Mexican Food Wars Part 2: B&T vs. Ristras


For the second installment of Juice.ph's Mexican Food Wars, B&T goes against Ristras. Vote on who you think should win!



In This Corner: B&T Mexican Kitchen


For this review, two members of the Juice team (Anna and Kristine), braved the rush-hour traffic from Makati to Ortigas to join me for dinner. As soon as we entered B&T Mexican Kitchen, the smell of grilled meat, cumin, and the flash of torch fire melting the cheese to “wet the burrito” from the open kitchen made our bellies rumble with delight.


Setting:


The walls are painted bright orange and green, the table arrangements are a bit cramped, and the cafeteria-style display of ingredients, along with the requisite blackboard showcasing the menu written in colorful chalk that we see in most Mexican joints, make for a very casual vibe.

The place looks well suited for large groups as the tables and chairs can be pulled together without needing assistance from staff. You can walk in here after your basketball game in Ronac –with oil-slicked hair, wearing your tattered after-game-shirt, basketball shorts, and slippers, without anyone giving you a second look.


A Short Background:


This is my second visit to B&T Mexican Kitchen. The first time I ate here, I excitedly tried the Chicken Mole meal (a dark sauce with a hit of cacao), which I first heard of when I read Like Water for Chocolate. Unfortunately, unlike the book’s version, which was painstakingly (and lustily) made to perfection with turkeys (force-fed with walnuts), a sauce containing chocolate, roasted chilies, seeds and nuts ground sexily by hand, the B&T version tasted like hot chocolate poured over my chicken and rice. Unlike the people in the book who tried that sauce, I didn’t have any euphoric feelings towards this sauce. Maybe, just maybe, I expected too much.

We are greeted by B&T Mexican Kitchen’s owner/manager Philip Tan, a former partner of another Mexican joint called Ristras (which you will be reading about later in this article), who shares that this restaurant has been open for a year and six months. He gamely explains what they have to offer and the subtle differences of the dishes. But the more he shares, the more confused we get. Should we have rice? So does that mean we want a burrito? Or maybe an enchilada?

Even as we salivate with each delectable description, decisiveness still eludes us and we eventually take his word on what we should try. It’s his restaurant after all.
  


What we have on the table:


Mango Glazed Habanero Wings, P350



If you’re looking for an alternative to buffalo wings without giving up the spice factor, this is worth a try. The chicken wings are fried but the crispness can be compared to that of KFC’s original chicken recipe, which is not that crisp at all.

The combination of the sweet mango with the habanero sauce gives a good mix of familiar Pinoy flavor with a decidedly Mexican kick. B&T takes pride in the fact that they plant their own habanero locally, with seed flown in from the US.  

Juice tip-off: If you’re not one for spice, you can ask them to separate the habanero sauce for you.



Jalapeno Poppers, P150



These are whole jalapenos coated in a light batter, deep-fried, and then served with sour cream topped with a dollop of melted Monterey Jack cheese. The jalapenos are crunchy upon bite, and the juicy spicy flavor slowly fills your mouth as you continue to chew it. The cold thick sour cream and cheese sauce does a good job of cutting the heat from the jalapenos. We asked for more and used it as a sauce for the chicken wings as well.

Juice tip-off:
This should go perfectly with any of the Craft beers and Mexican beers that they stock. We like Tecate! (Check out our Battle Beer next month for our favorite Mexican beer in Manila).


We're certainly not getting tired of Mexican food any time soon, but if you want a different taste, try some Japanese food. Here are some suggestions on where to get your Japanese fix!



Wet Carnitas Burrito,  P340 + Wet Version P130 = P470



Carnitas (literally “little meats”) is the Mexican version of pulled pork. It’s made by slow-cooking shreds of pork that’s marinated in lime and/or orange juice (which is a natural meat tenderizer), and then seasoned with cumin and Mexican peppers.

Dirty thoughts aside, the “wet” option for the burrito involves having your already-massive burrito baked, topped with salsa, pico de gallo, and then smothered with melted Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese. After “wetting” it, the burrito went from enormous to ginormous. Thus the extra Php130.

Philip says the wet burrito is quite similar to a chimichanga, the main difference being that the latter is deep-fried before being covered with all that salsa and cheese.

We were given sour cream and a roasted tomato salsa, but this dish was already overloaded with toppings like Mexican rice, beans, lettuce, corn, tomato salsa that we didn’t need another layer of flavor.

This massively loaded dish combines a delicious plethora of flavors and textures that include the piquant and smoky carnitas, the creamy and savory beans, as well as the sharp and velvety cheese. I salute anybody who can finish this alone, willingly.

Juice tip-off: For that one person out there who thinks this isn’t filling enough, they have an El Grande option.



Arizona Virgin Pina Colada, P100


We admit, it’s the attractive packaging that suckered us into buying this. It’s a large bottle (20 oz) but for a non-alcoholic beverage, this is expensive. It stays true to the beachy smell you’d expect from the drink. It pours out into this thin cloudy liquid that tasted of milky, sweet, and sour flavors that we would almost forgive for its thin consistency, but is deftly killed by the lingering artificial/perfume-like aftertaste.

I’d say that you’d even like it if you hadn’t had piña coladas in a few years and you live somewhere cold and wanted some vague distant taste of the tropics. Lucky for us in the Philippines, it’s not that hard to find coconuts and pineapples here, so the real deal wouldn’t be that hard to concoct if the owners of any of these restaurants decided to do so. We bet you it wouldn’t cost P100 either.

Juice tip-off:
Don’t fret! You can still enjoy Arizona’s cute packaging. In spite of its Php50 price tag, the peach or raspberry-flavored iced teas are still refreshing flavors to enjoy. Yes, even the lemon flavored iced tea is good if you’re going to be that boring.


Verdict:


It was a good thing we arrived with ravenous appetites. On any given day, 3 girls would find it quite an endeavor to consume the large portions if they’d choose to order a different main dish each. We appreciate that Philip and his staff remained very helpful, smiling through all of our questions, which surely they’ve been asked countless times before.

I’ve visited this place a few more times after our initial research and have been pleased with the consistent outcome. The food stays fresh they say, because they use negative ion technology to prolong the freshness of their ingredients.

There are other interesting things on their menu that we’re raring to try, including the Mexican burger (check out Juice.ph's Battle Burger, a list of our favorite burger joints in the metro) and the Agua de Tamarindo – the description makes it sound like an iced sinigang drink.

Bring your friends, as many as you can, and come as you are. Whether you’re in a ballgown or a ratty sando, no one will care. They’re all too busy trying to figure out how they’ll finish their burritos anyway.

Juice tip-off: Watch out for a B&T Makati, they’re looking to expand very soon.




In This Corner: Ristras



Ristras BGC, with warm natural light flowing through an all-glass façade, brightening the sparse white walls of this cantina. Set against overcast afternoon sunlight, I initially see large-scale dreamcatchers decorating the wall. Chiara and Kristine, my lunchtime buddies for today, squint further and see what turns out be a display made of dried red chilis. Not as romantic as I had thought, but I guess that it’s more apropos anyway.

Setting:


The place is spic-and-span, with black chairs and marble-like tables. The menu is up on board – exactly like in the previous review. It’s just as simple, pick your filling and tell them how you want it served. It’s a perfect spot at the Fort to go with your co-workers to have a snack and a couple of beers before driving home from work.


A Short Background:


We’ve all eaten at Ristras before and are familiar with their Godzilla burrito challenge. We also know that even their regular dishes are enough to feed a hungry pack of  wolves. (On a similar but unrelated note, a place included in our Juice 50 called Big Bad Wolf, is situated in the same building).


What we have on the table:


Carnitas Wet Burrito,  P330



Their version of carnitas is made with organic pork marinated in orange juice, seasoned with freshly cracked black pepper, seared quickly and then braised for 4 hours. We opted for a wet burrito so we could fairly compare it to the B&T version that we had a few days earlier. The burrito is stuffed with a combination of the cilantro-lime rice and chorizo brown rice, pinto and black beans, read and green peppers, pico de gallo, corn, salsa, guacamole, cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream and shredded romaine lettuce, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. As flavor-packed as that long list of ingredients sounded, we were disappointed that this baby lacked the punch of flavors that we expected from it. The flour wrap was gummy while the extra dimension we expected from the cheese sauce underwhelmed us as well. We asked ourselves if we ordered the wrong filling.

Juice tip-off: If you’re not satisfied with your order, tell the manager. If they can’t help you, RANT about it on EYP!


Chicken Fajitas, P320



The grilled chicken marinated with jalapenos and lemon-lime turned out to be a tasty treat. It arrived in a platter. You are left to your own devices to wrap-as-you-like. Again, we are served with healthy doses of chicken, cheese, salsa, lettuce, guacamole, rice, and beans. Sadly, the wraps served with the fresh ingredients tasted as gummy and undercooked as the one from our burrito wrap. We ate this as a naked fajita instead (a.k.a. salad), by adding some freshly made salsa topped with a dollop of the light and tangy garlic sauce. This we enjoyed.

Juice tip-off:
Mexican cantinas often serve many sauces to accompany their dishes. If you find that your dish is lacking in flavor, you can always help yourself to some garlic sauce, chilli sauce, and some extra salsa. Here at Ristras, luckily they don’t charge extra for all these. (Yes Hermanos, we’re looking at you.)


Verdict:


When Ristras first opened in San Juan in 2009, it reignited the Pinoys’ love for Mexican food. People flocked to the small cantina, tucked into the wayside of Wilson Street, at all hours of the day and well into the wee hours of night, to share their food on double dates, barkada dinners, and big family gatherings.  (San Juan is quite the foodie corner. Here's a Juice map for some of the yummiest recommendations Gilmore-Granada.)

But alas, if only things could stay the same. We could only speculate that the quality diminished when two of the former partners left to pursue their own restaurants (Achiote and B&T). We think that all this place needs is a little love and attention by its owners to restore it to its former glory.

We’re willing to give this place another shot, how about you dear reader?



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Who will win in this war of the Mexican restos?

Is it B&T Mexican Kitchen that caught your fancy? Click here to RAVE about it!


Or would you like to RAVE about Ristras because of its winning menu? Click this link to vote for it


Let us know who you think should be the winner of this tilt and you can win some awesome prizes yourself!



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Juice Recommends:

Mexican Food Wars Part 1: Achiote vs Orale - who do you think deserves to win this tip-off?

For more places to visit, eat in, and party, visit Juice Night Out!


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Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

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