This post is the third of a five-part series called The Great Maginhawa Food Trip.
Part 1: Tomato Kick
Part 2: Friuli Trattoria
Part 3: Cocina Juan
UPDATE: As of September 2013, which is when I last visited Maginhawa, Cocina Juan is no longer open for business. You can check their FB page for updates!
Cocina Juan, one of the more unique finds in Maginhawa, serves Nicaraguan food. I'll wait here while you look up Nicaragua on Google... Good? Okay. Nicaragua, as you might have learned already, is a country in the Central American region, which is right between North and South America. Easy, right? It's also right below Mexico, which explains some of the menu options in Cocina Juan, which seem to be Mexican-inspired, if not actual Mexican dishes. What sets Central American food apart is their use of meats, grains and various herbs and spices. Their cuisine was also influenced heavily by the Spanish, much like Filipino food.
Now enough history/geography lessons! It's time to focus on Cocina Juan and their fantastic food!
The restaurant itself is a cozy little house, brightly-painted and with assorted foliage covering the front, so much so that it might be hard to catch the tiny signage in the front. Just make sure to watch out for the big red chili pepper when you look for this location.
Upon entering the store, you'll already notice the distinctly Central American decor on every single inch of available space. The orange walls lined with various exotic curios, the tiled countertops adorned with an Aztec motif, wide wooden tables covered with large woven tapestries, shelves stacked with assorted strange-looking icons and figurines--all of these little details will make you feel like you've stepped into another world entirely.
If you're wondering what those bags of pink, yellow and dark purple things are, those are actually just nacho chips. All customers are given a complementary dish of those chips, topped with a light sour cream dressing. Initially, I thought that the purple chips may have been made with blue corn, but seeing that there's also a pink variant, I think they're just tinted with food coloring.
We ordered two of their specialties, Cerdo Vientre Chimichurri or pork belly served with their famous Chimichurri sauce, and Alitas or Spicy Chicken Wings.
The restaurant prides themselves on their chimichurri, which is a very popular sauce in Central America, used mainly for grilled meats. Originating in Argentina, chimichurri is a light herbal sauce similar to Italian pesto, but instead of basil, this sauce has parsley and oregano, plus olive oil, garlic, and vinegar or lemon to give the sauce a nice tart finish.
The Cerdo Vientre Chimichurri, or Chimichurri Pork Belly, consists of large slices of grilled pork belly, a cup of plain rice, and a small dish of the famous chimichurri, garnished with some crispy strips of deep-fried tortilla. The meat was tender and juicy and flavorful, but what really brought it over the top was the sauce! The chimichurri very nicely balanced the rich saltiness of the meat with its aromatic garlic-and-herb combination, along with a mild hint of the sour lemon.
Cocina Juan's Alitas are a less fiery but still rather spicy version of Buffalo Chicken Wings. The spiciness is more subtle, and somewhat milder while still maintaining a unique peppery flavor. The deep-fried breaded chicken wings is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and unlike other fried chicken dishes, this one is tasty not only on the outside, but to the bone. Perfect with rice! Plus, with 6 pieces for each serving, there is no fear of not having enough.
There are so many other interesting things to taste and see at Cocina Juan that one trip is definitely not enough to enjoy them all. With so many exciting dishes plus the quirky ambience, Cocina Juan is one of those places where every visit is a completely new and different experience.
Cocina Juan F. Gallery
100 Maginhawa St., Teacher's Village, Quezon City, Philippines
Tel. No.: 4343911