I have never met anyone who likes Manila. Oh, apart from the random American dude who had been living in my hostel for eight – EIGHT – months without working, just getting drunk and stoned every day and not really leaving the hostel…but I wouldn’t deem him the best judge.

So there I am, in a hostel in Manila, sleeping in a dorm that looks like something out of Annie, surrounded by fifty Americans on a missionary project, missing my friends and hating Manila. The only thing that is going to rectify this shit show is either getting blind drunk in the safety of the hostel or some good food. But the hostel is full of fifty Americans on missionary project, so food it is. Good food fixes everything, at least for a little while.

A quick Google and browse of some local food blogs and I’m swiftly headed in a taxi to El Chupacabra, which turns out to be a true gem in horrible, dirty Manila. This Mexican joint is well known in hip Makati City; the food is authentic and well executed, the drinks are cheap and the restaurant surges into the street as the night goes on, staff erecting little tables and chairs further into the road until cars cannot pass due to an array of furniture propping up the in-the-know locals and expats alike.

El Chupacabra attracts a friendly crowd; the locals at the two tables next to me spoke to me openly, and changed my mind on Manila for around four hours, before a couple of scary cab journeys back to my hostel planted me firmly back into the ‘I Hate Manila’ camp. Can you tell? But my time at El Chupacabra was fun. My kind neighbours invited me to sample their sisig (135 PHP), a traditional Filipino sizzling pork dish with egg that cooks as you stir it and some of their seriously spicy chicken wings (250 PHP) over a few San Miguels. The Baja California fish tacos (125 PHP) were delicious and fresh, the fish beautifully crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside. I also tried the Barbecoa de Res tacos (125 PHP) – shredded chipotle beef stew, and the grilled chicken tacos (95 PHP) and the only problem with my meal was the fact I didn’t have anyone to share all of the other tacos on the menu with. The range at El Chupacabra is excellent, including spicy goat meat (150 PHP), spicy chipotle shrimp (145 PHP) and Shawarma style chili marinated pork (95 PHP), so you could happily sit eating only tacos all night long. Should you want something different,  they also serve Tex Mex style mains – burritos, nachos, rice plates and even burgers and hot dogs.

If there are more places like El Chupacabra in Manila, I want to know about them.  The grunginess of this open air taqueria gradually taking over the street as the hours tick away on a humid night suits the city and in particular the neighbourhood perfectly. This place has personality and a huge following for good reason. Go early to score a table in the thick of it – by 6.30pm the place was full and there are no reservations, so you’ll have to wait with a margarita or cold beer for your name to be called or for more tables to be put out. If I ever find myself in Manila again, this is the first (and possibly the only) place I’ll go.

5782 Felipe, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 2 895 1919

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