It’s not every day that a couple of New Yorkers uproot their lives in the big city to start a taco place halfway across the world, but that’s exactly how Taco-Mata came to be.
According to Arthur Dancel (former Wall Street guy turned taco dealer), “Back in July 2019, my wife Arra and I decided that we were going to start a new taco business. At the time, we didn’t even have a planned menu yet. No ideas, no nothing. All we knew for sure is that we wanted to serve tacos and that we needed a solid name.”
A few ideas involving the word “matakaw” were thrown around until Arthur’s wife Arra (who used to work at the United Nations HQ in New York and is now the other half of the Taco-Mata dream team) suggested “Taco-Mata.” The result is the pun-tastic take on takaw-mata.
Pre-quarantine, Taco-Mata was a non-traditional taco stall at The Pallet in Makati’s bustling Poblacion district. While waiting in line, Arthur would strike up an easy conversation about the food, while a portable speaker would play classic hip-hop and R&B in the background. Before you know it, your buzzer beeps and the mouthwatering smell of tacos, spices and seasonings greet you as you pick up your order from the counter.
Their main menu consists of three tacos (that can be converted into rice bowls) named after iconic New York areas and a serving of sweet potato fries (P130). Taking a cue from the likes of David Chang, Eddie Huang and other notable Asian restaurateurs, the L.E.S. taco (P160) is a rich, juicy, red braised pork belly on a bed of homemade slaw, topped off with muscovado sugar, crushed peanuts and their signature Peruvian inspired green sauce made from cilantro and peppers. The sweetness and crunch of the toppings perfectly complement the richness of the pork belly, while the freshness of the sauce ties it all together.
Up next is their southern fried chicken inspired Harlem taco (P160). The Southern U.S. inspired deep fried chicken is nestled on top of homemade slaw, topped with chopped peanuts and muscovado sugar and finished with a generous slather of their signature green sauce. The chicken is crunchy on the outside and perfectly moist on the inside. Every bite is a melody of crisp, sweet, savory and just downright delicious—it’s quintessential soul food.
Finally, we have the Fulton taco (P150). The Fulton is a Cajun inspired beer battered fish taco served atop pickled vegetables, with a perfect dollop of their rich orange sauce, topped off with some paprika, cilantro and a splash of fresh lemon juice. The moist, flakiness of the fish coated in crispy batter perfectly plays off the rich caramelized onion and butter orange sauce. The acid from the lemon and the tanginess of the cilantro cut through the richness and give you a mouthful of perfectly balanced bold flavors.
Since the pandemic hit, Taco-Mata has been forced to retreat from their humble stall at The Pallet. They’ve since reopened as a takeout and delivery joint in Mandaluyong due to popular demand.
These days, practically all of us are dreaming of a life pre-pandemic. At this point, Taco-Mata doesn’t just represent New York-style flavors, it’s a sensory reminder of a life outside, and a promise to meet again one day.
Taco-Mata is open for delivery from Tuesdays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can place your orders through their website.
Taco-Mata is located at 118 San Francisco St, Mandaluyong
Header photo from Taco-Mata’s Facebook
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Writer: ANDREIANA YUVALLOS