MANILA -- Rainy days are here again, and for Filipinos, one of the top cravings for this season (or any season for that matter) is a big, hot bowl of goto.
And in Goto Believe, located on San Rafael St. in Mandaluyong, Sandra Santiago and her cohorts serve up unique bowls of this traditional meat porridge.
Inspired by a friend who pitched a telenovela entitled Goto Believe to a network which unfortunately wasn’t picked up, Santiago, a self-confessed goto-holic, dreamed of putting up her own "gotohan."
“I wanted to make a hipster gotohan,” Santiago candidly shared.
To make this dream happen, she approached her cousin, restaurateur Vincent Juanta of the Kanto Group. The Kanto group and the Goto Believe concept were a perfect match, with Kanto restaurants specializing in offering affordable upscaled or reinvented Filipino favorites.
“We have the same theme -- gourmet street food, gourmet Filipino breakfast, [and now] gourmet goto,” shared Santiago.
Sharing many characteristics of most of Kanto restaurants, Goto Believe isn’t like your typical gotohan. “Our interiors are very fun, very bright. Retro with red and yellow,” Santiago pointed out.
With a background in the arts, Santiago took careful care of making it a place that she would enjoy to be in. Interiors are bright but not overly so, using colors like chartreuse mixed in with some light red and yellow accents. Much like in Kanto and nearby Chef Arch's Lime, wooden tables and chairs are used in this open-aired space, with fully tiled walls giving it an almost hawker-like feel.
Artwork dot some of the walls, and on the tables are interesting placeholders like Single, Taken, and Hungry. A nearby wall is waiting for a mural, and across of it, if one desires, one can watch their food getting made in the open kitchen.
More than the decors though, it’s in food where Goto Believe most reflects the “hipster” mindset, deconstructing the traditional goto. Thankfully, deconstruction in Goto Believe made sense and wasn’t overly complicated though, as their menu goes through the ordering process quite clearly.
It starts with a question -- do you like it wet or dry?
Wet can mean plain lugaw (P30), or the Goto Heaven (P55), which has five "putok batok’"ingredients (we can hazard to guess some of them—tripe, tendons, innards, perhaps a big bulalo bone or two?) that’s full of gingery notes, and little pieces of stewed meat. Thick and full-flavored, this isn’t watered-down goto.
Dry can be plain rice (P20), or their Goto Fried Rice (P30). The latter was borne out of Santiago’s realization that not everyone enjoys goto. Using the same goto broth to cook their rice with the rice sautéed afterwards ala fried rice, the rice has the same flavors of their wet goto — with prominent notes of ginger.
“It’s our version of Hainanese rice,” explained Juanta.
Both the Goto Heaven and the Goto Fried Rice are meals onto themselves, but why stop there? In Goto Believe, they give you more options.
Want some eggs? Goto Believe serves theirs six ways. Eggs (P15) can be scrambled, sunny-side up, soft-boiled (the 6-minute egg), or hard-boiled. Feeling fancy? There’s the poached egg for that runny egg yolk experience. Or if you want something richer, quail eggs (P15 for 3 pcs) and century egg (P30) are also available.
Another option is to add some skewered meat to your goto. And while skewers are nearby Lime 88’s bestsellers, Juanta and his Kanto culinary team challenged themselves to come up with a different taste profile for Goto Believe’s sticks.
And they succeeded with Goto Believe’s grilled sticks getting a sweetish tinge with a backnote of vinegar. Another innovation is the introduction of the option of frying sticks instead of grilling, dramatically changing textures and flavors.
Favorites include all the grilled innards and parts – isaw ng manok (3 sticks at P30), bituka ng baboy (2 sticks at P45), chicken liver (2 sticks at P50), tenga (2 sticks at P50), puso ng manok (2 sticks for P50) and the Kim Kardashian (2 chicken ass sticks at P60). And while it was a different experience eating these fried, there’s just something about the texture of grilled meat — chewy, juicy, slightly greasy, with that charred flavor that’s hard to beat.
Although, if you’re in the mood for something crunchy, best get these fried. The chicharon bulaklak (2 sticks at P45) is especially good with this treatment.
Their grilled Pak na Pak (2 sticks of Chicken wings at P50), meanwhile, was one of the best chicken wings that I’ve had in a while, with a taste reminiscent of one of the best and oldest grilled chicken barbecues in the Philippines. (All I needed was java sauce.)
“Healthier” options like fish and squid are also offered, while more vegetarian options like shiitake mushrooms are in the pipeline.
If you’re with a big group, make life less complicated by ordering the OMG (Oh My Giant Goto) that automatically comes with eight toppings (chicharong bulaklak, bituka ng baboy, isaw ng manok, paa ng manok, tenga, hard boiled egg, crispy wanton wraps, and dilis).
Next up, the menu then asks if you want something to pair with your goto.
And what pairs the best with goto? Tokwa’t Baboy 2.0 (P120). Lightly breaded fried Japanese tofu and grilled pork ears, a play on crispy and soft, doused with a lot of punchy soy-vinegar sauce.
While you can have more meat (fried/grilled liempo) or eggs (breaded and fried quail eggs aka Doctor Kwek-kwek) as goto accompaniments, "lumpias" present a lighter option.
Lumpias (P45), with the added bonus of hilarious names, were tasty enjoyable pieces to eat with their filling of heart of palm (ubod) and various vegetables.
Lumpiang Bold (a play on lumpiang hubad) had the filling atop crispy wonton wrappers, while the Lumpiang Conservative comes in the more familiar spring roll wrapping -- robust and filling.
Dessert was a delectable Leche Flan Brulee (P50) which wasn’t too dense or sweet, and took away any remaining heaviness from those grilled innards.
Best paired with a cup of tea of coffee, "para matunawan" as the menu quips. Options include the French press coffee (P90) with beans from Benguet and Sagada, as well as the ever-potent Barako, or flavored cups like Hazelnut and French roast. Tea options include green tea (P40), salabat tea (P50), or even the healthier, Turmeric tea (P70).
“Gusto naming mag-offer ng masarap na goto, hindi mahal, pero mahal tignan,” Santiago said.
Since its opening in July, the restaurant (while open only from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.) has enjoyed a steady stream of customers. And with their more than reasonable price points, generous portions, tasty and Instagrammable food, good music, and fast and courteous service, it’s not hard to imagine this hole-in-the-wall winning more believers as the days go by.