I've never heard of Vatos before until last weekend. Apparently, this restaurant and bar opened back in February and is a franchise that started in Singapore and Korea by three Korean-American founders who want to share their love for food.
Located along 5th Avenue, fronting Fort Strip, Vatos exudes a fancy and intimidating vibe with its dim lights and high ceiling. But one would be surprised with its menu of reasonably priced dishes and beverages.
The first thing I noticed upon entering is the quirky lights shaped as top hats giving the place a bit of Kingsman feel. Then when I looked down, it became a bit more industrial with the pipe accent on the tables with the inverted faucet as bag hooks.
While waiting for the rest to arrive, we were served with complimentary basket of Fresh Chip and Salsa which comes with fresh corn tortillas, tomatillo salsa verde and roasted onion chipotle salsa. If one serving is too little for you, you can order another for PHP95.
I first thought that it was rather plain, ordinary and not exactly appetizing. But after taking my first bite, I simply could not stop. It was addicting! It was like I was charmed really bad by the dips, especially salsa verde which had a delectable refreshing taste! The roasted onion chipotle salsa was good too though it might be a bit too salty for those with low tolerance to salty dishes.
Vatos Cowboy Queso (PHP390) was served right after everyone arrived and again, it looked plain and nothing special. But that was my absolute favorite that night. You simply should not hastily judge a book (or dish) just from its appearance as it could make your jaw drop with what it has to offer.
The molten queso dip served on a sizzling bowl is a marvelous blend of pepper jack, cheddar cheeses, black beans, pico de gallo and cilantro lime crema giving it a complex and deep flavor. Each mouthful was cheesy and chunky thanks to the black beans and pico de gallo. I could go on and on admiring this fantastic dish but there are a few more to share.
Next served was a basket of Kimchi Carnitas Fries (PHP390) which I thought to be the same as the one I've tried before in another restaurant. But again, I was proven wrong. This one had more spunk! Topped with braised pulled pork carnitas, kimchi, melted cheese, sour cream, cilantro, onions and a bit of Vatos hot sauce, this snack is not your ordinary fries. Despite having several ingredients fighting for your taste bud's attention, each one was well-defined yet blended harmoniously resulting in a smacktacular piece. And what I loved most about this was that the fries remained crisp despite the heavy toppings! R wanted to know how Vatos makes its fries but it seems to be a top secret and will remain a mystery for us.
We then feasted on three kinds of Vatos Urban Tacos namely Spicy Chicken (PHP280, 2 tacos | PHP380, 3 tacos), Korean Pork Belly (PHP320, 2 tacos | PHP450, 3 tacos) and Chili Lime Shrimp (PHP280, 2 tacos | PHP380, 3 tacos). We were told that it is best to eat these with your hands. But the tacos had generous filling that would make me eat like a kindergarten student if I eat it with my hands. Everything will be all over me! So I opted to stay proper and used my fork.
I found Spicy Chicken to be... well, very spicy. That is when eaten as a whole; because of the Vatos Hot Sauce. Surprisingly, the spicy marinated chicken wasn't that spicy and this could be a let down for those with very high tolerance for heat. But you can have it adjusted to be milder or spicier! Just request in advance. They can even have the hot sauce served on the side if you have near zero tolerance like I do.
Korean Pork Belly had a more familiar taste as it was just like eating samgyupsal! Served with ssamjang aioli and onions, it had that slight spicy, salty and tangy taste that I love.
Chili Lime Shrimp was like munching on mini tempura with that mouthwatering cilantro and lime taste. I'm a big fan of lime and cilantro combination so this was an instant hit for me. It was lighter too so this would be a great option for those who would drop by Vatos for after dinner session.
Second to the last dish served was Honey Tequila Chicken Wings (PHP420) which I hastily judged again as tried-that-nothing-new. But this was amazing! Though I was slightly intimidated by the deep-fried-masa-battered jalapeños and thought that this was one of those seriously spicy wings, it was quite mild and very addicting!
Its sweet and spicy honey tequila glaze was flavorful enough that I didn't even bother to dip it in the blue cheese dipping sauce it was served with.
As we continue to savor every dish in front of us, we tried some of Vatos' signature drinks such as Vatos' Ritas Sexy Sanchez and Grow a Pear (PHP480 each) and Makgeolitas in Mango, Passion Fruit and Classic flavors (PHP350 per glass).
The Makgeolitas, blend of tequila and Korean rice wine makgeolli, were refreshing! My favorite among the three flavors served was classic or lime.
Curious how to differentiate one from the other? It's all in the number of straws. One straw means Mango, two straws is Passion Fruit and three straws stand for Classic.
I had to practice intense self control over Vatos' Ritas as Sexy Sanchez was seriously good! It had that lovely berry taste that I found hard to resist. It was one sweet drink that kept seducing me to have more. And it didn't help that the huge glass was in front of me during dinner.
I then decided to move to the other side of the table, not just to avoid Sexy Sanchez but to indulge in more Vatos Cowboy Queso. Screw self control. I cannot keep myself away from this chunky dip! I ate so much with gusto that the friendly gals behind Vatos knew my favorite right away.
And to cap our meal, we munched on some Nutella Nachos (PHP225). Though this was nothing special as it's just crispy tortilla triangles dashed with cinnamon and sugar and topped with (almost) everyone's favorite Nutella and vanilla ice cream, I liked how Vatos made its dessert aligned and consistent with its offerings.
Overall, two thumbs up Vatos. I will definitely be back for more! Thank you, Vatos and looloo for the invite!