It’s never been particularly easy for New Yorkers to find Filipino food outside of Woodside, Queens (aka Little Manila), but the Southeast Asian cuisine is finally creeping onto the mainstream culinary scene -- that includes Swell Dive in Bed-Stuy, where Filipino meets Tex-Mex in the form of culture-crossing tacos.
Like a tiny beach house squeezed onto Bedford Ave, Swell Dive sports distressed wooden booths of faded pastels, a mural of palm leaves, and surfing videos projected onto the back wall. Use the bathroom and you’ll find fake jellyfish floating in a small aquarium. While the surf-shack decor is decidedly mellow, the tacos are far from it, with pairings inspired by the owners’ hometowns of Quezon City and Austin, such as smoked pork sisig with jalapeño ranch slaw. Step up to the 10-seat bar and order the two best: charred beef and grilled fish.
The charred beef taco features tender, juicy beef reminiscent of Filipino street food, topped with a rich swirl of crema and jalapeño sauce, plus cheese and refried beans. A nod to the many tilapia recipes in the Philippines, the grilled fish taco features a petite filet of crisp tilapia that’s delicate, mild, and finished with a unique sprinkling of crunchy French’s fried onions. Refried beans, salsa, and avocado round out the piquant creation with classic Mexican flavors. Both tacos come wrapped in soft, chewy house-made flour tortillas, and while they mostly pay homage to Tex-Mex traditions, their Filipino influence makes them a nice departure from your typical cantina order.
Filipino food is gaining popularity in NYC, with variations on the cuisine popping up across the city, including the West Village’s 2nd City and the East Village’s Maharlika, but it still remains a rare find. Pork sisig with jalapeño? Even rarer.
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