It’s easy to dismiss Japan as a country that is unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine. As a nation that’s built its gastronomic reputation on rice, soy and fish, it is perhaps a little difficult to picture Japanese people switching from hand-roll sushi to tacos. And yet, Japan is slowly but surely stepping up its Mexican food game. From the emergence of a Taco Bell in the heart of Shibuya to the inclusion of taco kits and chilli con carne cans in local grocery stores, it’s in these blink-and-miss-it glimpses that you can tell that the Tokyo food scene is constantly evolving.
Chiles Mexican Grill is one of those spots that make you wonder if you’re still in Japan. Tucked under the neck of residential Nishi-Azabu, this restaurant offers more than scrumptious Mexican platos. In collaboration with Sumo Burger and Rocco’s New York Style Pizza, the eatery presents three experiences at once.
“We’ve all been in that situation when it’s lunch, you’re absolutely famished and yet your group can’t make up their mind on where to eat,” explains Chiles owner Carlos Batres. “Our goal for the Food Collective Dining is to carve out a place where customers can enjoy multiple genres of food without compromising on quality.”
Settle down on one of the bright yellow stools and prepare to have some of Chile’s signature dishes, such as the pork pibil taco. Wrapped in thick banana leaves and marinated for 24 hours in orange juice, vinegar and achiote paste (a sweet, mildly smoky sauce that gives it a distinctive, curry-like flavor), the pork is delicately roasted until the meat slips away from the bone. The result is an amalgamation of vibrant, flavorful juices that simply melt in your mouth.
Coupled with the early-2000s-inspired interior (i.e. a massive graffiti mural and a radio blasting R&B classics such as “Dilemma” by Nelly), this Nishi-Azabu diner provides a hub for friends to casually come together over authentic Mexican-American street food. A place which, for me, fills the taco-shaped hole in my heart.
Starting this October, the restaurant will offer a limited Halloween-themed pumpkin crème brûlée. Brought in a ceramic pumpkin bowl, this spooky bite is completed by pouring hibiscus tea fumes from a glass skeleton head, letting the pale smoke ghost over the caramelized crust.
Food Collective Dining is a reminder that, as the saying goes, good things come in threes.
Chiles Mexican Grill
1F 1-4-10 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku