Taglish (https://www.taglishfl.com/) just soft-opened a few weeks ago, and it quickly became one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando. “Taglish” is clever shorthand for Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines, and English, and the name fits perfectly, because Chef Michael Collantes envisioned it as a Filipino-American fusion restaurant.
Located in the small-but-bustling food court of one of my new favorite foodie destinations in Orlando, Lotte Plaza Market on West Colonial Drive and John Young Parkway in West Orlando, Taglish has filled a void that many of us didn’t even realize was there — an introduction (for many foodies) to the delicious flavors and textures of Filipino food. Filipino restaurants are still rare in most parts of the country, especially here. But since Taglish announced its soft opening, I’ve been twice so far, a week apart, and I fantasized about returning that whole week in between. On my first visit, knowing Taglish opened at 11 AM and wanting to beat the rush, I arrived around 11:15 and barely had to wait in line at all.
The first thing you might notice upon lining up are the four drinks served in “bubblers”: ube horchata, strawberry hibiscus, cucumber pear, and mango calamansi lemonade. (The lady in front of me in line moved a bag at the exact wrong moment to cover that last sign, but trust me.) Drinks are $2.70, except for the ube horchata, which is $3.95. But you can always make any meal into a combo for $4, which includes a drink (plus a nominal upcharge if you want the ube horchata, which you probably will).
On my first visit, I chose the ube horchata. Ube is a purple yam that is popular in Filipino desserts, and horchata is one of my favorite drinks to order with Mexican food: a rice milk often flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, perfect for cutting the heat of spicy dishes. It was thick and rich and sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet. Having no experience tasting ube before, it reminded me of the vanilla-scented taro milk tea my wife always orders at Vietnamese restaurants and Asian tea shops, right down to the similar shade of lavender.
Although the dish I ordered wasn’t spicy at all, it was one of the tastiest, most satisfying meals I’ve eaten anywhere, in a long, long time. I asked Barbara, the extraordinarily friendly and welcoming cashier, what she recommended, because everything sounded interesting, and she recommended I try the sisig ($9.50) — a dish of crispy pork pan-seared in garlic, tomato, onion, and jalapeno, served over rice (I opted for garlic rice instead of the regular white rice), topped with a poached egg and a drizzle of garlic mayo. I made it into a combo for an additional $4, to include the above drink and two lumpia, crispy pork-stuffed spring rolls served with sweet chili sauce for dipping (just out of frame).
Constant readers, I can’t sing the praises of this sisig dish nearly enough, or in enough detail to honor the fictional definition of the term Saboscrivner. It exceeded my every expectation in the best possible way. I splashed on a bit of spicy vinegar from a glass bottle in a small condiment area next to the cash register, and that spicy sourness just brought out all the strong, rich flavors even more. The perfectly poached egg ran richly over everything, and the bits of tomato, onion, jalapeno, and garlic added the slightest spice. I would eat this dish every week if I could. I felt like I was floating afterwards, and I surely bored my wife and a few acquaintances raving about it for days after the fact. I even e-mailed Chef Collantes to gush about how much I enjoyed it, and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to write me back.
By the way, you give them your phone number when you place your order, and they text you to come pick up your food on a tray when it’s ready. This could get precarious later in the day when every seat in the food court is taken, so I encourage you to arrive with friends, or make some once you get there!
Well, after that auspicious first visit, I returned a week later, on another Saturday. Unfortunately I got to Lotte Plaza Market around 1:30 PM that second visit, so there was already a long line at Taglish — great for them, and only the most minor of annoyances for me. But good word has been spreading, and I only hope to spread it further.
Barbara even remembered me from the previous week, and I remembered her second-place recommendation from when she suggested the sisig. As much as I loved it, I had to try something new, for the sake of the Saboscrivner’s subscribers. So I ordered the chicken adobo burrito ($8.95) — a thick burrito stuffed to the bursting point with classic Filipino dish chicken adobo (also served as a bowl over rice), garlic rice, fried potatoes, and stewed mung beans, wrapped in a large flour tortilla and almost defying the laws of physics. It was outstanding! So many flavors, textures, and even colors to appreciate and explore.
This was a perfect example of a fusion dish, and I loved it. My only regret is very minor — I might have been able to analyze each component better and savor the ingredients if I had ordered this as a bowl over rice, instead of wrapped in the lightly grilled tortilla. For example, I’ve never had monggo (stewed mung beans) before, and I still can’t really describe it, since it melded together with everything else in the burrito. But it was all fantastic!
But as long as I was there, I had to try something else that has always caught my eye on the menu: the longaniza burger. Longaniza is a Filipino pork sausage that is a little bit sweet, often eaten as a breakfast meat (if I’m not mistaken). Here, the homemade longaniza sausage was crafted into a burger patty and served on a soft, buttered, grilled bun (possibly a King’s Hawaiian roll), topped with a slice of grilled pineapple, garlic mayo, and a salad of sweet, tangy, vinegary, pickled, shredded papaya called atchara, which I loved. Note the two included lumpia and the serving of crispy seasoned potatoes, which stayed warm and crispy throughout my meal. I got another small cup of sweet chili sauce, but next time I will request banana ketchup for the fried potatoes, just because I love dipping sauces and condiments — especially new and unfamiliar ones.
Close-up on the slaw-like atchara, which I would love to buy a jar of and put on everything. I really like vinegar, and I am drawn to Filipino cuisine because vinegar is such a common and important ingredient. Also dig that wonderful grilled, buttered bun. I wish everyone who served burgers, dogs, and sandwiches would take a lesson from this.
A cross-section. The slight crispiness of the atchara really balanced out the softer ingredients (the bun, grilled sausage patty, and pineapple slice).
On this second visit, I paid $4 for the combo again (dig the lumpia above), and tried the refreshingly tart mango calamansi lemonade. Calamansi, also known as the Philippine lime, is a small citrus fruit used in a lot of Filipino recipes. I had never tasted it before, but my research tells me it’s a hybrid of the kumquat and mandarin orange. Plus, I already love mangoes in anything, and I’ll always drink lemonade when it’s an option.
This time, I was lucky enough to meet the amiable Chef Collantes, shake his hand, and tell him in person how wonderful his food is, and how friendly, patient, and helpful his staff is. He is the former Culinary Director of Bento, a small, local chain of pan-Asian restaurants I have been a big fan of since the first one opened in Gainesville in 2003, the last year I lived there. I’ve eaten countless custom poke bowls, sushi rolls, bento boxes, and udon noodles at Bento’s numerous Orlando locations — even on my wedding day, ten years ago — but this reminded me to make it back there soon to write a Saboscrivner review. The fact that Chef Collantes might have created some of my favorite dishes at Bento before opening Taglish (and subsequently blowing my mind with that sisig) makes all the sense in the world.
I wish him and his staff the best of all things, but they already have a huge hit on their hands. For many, Filipino food will be unfamiliar and novel, but even though people will come in to try something new and different, I’m convinced they will get hooked and become regulars, like I hope to be.