It Takes Two to Taco
What makes a really good taco? Is it the type of meat or the quality of the tortilla? Should it have a soft or a hard shell? Should it conform to authentic Mexican standards, or does it matter at all? As the age-old “Mexican authenticity” debate of street tacos goes stale, a taqueria nestled in an alleyway in the heart of Kapitolyo called Taco Vengo proves that in order for a taco to be a showstopper, it really just boils down to good flavor.
A quick glance at their menu would make you think they were offering the ordinary: a choice of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu as the protein star of your dish. But it will only take one bite of their freshly made, piping hot tacos, with the juices streaming down your fingers, to convince you otherwise—as the flavors, both familiar and surprising, begin to play symphonies in your mouth.
Begin with their chicken taco, which is served with a generous amount of kimchi, to have an idea of what this place is about. The unassumingly delicious combo serves up a punch that is sweet and spicy, stupefying your taste buds. Then go for the juicy and super soft pork taco made with cheek confit, which keeps well the gelatinous parts of the pig, making every bite sublime and sinful. Topped with chicharon bits, the play of contrasting textures is enough to make you roll your eyes with delight, as you lovingly munch on the brittle bacon cheek, allowing the little bits of jelly fat to melt on your tongue.
If you want something more stripped down, the steak taco is spot on. Careful not to bastardize the quality beef, their steak taco is cooked perfectly to medium well, and is rubbed with an orange chipotle glaze, paired with a chimichurri sauce and topped with grilled pimiento and onions.
The magical Chwaffle
Wash everything down with a refreshing mojito, or a cold bottle of beer, and it feels like a nice summer day. Then end your meal with their signature dessert, the chwaffle: a waffle fried with churro batter, coated with cinnamon and sugar, and then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche. It’s sickeningly sweet and tasty, you don’t mind gorging on one alone.
The soul of the food can be tasted in the homemade ingredients—the unique tortilla blend, the soft shell made from fresh ground corn, the guacamole mush side dish, and the habanero hot sauce.
Hands-on life and business partners Ted Manotoc and Abigail Sy are the masterminds behind the homey little restaurant, which began as a discreet spot in refurbished container van, but has since moved to new locations. “Tacos really spoke to us,” says Ted. “It has so much potential, yet at the same time it’s so accessible.” Rather than pressuring themselves to achieve the authentic Mexican flavors, Taco Vengo’s food evolves by taking off from different inspirations, making their tacos one of a kind, leaving a lingering craving that makes you want to come back almost every day of the week. And don’t be surprised if you do.
Taco Vengo has branches at 16B Williams Street, Highway Hills, Mandaluyong City; and UG/F SM Mega A, Mandaluyong City.
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.