The taco is one of the quintessentially Mexican dishes eaten and loved worldwide. While its true origins are unknown, some food historians trace it to the 18th or 19th century, and the many variations we know today are its evolutions from various societies and points in history during which Mexicans and those of Mexican descent abroad ate them.
The taco as we know it is both simple yet delectably complex. Essentially, a tortilla (made of corn or wheat) forms a pocket that hugs a choice of meat, herbs and/or vegetables, and salsa or sauce. There’s a science to making an authentic one, and an art to crafting something more creative, what may be a more “non-traditional” taco—especially one that fuses Mexican flavors with more familiar ingredients (aka local fare).
Manila has its fair share of taco joints, each one with its own specialties, unique takes, and even non-traditional ingredients. If there’s anything we learned after a full day of scouring the metro for tacos, it’s that you can’t underestimate this literal handful of a dish.
And while we may already have our go-to taco spots, it never hurts to have four more to keep on your radar.
La Toca Taqueria
2139 Fidel A. Reyes, Malate, Manila
10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
This hip new player on the block is a go-to for its proximity to De La Salle University – Taft. The two-floor space has a markedly youthful aesthetic: white and green tiles, quirky taco-themed posters, neon lights, and a large round convex mirror definitely put there for selfies. This all makes for a perfect backdrop for your Taco Tuesday social media posts.
But La Toca is more than just its aesthetic. It has a comprehensive menu, offering variety with a pretty reasonable price range. The available mains can be enjoyed in the form of tacos, rice bowl, quesadilla, or burrito, while their starters and desserts are also good to share.
Perfect pre-game/post-drink tacos would be their sisig chicharron. A bestseller for good reason, as each bite is a flavor bomb on its own. After all, it’s packed with pork sisig, crushed chicharron, adobo sauce, onion jam, bone marrow butter, sisig crema, roasted pineapple and green chili, cilantro, onion, Toca salsa, and calamansi.
(A bonus: Their playlist is full of bangers.)
El Poco Cantina
945 Estrada St., Malate, Manila
10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily
Another taco spot nearby and frequented by students is El Poco Cantina. Here, you can enjoy tacos and other Mexican fare in a more relaxed setting. They take pride in their birria, which you can have in either pork or beef–plus, they also have group servings, making them great for bigger gatherings. Even parties, as they offer taco trays!
Their birria doesn’t just come in taco form, too. Birria fans can have a field day here with their birria nachos, quesadilla grande, birria burrito, and birria de arroz.
Aside from birria, be sure to try their carnitas, picadillo, and barbacoa. These tacos come with a bit of heat, so best be ready with a cold horchata on hand.
Tadeo Filipino Mexican Comfort Food
The Ignacia Place, 62 Sgt. Esguerra Ave., Diliman, Quezon City
11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
Tadeo FilMex, by chef Jorge Mendez (yes, also of Modan), has long been known for its genius infusion of Filipino flavors into Mexican fare. Remember the sinigang burrito? They’ve also applied the same creativity to their tacos. Here at Tadeo, you ought to go for the more unique taco fillings.
For a taco that captures the Filipino fondness for things savory and sour, go for the tilapia fish rebosado tacos. It features a large chunk of fried battered tilapia on a bed of red cabbage, drizzled with garlic sour cream, and topped with red radish, tomato, and spring onions. The result is a medley of textures and flavors in a single bite.
If tilapia isn’t for you, you can also go for an off-menu option: the octopus tacos. Aside from slices of octopus tentacles, it comes with a crunch and a tinge of tartness from pomelo.
And if still you want more, they also have tostadas, which come in cute flower-shaped cups, filled with either sinuglaw (pork sugba, toyomansi dressing, inihaw stuffing, mustasa, mustasa oil, and wansoy) or kinilaw (maya maya, leche de tigre, roasted pepper salsa, and gumamela atsara).
3F Oakridge Plaza, Paseo de Magallanes, Makati
4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays
2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Los Tacos is the physical incarnation of a viral pandemic business. Starting out as a cloud kitchen, the restaurant specializing in authentic Mexican street food has opened up a physical space in Magallanes. The birria is one of Los Tacos’ best offerings with generous chunks of hearty beef, rich cheese, and a crisped up exterior to die for.
For lovers of variety (and the very hungry), their cuatros tacos is a collection of shrimp, suadero, fish, and al pastor tacos. The restaurant also serves up some of the freshest and most flavorful tuna tostada, served with a very unique chili oil with a crunchy, secret ingredient.
Another thing that Los Tacos has to brag about is some of the best guacamole on this side of the planet. It’s made with mashed Hass avocado and loads of spices, which gives the dish a simultaneously creamy and chunky texture.
When you’ve polished off your meal, you can wash it down with their sweet and light aguas frescas, which come in cucumber, lychee, classic limon, and horchata.