Los Tacos MNL pops up at sexy Poblacion hotspot

Chef Patrick Keith Curitana’s sleek take on Mexican cuisine launched Kondwi’s kitchen takeover series.

Nothing can ever come between chef Patrick Keith Curitana and his masa. It is, after all, the vessel which holds all his masterful Mexican creations. The dough made of dried and ground corn soaked in lime and water solution is what is needed to form tortilla for tacos; flattened and fried to make chips or tostadas; or mixed with meat and vegetables then steamed into luscious tamales.

In chef Curitana’s world, masa is highly essential, and he politely declined interviews, at least not until the dough has been properly prepped for service.

In May, his pop-up restaurant Los Tacos MNL did a kitchen takeover at Poblacion bar Kondwi, one of many owner Marvin Agustin wished to have in this artsy corner of Makati’s party district. Luckily, there are lots of things to keep me entertained while I wait for dinner service at the spacious bar/art gallery/events venue.

Masa is life: Los Tacos MNL was born out of chef Patrick Keith Curitana’s kitchen where he provided locked down diners with their Mexican fix.

Celebrated Filipino artist Leeroy New is a partner here and ensures that the brooding space is decked in scintillating and provocative art. In the second floor events hall, the evening’s bondage-heavy burlesque performance has drawn quite the crowd of creatives and misfits. There was plenty to see as we sipped our potent cocktails, my margarita on the rocks giving me that much-needed buzz.

Los Tacos MNL came about during the pandemic, when chefs displaced by the lockdowns had to think of ingenious ways to make a living. Pre-pandemic, chef Curitana had just started working at progressive Filipino fine dining restaurant Hapag, and would have continued on that path if not for the unfortunate circumstances that hit restaurants during those times.

Los Tacos MNL opens at Uptown BGC where it will have a dual-concept space with an open kitchen and a chef’s table.

Stuck at home, he like many others got on the YouTube DIY train and became fascinated with birria tacos— those delightfully greasy, griddle-fried, tortilla-wrapped shredded beef dipped in broth. Los Tacos MNL was born out of chef Curitana’s kitchen where he provided locked down diners with their Mexican fix, serving up dishes such as his bestselling birria, street tacos, stuffed piquillo peppers, and more.

Years after and with the hospitality industry back on track, chef Curitana has been doing pop-ups like this one, but soon will be easier to track down at his brick-and-mortar opening in Uptown BGC. The focus will still be on Mexican cuisine, but those who have been following Los Tacos since the lockdowns will surely note how the 32-year-old’s food has evolved.

The dishes—from his elegant ceviches to his salsa macha-drenched roasted cabbage to the juicy chicken fillet over hours-cooked molé—have surely been given the restaurant upgrade. He has perfected his tortilla, as is evident in its texture regardless if fresh and pliable or fried to a crisp.

“It’s a dual-concept space, with an open kitchen and a chef’s table,” chef Curitana explains when asked about his soon-to-open restaurant. “The kitchen counter is where I get to play around with my Sosa concept, which is like a tasting menu kitchen bar. Then the rest of the dining room will be serving the ala carte Los Tacos menu.”

The Kondwi pop-up offered a peek of what to expect including some collab exclusives like one with his former boss (chef Curitana did his OJT at Black Sheep 2.0) chef Patrick Go (Your Local)— a crab toast with chipotle aligue crema, fish roe, and fried greens with nori. He teamed up with the Kondwi kitchen to come up with his pork skewers with al pastor salsa, cilantro slaw, and grilled pineapple.

While chef Curitana’s refined spin on Mexican cuisine was perfectly at home in Kondwi’s whimsical surroundings, this chef is more than ready to finally settle into his permanent digs. After years of making do with his home kitchen, and then working out of spaces borrowed from others, the hardworking and resilient chef has truly proven that you can put him anywhere and he will thrive.

Imagine what he can do when he can finally plant his roots down firmly and allow his hard work and talent to finally bear fruit.

The new lifestyle.