The Jovial Self-Assurance of Tabachoy
In Bella Vista, Chance Anies and his team serve classic and tweaked Filipino dishes — always with confidence and comfort leading the way.
Standing by the corner of the short counter near the kitchen, Chance Anies is watching me eat.
Not just me. He’s watching everyone. Every seat at every table in his small Bella Vista BYO, grinning from under the brim of a baseball hat. In its former life, the space was an Indonesian restaurant, a sandwich joint, and an Italian bistro. And that’s appropriate, really, because Anies has been a bunch of different things, too: a teacher, a medical researcher, a guy who bought a food cart in 2019 on a whim even though he had little professional cooking experience and turned it into a pandemic street-food success story. Now, he has this: 28 seats on 10th Street, in a building painted a deep and striking navy. A menu full of family recipes and Filipino comfort food, revised through his own South Philly lens. Tabachoy (a nickname, Tagalog for “chubby”) is his big swing.
“How’s that adobo treating you?” he asks me, and I tell him it’s good. So, so good. I’ve had my head down over the plate for 10 minutes. Barely even come up for air.
“Good, man. That’s good. Because adobo, that’s like the national dish of the Philippines. And if we didn’t get that right … ”
“You’d just have to close,” I say. “Turn off the lights and go home.”
“That’s right,” he says. “That’s exactly right.”
His adobo is non-traditional. Or, rather, it’s seriously traditional, but kinked for his particular tastes and memories. Big chunks of pork shoulder, fatty and delicious, seared in the pan, braised with soy, simmered with onions, ginger, garlic. What makes it sing is the vinegar. Not the white vinegars that are normally used, but a potent balsamic (a trick he learned from his father, a Navy chef and caterer), cooked down sweet and sticky until it flavors the broth in the bottom of the big bowl the adobo is served in. That sweet-sharp sting is the power. Warm pork, shredded over white rice with broth — there’s nothing more comforting than that. But then there’s that fruity, dark, layered sharpness that slaps you with the first bite, makes you want to pine after it.
Tabachoy the food cart is known for its sandwiches — cheesesteaks and snacks that made people go bonkers for Anies’s intersection of Filipino flavors and Philly swagger when it first hit the scene. As a restaurant, it leans in another direction: family-style plates, with cooks walking dishes out from the kitchen and loading up tables with stacks of lumpia. There’s an unbreaded, crisp-skinned fried chicken, served on a banana leaf, that’s made to be dipped in gravy built up from pork fat and chased with pickled green papaya and carrot atchara.
At the counter, I’m picking at my ukoy — a massive deep-fried sweet potato and carrot fritter crowned with big head-on shrimp. It’s nearly the size of a playground dodgeball, as crisp as corn flakes, and served with a rough chili-vinegar dipping sauce thick with diced onion. It’s got serious Tabachoy energy: big, fun, surprising and delicious all at the same time. “Lighthearted, heavy-bellied” is the organizing mantra of Anies’s menu.
It’s the perfect description for the ukoy, a meal all on its own. Joy and abundance, which are like currencies in a place like this that gets louder as the night rolls on, voices ringing against pink walls. Whole parties share pancit canton — lime-shot egg noodles with matchstick carrots and snap peas, studded with Chinese sausage and dressed in fish sauce — and pork belly sisig with a fried egg under the glow of a gold neon pig and the tranquil gaze of a portrait of Anthony Bourdain done in the ecclesiastical style of a sainted icon. The tables are close-set, nearly communal, but there’s always room. Anies takes a phone call: last-minute reservation. Sure, he can squeeze them in. “Gonna be a little bit tight,” he says, “but we’ll manage.” And then he sidesteps to make way for someone trying to grab a drink from the community fridge stocked with beers and Coke and whatever else is on hand.
Anies wanted Tabachoy to feel like home. He wanted it to say something about growing up as a biracial kid in places that didn’t always have a community where he fit. Mostly, he just wanted to make people happy — to welcome them in and send them away full. That kind of glee can be contagious. You eat here and you can’t help but love it, because everyone around you loves it. Because Anies, standing at the counter, loves it. Because the cooks in the kitchen love it. Because pork fat and vinegar and fried chicken and ukoy are how some of us show and receive love. A heavy belly and a light heart — that’s what you’re supposed to walk away with.
And at Tabachoy, you’ll leave with both.
3 Stars — Come from anywhere in Philly
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in Philly
★★★★: come from anywhere in America
Published as “Light Hearts, Heavy Bellies” in the June 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.