m ever really satisfied. Yes, there are spots I frequent often, and places with certain dishes that I’ve come to love. However, I constantly gripe about the state of the cuisine in the city—it is most often Tex-Mex, or if not, tailor-made to our palates. The adobo will be sweeter, the chilis and sauces never too hot. Challenge me if you will, but even “good” Mexican joints around here are far from authentic. I’ve slightly given up on looking for legit tacos or flautas or tamales.
It is important to tell you about authenticity, because that is what I crave for when it comes to Mexican grub. But apparently, it was never about the authenticity—Taco Vengo has proven me wrong. The reason why I was never satisfied, is because it was about taste, and I had never found anything that was seriously, unequivocally delicious. Taco Vengo has become my favorite place to get tacos in Manila, and it is far from authentic, but it is also ridiculously good. This is where I’ll be getting my taco fix from now on.
The place is unremarkable, but that’s the charm of spots like these, especially in a sea of overwrought yet shoddily designed identikit restaurants nowadays. What makes it even better are the beautiful owners whose charm fills up the room, who care about whoever steps into it, explaining their food to you as if you were old friends. They only have six options on the menu, which you can turn into tacos or burritos, and all are pretty exceptional—I say go for one taco each and split with a friend, or greedily have them all to yourself. There are two tofus, one with deep, heady mushrooms that come with it, and another an Asian slaw that is all vinegary sweetness.
Their steak is far from barbacoa or adobo, but is slightly salty, super tender, and flavored by the soft, blistered red peppers and orange chipotle marinade that permeate each bite. Tempura shrimp is so juicy it seems as if it were caught that day, and the breading is a light accent rather than a heavy overture. The chicken is glazed in honey and soy but surprisingly marry well with their slaw and sauces. But best yet are their pork cheek tacos, assertive in flavor with the texture you can only get from well-cooked pig face: gelatinous, tender, fatty, chewy, and meaty all at once. It is also topped with puffed-up chicharon if you’re into that sort of thing; their tortillas are made fresh everyday too, which says a lot about how much the owners care about the food they’re making.
I’d skip their nachos with sous-vide egg, which doesn’t seem as honest as the rest of their offerings. But who cares, I would be here everyday if it was nearer to my stomping grounds. It has all the makings of a real neighborhood place, with people who all seem to know each other, plate after consistent plate coming out of the kitchen, and prices that are competitive for the area. Screw authentic, if these are the results. Taco Vengo is my kind of Mexican.