“Say what?”, you might be wondering… Well, Empingao! is a cozy hole-in-the-wall restaurant located in Poblacion, Makati, right on the corner of San Lucas and P. Burgos streets. It boasts a very creative menu of Latin American cuisine led by their Executive Chef, Mikel Francis Zaguirre, the same genius that brought Locavore’s menu to life. Don’t expect your run-of-the-mill, traditional dishes typically seen in Latin American restaurants, however, I can assure you that what they serve is something you probably have not encountered anywhere else in Manila. You might be wondering exactly what their name means. “Empingao” is actually a Cuban slang which means “effin’ awesome”, which is exactly what you will be exclaiming once you have tried their dishes. You’ll be coming back for more; I’m a living proof of that.
Though I’ve been back multiple times (enough to have tried most of the items on the menu), I was first introduced to this gem of a restaurant by my travel buddy, Tess. We ordered a mountain of food—and finished about four dishes between the three of us who were there. We left with happy tummies, on the verge of a food coma, and I’ve been bringing friends over ever since!
My personal favorites are Lomo Saltado and Salmon a la Plancha.
Lomo Saltado is a stir-fried tenderloin served with a side of potatoes, grilled peppers and tortilla. It also comes with their signature sauces: chimichurri, crema (kinda like sour cream), chili oil (this is by far the best one I’ve sampled) and mojo. Put the beef in the tortilla, pile on the sauces and prepare for an explosion of flavor in your mouth. It costs P485 and is good for sharing.
Salmon A La Plancha on the other hand, is a perfectly pan-seared pink salmon piece topped with pico-de-gallo, crema and almonds. At first I thought the almonds seemed out of place, but boy was I wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it made me see that pink fish in a whole new light. Maybe it brought out the flavors or it complemented the pico-de-gallo, I don’t know, I’m no cook. But this was truly delicious in my opinion. And because I am a born and raised Filipina, of course I ordered it with rice on the side. At P330.00, this is a bargain considering the serving size.
Aside from those two, I’ve also sampled their other offerings. They recently changed their menu so you can be sure to find new things on there even if you’ve gone before.
For appetizer, try the Ham and Cheese Empanaditas for P250. This is three pieces of pastry stuffed with Farmer’s Ham, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, cooked to a crunch. They serve it right off the stove so be careful of the melted cheese! Be sure to consume it before it cools completely though. Another good pick for appetizer is the Lamb Tostada. This is three pieces of fried corn tortilla with lamb cutlets, mint, cream and topped with a pickled red onion. They serve this pretty fast so if you’re hungry, it’s a good idea to order this to tide you over while waiting for your entrée(s).
Also try their Churrasco – different kinds of grilled meatson skewers that’s guaranteed to make your meal enjoyable. I personally prefer the Wagyu, Pork Belly and Lamb Chops churrasco, but for those of you who cannot decide, I’d recommend the churrasco platter. That’s twelve sticks of four different kinds of meat, perfect for a food trip paired with local beer, which they also offer.
Speaking of food trips, you will notice on their menu that they have recommended some items exactly for that. One of them—and for good reason—is the famous Cubano. Have you seen the movie Chef (2014)? If you have, I’m sure your jaw dropped while they were prepping this exact same sandwich in the film. And Empingao’s version does not disappoint. What’s with the gruyere, the ham, pork, yellow mustard and dill pickles? I’d say it’s always a good idea to get this. Try to share the love with a friend though. Unless you’re really hungry (or have a big appetite—don’t worry, I won’t judge), it’ll be pretty difficult to consume on your own.
Now if you’re looking for more things to sink your teeth into, try the following mind-blowing entrées: Mofongo – a smashed plantain with roasted garlic, smashed bacon, Puerto Rican roast pork and Chicharon. My mouth just watered listing all that down (no kidding). I mean come on, those were five awesome food, put together to form an even more awesome plate. For seafood lovers, try their Camarones al Ajillo. That’s black tiger prawns cooked in garlic and butter, served with caper and olive ciabatta. The cost of their entrées, which include the earlier mentioned, Lomo Saltado and Salmon a la Plancha, range from P200 to P500, and most are good for sharing.
With all that food, you will need something to wash it down. I recommend you try their house blend iced tea. I’m very picky when it comes to ordering iced tea in restaurants, mainly because I do not like a lot of them. Generally, if someone else from my group orders, I’ll taste theirs, and see if I like it. I employed that tactic and ended up ordering 2 glasses. So yes, their house blend is a must try.
Let’s say you’re in the mood for more than just a meal, Empingao also has a bar right outside their spot. They serve cocktails for as low as P90 and shots at P50. That’s value for money right there. If you do decide to visit, make sure you try their very own Empingbomb. At P99 this one packs a lot of punch.