This Filipino-Mexican Restaurant Is An Eclectic Oasis Of Food And Design
Whenever we think of Latin America or Mexico in particular, bright and vivid colors come to mind, which most restaurants in the country adapt into their interiors. Bold and loud colors of red and even yellow deck their interiors, matched with heavy and graphic murals. In this new concept restaurant in McKinley, however, colors are muted, and artworks are kept to a playful fashion—as whimsical as its namesake, Cobalabamba.
“It’s a play on Coba and La Bamba. Coba is a place in Mexico, while La Bamba is a Mexican song,” shares one of the owners of Brickoven Group, which brought to the Filipinos’ dining experience Mazza, Galo Flame Grilled Latin Chicken, and Ono Hawaiian Burgers & BBQ.
The owners envisioned their restaurant’s look as something fun, taking into account the colorful and vivacious Mexican culture. To bring this vision to life, the owners sought help from architect Rommel Rodriguez of RVR Design & Architecture, who also did the owners’ three other concept restaurants.
“I did their first restaurant in Makati, which is another concept restaurant. Towards the end of the construction of that restaurant, they leased this space in McKinley, and asked me to design it as well,” shares Rommel. While the architect usually designs residential houses, he admits that he enjoys taking a break from it by designing restaurants like Cobalabamba. However, he also confesses that he doesn’t really like colorful spaces.
For this restaurant, he opted for muted tones of red, yellow, and teal. “This was first envisioned with a very saturated color scheme, but I de-saturated the reds, the yellows. Basically, I toned down or muted the colors on the walls, fabrics, and tiles,” Rommel points out.
The entrance, although muted in color, is made to be grand with its thick frames and bold ‘Cobalabamba!’ on top. The architect shares that the owners originally wanted to keep the entrance small, but he suggested to make it grander, and put it in the middle where a central column somewhat divides the space symmetrically.
Upon opening the doors, guests will be greeted by the curious ceiling treatment, which, according to Rommel, is one of the issues he had to defend before the administration of the developer. “During the approval stage, the developer flagged the ceiling because it’s open. We had to find a way for it to still seem open even if it’s not really. We chose an expanded metal mesh, so it’s clean and still in the raw industrial side. For the slats, it’s another exploration on how to use plywood,” explains Rommel.
The architect is indeed a fan of experimenting with construction materials as the counter in the middle is made up of concrete hollow blocks (CHB) connected to each other via heavy-duty adhesive. “I decided to use CHB because we’re always looking for new materials to work with. We’re sort of trying to transition the construction material into a finishing material. For this, it gives the rhythm, the materiality of the building,” the architect points out. Neon LED lights throughout the restaurant give oomph to the overall look of the space as well—even in the comfort room.
Aside from the counter, the walls of the whole restaurant are made of CHB with thin protective coating and then painted over with exciting colors. This way, the original texture of the walls is retained. Muralist Yasmin Sehob, who did the murals on the walls of the owners’ previous concept restaurants, gave new life to Cobalabamba’s walls as well. The muralist translated graphic artist Leister Reburiano’s art inspired by Mexican street graffitis into what are now Instagram backgrounds to the millennial foodies who dine at the restaurant.
And of course, the interiors complement the food they serve. Even the menu has a twist. “We’re not an authentic Mexican restaurant, it’s more of a modern Fil-Mex,” says the owner. “It actually jives with the interiors because it’s fun. Our past concepts were kind of stiff compared to this,” he adds.
The co-owner furthers, “To cater to most of the Filipinos who are not really into Mexican cuisine, we chose a Filipinized Mexican menu. It’s so everyone can eat. We don’t want to appear intimidating. Kasi usually, when you think of a foreign food, you automatically think about how it would suit your taste and whether it’s sulit or not.”
The owners wanted to deviate from the identical taste of typical Mexican restaurants. So, they created different flavors and textures to their personal staple food like burgers and pizza. When asked which one’s their favorite from the menu, the owners cited Coba Supreme (pizza), Tipsy Pork, Chipotle Chicken, Blackened Chops, and Chili Cheese TacoDog. But what’s been selling like pancakes are the Blackened Chops, according to the owners, since it is a rice meal that Pinoys love.
Cobalabamba is open Mondays to Fridays from 10AM to 1AM and Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM to 11PM. Follow them on Instagram @cobalabamba.