Food & Drink

Chino MNL Opening Signals How Manila Is Ready for a Higher Standard of Dining

Their tacos aren't your typical street-side variety.
IMAGE Patrick Martires
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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.

IMAGE: Patrick Martires

IMAGE: Patrick Martires

For their first outpost, Tracy and Erik decided to find a location that was both commercial enough to be easily discoverable yet not too exposed. Their spot, slightly hidden by the towering Shangri-La, in Bonifacio High Street give them that middleground. They're set to open a third location in Niseko next year. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

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. 

Erik Idos trained at Nobu, starting out as a line cook then moving forward to become executive chef of the hotel's Hong Kong outpost. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

Tracey Wei is a trained pastry chef and she's usually at Chino's front of house. Both Erik and Tracy have been going back and forth between Hong Kong and Manila the past three months. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

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.

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Market fish ceviche, citrus dayap, and cashews–put everything together and this starter gives you a little bit of everything in one bite. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

The tuna tostada is brightened by yuzu miso. Here, you can see that Nobu flair that's inspired Chef Erik. The coaster-sized tostada may not look like much but it actually packs a regular-sized block of sashimi. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

This picture-perfect egg will have you reaching for your cameras. It's chicken tinga, pickled onions, and avocado. Chino knows how to go for the punch with every tortilla. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

The goat barbacoa was made specifically for the Philippines. In Hong Kong, they use lamb for this particular iteration. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

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.

Tracy's outstanding Thai tea tres leches. It seems like such an obvious idea, but at CHINO, they make it happen. The little specks on top are crunchy cereals. IMAGE: Patrick Martires

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."

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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.

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About The Author
Sasha Lim Uy
Managing Editor, EsquireMag.ph
Sasha eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She also recently participated at the Madrid Fusion Manila as curator.
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