COCONUTS HOT SPOT — Unlike Bangkok, Bali doesn’t have the “Mexican” drunken-nights-go-to-fast-food joint Taco Bell, but we’re not that mad about it now that we have discovered some of our favorite tacos of all time outside of Mexico and the American Southwest (yes, we’d venture to say we rate them that highly).
The pork belly tacos (IDR80k/US$5.67 for 3) at Uluwatu Surf Villa’s Mana restaurant have us shook. Imagine this: crisped-up cuts of fatty pork belly on the bottom, with guac on top to make it creamy and fresh, tangy chipotle barbecue sauce, and some grilled onion for a little zing — all atop a fresh, homemade flour tortilla. What. We’re not drooling, you are.
And we apparently aren’t the only ones feeling things about these tacos.
They started out as a lunch special menu item when Mana first opened up mid-2018, but they were eventually bumped up to permanent-menu-item status more recently, thanks to the pleas of the people.
Mana is the younger cousin of Uluwatu surf shrine, Drifter, and has a similarly inspired menu of subtle Indonesian fusion and Cali-Mex with touches of #health.
Also similar are the surf-lodge vibes. The people in charge of these places clearly know how to create an ambience for sea-lovers, with an admirable use of wooden and natural materials. Mana is wood from floor to ceiling with a panoramic clifftop view of the ocean and in a prime position to catch those legendary Bali sunsets (when it’s not cloudy and rainy season, that is). There’s a long bar at the center of the restaurant with a turquoise-tiled backsplash and a yellow gun, making for quite the statement piece.
But back to the food: please don’t set your expectations of the tacos based on Drifter’s.
Don’t get us wrong — we frequent Drifter for their coffees, smoothies, and breakfast, BUT we haven’t been all that impressed with their Mexican-inspired items (save the shrimp burrito). For instance, the jackfruit rendang tacos pale in comparison to Mana’s tacos. Now we LOVE us some rendang — so truly, this is a bummer.
Mana’s got a bunch of other taco options (10 total, last count), including tempeh manis, Balinese chorizo, pulled chipotle mushroom, cauliflower, and seared blackened tuna, to name a few. Unfortunately the restaurant does not allow you to mix and match your tacos, so we haven’t ventured outside of the pork belly yet, because we can’t not order that every time we go for lunch or dinner.
Another Mexi-fusion dish we can recommend at Mana is the tuna sashimi nachos (IDR 75k/US$5.32). It’s well-portioned (you should share this unless you’re starving or not ordering anything else), and we’re impressed with how generous Mana is with their tuna sashimi. The chips aren’t your typical bag-of-Tostito-quality. Nah — these are freshly homemade, and are texturally akin to Chinese wonton strips or Indonesian pangsit. The chips and tuna are topped with katsuobushi, Sriracha mayo, cilantro, radish and nori for a Japanese/Asian meets Mexican vibe.
We can’t back everything “taco” on the menu, however. The taco salad (IDR70k/US$4.97) was of the just-okay variety. Nothing offensive about it, but it was just lacking an extra little something that grilled chicken, shrimp, or even some tuna sashimi could amend. The salad was comprised of mixed greens, beans, guacamole, ranchero sauce, a sunny side-up egg, and xnipec-style, tomato-dominant salsa. You get some tortilla chips and strips for some needed texture, but the way it’s made up, this salad is almost all greens and not much else. “Rabbit food,” as our dining acquaintance aptly observed one time.
Although we do try to plan our visits around those tacos, the kitchen’s open beyond just lunch and dinner times — Mana also does brekkie. They’ve got your Bali cafe staples like smoothie bowls (IDR 75k/US$5.32), pancakes with fruit (IDR65k/US$4.61), and of course, smashed avo toast (IDR80k/US$5.67). Mana’s avo-toast is one of the more original variations we’ve had, as it’s sticking to the Mexi-theme with avocado, and then adds mango, tamarillo, dill, salsa, peanuts, and the option for a poached egg. It’s an odd convergence of sweet, salty, and sour flavors that really is coloring outside the lines — definitely recommended if you’ve got love for avo-toast but want to get away from the banality of the basic version.
Mana is at Uluwatu Surf Villas
Jl. Pantai Suluban
+62 817 555 421