Straight up masarap. There’s delicious food inside La Chinesca’s admittedly cramped space in Parañaque. The luchador graphic staring at diners from the glass entrance door need not look so stern and grim.
My opinion here may be skewed in favor of Bruce Ricketts, La Chinesca’s proprietor, not because I know him personally, but by reason of previous brushes with his dishes. Those encounters, at Sensei Sushi and Mecha Uma, were mostly enlightening, if not always outrightly excellent.
As is usual with Bruce’s style, there are liberal ingredient additions that expand on the definitions of the subject cuisine. Tacos by tradition are rooted in quick, straightforward preparations – you place meat or fish on a corn or wheat tortilla, top it with some chopped cilantro and onions, and maybe end with a dollop of salsa verde or salsa roja for a fiery finish. Simple.
La Chinesca’s tacos aren’t simple. They’re fancy, almost crossing the threshold of contrived. The defining salvation of La Chinesca’s taco conceit comes most clearly in the taste. My praise carries a small caveat, however, being one who prefers his tacos in the more traditional, unadorned mold.
My orders focused on meats not normally used in tacos – oyster, goat, duck. The oyster was encased in a batter much like what fish in a fish taco would be. “Guacachile” and fresh salsa gave the serving an easy airiness. The goat and duck meat bits were tender and gently seasoned, though at times overpowered by either the sweet or savory elements of the mango, sautéed onion and cheese (ay, caramba!) additions.
True Mexican tacos give you plain and simple meat flavors. La Chinesca, not strictly bound by tradition, piles on ingredients which have the unintended effect of shifting attention from the carne. The taste distraction is both good and bad for a taco purist. There’s no arguing with the end result, though. The small shop churns out tacos that are appealingly delicious to a Pinoy dining crowd that may normally shun the boring, predictable simplicity of traditional taco examples.
It’s this inventiveness that produces an uni version, an off-menu item (much like the duck) that was available on the day we visitied. Briny-sweet sea urchin on a hard, crunchy taco shell works brilliantly, much to our surprise and delight.
We ended with bites of the carne asada and tripitas, and even these supposedly classical tacos were enlivened with unconventionally creative touches such as watermelon for the tripe and a mysterious “Chinesca crema” for the asada.
I admit having chastised Taco Vengo previously for the same needlessly ornate methods and soulless departure from authentic Mexican roots that I now praise La Chinesca for. Perhaps Chinesca just executes the spiffy Fil-Mex taco much better and with more out-of-the-box mettle. Bruce Ricketts’ creations belong to a different universe altogether compared to the semi-dreadful pieces they make you endure at El Chupacabra, for instance.
La Chinesca has made eating tacos exciting, even to this self-professed taco snob.