There’s nothing outwardly fancy about Chino MNL. Firstly, they’re famous for tacos, which, in itself, is hardly five-star. But chefs Erik Idos and Tracy Wei, at the helm of this Hong Kong original, are the type of chefs who don’t look down on street food and won’t spare it from a little refinement. So, here at Chino MNL, even everyday cuisine is dressed a little more eloquently.
They’re the kind of people who would probably grow and farm their own ingredients if they could.
The food is primarily Mexican and Japanese, but there are influences from other Asian countries, including the Philippines. Erik is a Filipino-American who worked as a line cook at Nobu, and worked his way up to become executive chef of Nobu Hong Kong when it opened in 2010. Tracy, on the other hand, is a trained pastry chef. They worked in Nobu San Diego together. What you see on Chino's menu started out in the Nobu kitchen, where Erik would cook for friends and colleagues during off-hours.
There’s a lot going on in their tacos and tostadas. The avocado and almost everything else is imported to assure consistency; tuna the size of your average sashimi order is diced for the poke; and the tortillas are handmade—nearly everything is what it is because they’re the kind of people who would probably grow and farm their own ingredients if they could.
What CHINO offers apart from a stunning ceviche is the introduction of a different kind of dining—one that’s still about food, drinks, and the customer, but also about respect for the concept and the people who run it.
But it’s not the food—though it is exceptional—that makes Chino’s arrival in Manila all the more significant.“The people were our biggest adjustment. For example, we open at 6 p.m. and there was a customer at 5:55 p.m. We told her we can’t let her in because we weren’t ready,” she recalls. Needless to say, the customer was in a sour mood throughout dinner when they finally entered five minutes later. Even staff have to be treated more gingerly. It's a far cry from Hong Kong and its famously brisk and no-nonsense approach to service, so when they opened in the Philippines, their first outpost, they had to do more than create a special Philippine-only goat barbacoa.
But Chino is introducing a different kind of culture to their workforce. Every server, for example, has to be able to explain every item on the menu. After work, Tracy and Erik take their team out for a meal or drinks. "We want them to understand where we came from and that we're a family here."
What CHINO offers apart from a stunning ceviche is the introduction of a different kind of dining—one that’s still about food, drinks, and the customer, but also about respect for the concept and the people who run it. It's not about ordering one tiny dish and sharing it with five other people or nursing one beer for the whole night. Tracy and Erik provide enough of an enjoyment with their mezcals and tequilas and cookery that you’ll want to give them something in return: respect for the discipline Chino offers.
As a generally fun-loving country, we’re used to take things at a leisurely pace. With a drinks menu longer than the page for food, Chino can definitely give you a good time. And while five minutes isn’t a huge deal, these things go both ways—you could be allowed in five minutes early or you could wait for a short five minutes. Chino makes the five-miute wait worth it. In fact, they’ll make it worth so much you’ll want to leave after a meal because you'll want others to enjoy it, too. (Just find a seat at the bar.)
CHINO MNL is at G/F One Bonifacio, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.