When I think of South America, three things usually come to mind: chiseled bodies; sandy beaches and lush forests; and that girl from Colombia who was robbed of a Miss Universe crown by Steve Harvey. Rarely do I associate the region with food, because one, I’m not exactly an adventurous eater; and two, I’d rather have my mother’s cooking any day of the week. The latter is something I apparently share with the owners of Naxional — a new South American diner in UPTown Parade, BGC. Anyone thinks their own mother’s cooking is the best. What I discovered, however, is that sometimes another mother’s cooking can be just as good as yours.
Originally conceptualized by Raymund Magdaluyo of the Red Crab Group, Naxional brings traditional, home-cooked Latin flavors into the spotlight. Many of the restaurant’s partners grew up in South America, including Vanessa Matsunaga. She brought her brother and mother — Daniel and Gege Matsunaga — on board and it became a full-fledged family affair. Lei Norwood, fellow Naxional partner and wife to Fil-Am basketball player Gabe Norwood, shared that their collective passions for South American food fueled the birth of the diner. “All our experiences were put together, and allowed us to have a unique and exciting concept of bringing the Latin American culture to Manila. We are excited to share our favorite flavors with everyone.”
TOP – Paella and Steak Elote: Hearty main course options to fill you up; LEFT – Pão de Queijo: Traditional home-made cheese bread
And boy, do those flavors pop. The menu is a wide array of flavors that are splattered with hints of lime, chili and healthy doses of corn and chips. A great starter is the Elote (P195), a popular street food made with corn (either shredded or on the cob), slathered on with mayo lime and dipped in chili butter and crumbled cheese. The taste of sour and spice leaves you salivating for more. But trust me, it’s best to hold your tongue for the rest.
A must try, no matter the occasion or time of day, is the Pão de queijo (P195), a mysterious cheese bread that’s right smack in the middle of every flavor profile: not too sweet, nor too salty; not at all bland, either. The bread is traditionally made with cassava root or flour, which gives it a soft, chewy texture that hides a cheesy surprise inside. It’s quite hard to describe it, but make sure you have a mirror or someone watching you while you eat it, because your face is definitely going to conjure a bewildered expression after your first bite.
When your appetite is raring to go and run a marathon, the following should get you through to the finish line and warm your stomach like the smell from your mother’s kitchen on Sunday mornings. The Patacones (P220), Naxional’s signature dish, hails from Puerto Rico and is made of fried plantains, guacamole, and topped with either pork, beef, or shrimp (which are all cooked to soft and juicy perfection), drizzled with just the right amount of sofrito sauce to send your taste buds into a dizzying state of nirvana.
Elote: Corn dipped in mayo lime, chili butter, and crumbled cheese
If you’re left wanting more, or if your stomach is simply a black hole like mine, the Guacamole and Chips (P395), Fish Tacos (similar to the Patacones, P310), and The Steak Elote (steak served with greens and corn, P759) should fill you to the brim. The servings are just right for the price, good for sharing and celebrations. Speaking of celebrations, their al fresco bar offers an interesting lineup of cocktails to get you liquored up in between bites. Whether it’s dinner with your friends, lunch with your family, or even a date by the bar, Naxional should make you feel right at home. Just make sure to wear elastic pants or get ready to unbutton those jeans, because if you thought your mom or your grandmother feeds you a lot, Naxional takes it to a whole new level — all with that Latin flair, no less.
Naxional is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 2/F UpTown Parade, BGC. Find them on Instagram at @NaxionalDiner.