I am so sorry, Malu Gamboa, but I have to break my promise and spill the chili beans on El Chupacabra!
It’s too good a secret to keep. For the longest time, we from the siopao-bangs-hairspray generation of the ’80s and ’90s have been waiting for the resurrection of Nakpil Street in Malate. Conversations with Café Breton creator Mariela Luna (the first Breton was just off Nakpil on Ma. Orosa Street) would always lead to pining for those days: “When are you bringing Malate back?”
Resurrection seems to be in the horizon, although it’s not in Manila but in a “gillage” (gilid ng village) in Makati. Chiquie Mabanta and brother Dixie, with wife Claudia, have resurrected Mexicali in style, bringing the Nakpil vibe to Polaris Street in Bel-Air.
The hangout is El Chupacabra. It is hip and happening. No posers (so far!) but real people who would like to have a good time and dance.
On a Saturday night, you will find the lovely Gai Olivares and dancer Ada Leon of Salcedo Market’s Sabor Cubano doing the salsa with other happy spirits; Malu Gamboa having a good laugh over the prized P20 Chupacabra barbecue; or Gina Garcia and Stephen Carroll sharing Don Papa rum.
The setting is conducive to chill mode. The space seats around 20, but more tables are set up to go beyond the arched doors and spill onto the street to accommodate more guests.
The colors are turquoise and yellow, the lights dim, the signage in wood and the music fabulous.
The burritos are the classic Mexicali kind. But even better are the street tacos—slightly toasted, soft-shell tacos with very flavorful fillings, whether chicken or carnitas. Malu absolutely endorses the barbecue: “P20! The best!”
And I absolutely love the bowl of chili—just the right amount of spiciness and kick.
For something different, there is the Chupacabra “dimsim”—no, that is not a typo. It’s like siomai but with a crusty cover. Another play on food is the San Francisco sisig, which uses all “lean pork.”
Don’t be afraid to demand re-heating of the food. Claudia herself gamely busses out orders and wants to be sure guests are happy, with help from James, “the neighbor from upstairs.” Service may be slow on a full night, but who’s in a rush?
Oh, and the sangria is by the glass. Clearly, the ladies here don’t need much to come alive.
The chupacabra is a blood-sucking goat that is more legend than lore. But if the name has been bestowed upon this place to signify enchantment, it is a name well-deserved. Nakpil is back!
El Chupacabra is at G/F, 5782 Felipe St., Bel-Air, Makati City (Take Polaris. Turn left on the street before the last corner). No reservations required. Wheelchair accessible.