Hong Kong’s beloved Japanese-Mexican food is now in Manila

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Chino is chef Erik Idos' playground and it’s about fun: you see it in both the decor and the food. In photo: Kataifi shrimp with butter lettuce and pickled salsa. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “I was talking to someone about how, when Filipinos travel to a different country, they respect what you’re doing [in your restaurant] but when they’re here it’s different,” says chef Erik Idos, executive chef and owner of the recently opened Chino in One Bonifacio High Street in Taguig, Metro Manila.

While this might not be the case for all his diners, he does make a valid point. After all, he’s worked his way up from kitchens in LA, New York, and Hong Kong, which probably house some of the most critical diners in the world. Who am I to disagree?

Idos was born and raised in LA to Filipino parents together with his extended family. “I was always watching my aunts and my grandparents cook Filipino food,” he shares. This affinity towards the kitchen led him to apply for culinary school after high school, despite the pressure put on him by his Filipino parents to become an engineer, or a nurse, or a businessman. This was in the early 2000s when cooking was not the celebrated profession it is today. If I’ve learned anything about him throughout our conversations, it’s that Idos always avoids the easy way out.

Photo-10 (11).jpg After a decade working under Nobu Matsuhisa, he decided to leave so he could cook for himself. “That’s how I incorporated Japanese food. I used what I learned working for Nobu,” Erik Idos says. In 2014, after a lot of sleepless nights and second guessing, Chino opened in Hong Kong. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Photo-29 (2).jpg Goat barbacoa taco with arbol miso and sesame. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Chino is the latest iteration of Idos’ career. He started off as a caffeine-filled line cook working two jobs in LA, then a line cook working his way up in Nobu 57, then the sous chef in Nobu San Diego, and then executive chef of Nobu Intercontinental Hong Kong. After a decade working under Nobu Matsuhisa, he decided to leave so he could cook for himself. Matsuhisa himself gave him two important pieces of advice: look for good partners, and do that restaurant you want to do.

Upon breaking the news, his Filipino parents reacted predictably. “You’re going to do what?”

“Back then, in Hong Kong, there was no good Mexican food. So I was like, ‘I’m gonna open a Mexican restaurant,’” he explains. Idos grew up in an LA neighborhood populated mostly by Mexicans. For lunch breaks and afternoon snacks, he and his friends, would find themselves taking on tacos, burritos, and glasses of horchata. He’s familiar with the flavors; however, he never trained as a Mexican chef.

“That’s how I incorporated Japanese food. I used what I learned working for Nobu,” he tells me. In 2014, after a lot of sleepless nights and second guessing, Chino opened in Hong Kong.

Photo-6 (10).jpg Chino Manila is a faithful, yet bigger, recreation of its Hong Kong branch. The space is simple and clean but with the LA rebelliousness of artist Aaron de la Cruz’s mural. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Photo-8 (11).jpg The restaurant is an opportunity for Filipinos to see Erik Idos’ culinary progression — from hotel fine dining to casual without the need for a flight. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Chino Manila is a faithful, yet bigger, recreation of its Hong Kong branch. It’s an opportunity for Filipinos to see Idos’ culinary progression — from hotel fine dining to casual without the need for a flight. Chino is his playground and it’s about fun: you see it in both the decor and the food.

The space is simple and clean but with the LA rebelliousness of artist Aaron de la Cruz’s mural, which also exists in the Hong Kong branch. The food is laid-back on paper — chips, tacos, and tostadas — but delivered with a high level of maturity and refinement that it simply astonishes.

Take for example one of their ceviche starters where slivers of talakitok (jack) are laid neatly in line, topped with pickled pineapples and shiso-lime, dipped generously in a spice dressing. Each bite remains balanced, highlighted by the spices but not overpowered, and it’s plated so nicely you might find it rude to sip that dressing — with “might” being the operative word there.

Photo-20 (4).jpg Talakitok with shisho lime and pickled pineapples. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Photo-31 (3).jpg Chorizo fried rice with fried egg. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

There are many places that have enticed Idos throughout his career, from New York to San Diego to Hong Kong, with Manila as the most recent location.

“You look at BGC, Makati, Rockwell, Salcedo Village, and you see these nice restaurants with young chefs trying to do their thing. I think the city is ready for something like this,” he says.

With experienced international chefs like him putting up shop in Manila, it speaks volumes about how healthy our local dining scene is and what is in store in the near future. But for now, Erik Idos, the man who chose to be a chef over a sturdier profession, is sure as hell making his Filipino parents proud.