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$20 Dinner

Start 2023 Right With Mucho Sarap’s Filipino Tacos on Canal Street

The team behind the stellar pop-up So Sarap prove that combining Filipino and Mexican food is an awesome idea.

A taco being dipped into delicious consome.

Consome de Nilaga, $8. It’s one of the best things our correspondent slurped down in 2022. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The idea for Mucho Sarap, a new Filipino taco stall located inside the Canal Street Market, first started taking shape in pre-pandemic times, in the kitchen of Soho hotspot Lure Fishbar.

It was there that chef VJ Navarro, who was born in Italy, and grew up in Flushing, but whose family fiercely maintains and celebrates their Filipino heritage, met his mentor, chef Neptali Mendoza, who introduced him to Mexican cooking. 

"Filipino food is hard to put out there," Navarro told Hell Gate while ladling out some killer consome from a burbling pot. "It's very heavy, with a lot of going on. So I thought by combining it with Mexican food, in an easy bite like tacos, more people would try it." 

First, though, Navarro and his high school friend Sebastian Shan launched So Sarap, a classic Filipino street food stand (think: chicken heads, pig's blood skewers, and balut) that popped up in September of 2020 on Allen Street and has since ensconced itself at both Smorgasburg locations in Brooklyn.   

Don't worry, fishball fans, So Sarap is not going away. But when a booth at the newly rejuvenated Canal Street Market became available, Navarro saw it as the perfect spot to roll out his more accessible-to-the-masses concept, Mucho Sarap.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Not that the food here is timid. "All dishes are based on Filipino food, with Mexican tortillas and sauces," said Navarro. "We're trying to combine two cuisines into one without losing the flavors of either." 

Taco de Nilaga, $5 (Scott Lynch / Gate)

And so we have things like the Taco de Nilaga, an extremely rich and juicy Filipino stew, made here with beef short ribs, cheeks, and tongue, piled onto a decent corn tortilla and capped with lots of onion. This is terrific, especially if you dump on some of the accompanying red sauce and/or green sauce.

The Consome de Nilaga is a weekend special (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

And if you come on the weekend and they're serving Consome de Nilaga, get it with a taco or two for dipping. It's one of the best bowls of anything I slurped down in 2022.

Taco de Longaniza, $5 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Taco de Longaniza is also very good, the sweet pork sausage chopped into tiny pieces and, if you choose (you should choose), topped with pickled jalapeños and onions. The taco piled with apritada, a tomato-based chicken stew, is less exciting. 

Definitely get the Lumpia Guac, which is as simple and fun as it sounds, just five fried, pork-filled spring rolls sticking out of a mound of creamy guacamole. Essentially: chips and dip. The avocado needs a little more oomph, however, so feel free to add that spicy red sauce, or some pickley things, or even bits of the fiery dried chiles before scooping. 

Lumpia Guac, $15 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Lumpia Chiladas, $15 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Lumpia Chiladas is probably the most clever of Navarro's cuisine mashups, with the Filipino vegetable spring rolls treated as enchiladas, covered in gooey cheese, a mess of cilantro, and drenched in traditional Mexican sauce. And it's all pretty filling. Go with a buddy, get two tacos each, split one of the lumpia dishes, and you'll still have enough left over for a Jarritos or two.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The whole Canal Street Market felt festive and alive when Hell Gate went last week, with the decked-out Mucho Sarap booth leading the way. The design here is meant to evoke the Tindahan, the Filipino equivalent of the bodega, with the "storefront" in the back (the snacks and such hanging behind the chicken wire are just decor for now, though Navarro is actively seeking a distributor so he can sell the genuine goods) and people hanging out front on the "sidewalk" drinking, eating, socializing. 

The Mucho Sarap booth is decked out like a Tindahan, the Filipino equivalent of the bodega  (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"We're bringing the Filipino streets to New York," said Ariane Demesa, who is married to Navarro and called herself the Mucho Sarap spokesperson. "Maybe we'll set up karaoke next." 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Mucho Sarap is located within the Canal Street Market, located at 265 Canal Street, between Broadway and Lafayette, and is currently open from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily. If you can't get one of the bright yellow stools in front of the booth there's a large communal dining area in the back of the market. 

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