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Pistola

by Koh Yuen Lin

inSing.com - 28 February 2013 10:56 AM | Updated 28 Feb 2013

Pistola

Photo: Irene Lee

Overall rating: 3/5

Must eats: Taco with kalbi steak, taco with braised tofu, corn cups

"Designed for the drinking crowd looking for something to line their stomachs with"

Starving after a boozy night on Club Street? Instead of stodgy food from a microwave box, grab wholesome, fuss-free tummy fillers from Pistola. Launched in January, this is the second brainchild of Min Chan – the charismatic 29 year-old behind Club Street Social. Designed for the drinking crowd looking for something to line their stomachs with, this is a quick-serve taco bar with a just a handful of seats spread over two communal tables and a takeaway counter. Simply order at the counter and wait for them to holler your number over the din when the food is ready. If you happen to be shooting the breeze outside of the restaurant you might even hear the entire place – diners, servers and all – shouting your number in chorus. So it’s slightly ghetto, but it’s alive and characterful – like the grungy, grubby NYC taco joints Chan used to eat at as a student at Columbia University.

A handful of seats spread over two
communal tables | Photo: Irene Lee

The concept was developed specifically for the 400 sq ft space that was previously the eclectic Stevie’s General Store, and Chan pays tribute to the past tenants by sourcing vintage pendant lights from them. The décor, while not as eclectic as Stevie’s, is edgy. While one wall simply spells out the compact menu, the other is dressed by a collage depicting Día de los Muertos – the Mexican holiday known as Day of the Dead – as interpreted by Michael Callahan, the mixologist of 28 Hong Kong Street.

Callahan is just one of Chan’s many friends who pitched in for the project. Chan's neighbour in college – the resident bartender at New York cocktail bar PDT who designed the cocktails for Club Street Social – developed Pistola's "sloshies". Be warned: these frozen cocktails churned from slushie machines may look like innocuous convenience-store variety thirst quenchers, but are addictively refreshing, and pack a surprisingly strong punch.

Another friend who extended a helping hand is Vivian Pei – food writer, editor and culinary instructor at TOTT who stepped in as food consultant for Pistola. Working together with Chan who knew right from the start that she wasn’t going to compete with the many authentic Mexican restaurants, Pei developed a repertoire of Asian-influenced Mexican grub, all tangy, spicy, savoury and made-from-scratch. There are five different fillings to be put into tacos ($14 for two shells), burritos ($15), quesadillas ($14) and rice bowls ($15). Don’t expect any habanero peppers in their fillings though – they really don’t put themselves out as a Mexican food joint. But those who like it hot can simply grab a bottle of hot sauces sitting by the counter – McIlhenny habanero tabasco, Cholula, Valentina, Tapatio and of course, Sriracha. Want something else extra special? Apart from the house hot sauces there are also Tip Box hot sauces. These are stuff hand-carried by Chan’s foodie friends from abroad. Drop a tip and you earn yourself the right to a dash of this ever-changing range of fiery condiments.

Steak Quesadilla ($13.08) | Photo: Irene Lee

A generous burrito with braised five spiced pork carnitas, cabbage slaw and Sriracha mayo ($15) makes a perfect antidote to those “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” moments. The generous wraps are filled with tomato or herb rice, and stuffed to the brim with pork belly that is braised for eight hours till super tender and the fat has been rendered off – so that it doesn't feel overly greasy, but just nicely fatty. The flavour is big and robust, the portion hearty… and it all adds up to be a warm, comforting late night chow.

Another easy winner is the taco with kalbi-style (Korean soy-based barbecued meats) flank steak, kimchi, spring onion salad and Sriracha mayo ($14). The flour tortillas are lightly griddled so that they are just lightly crisp on the outside. The Korean-inspired filling is fatty, juicy, and spicy – just the perfect end to a boozy night.

The tacos also go well with a vegetarian filling of smoky soy braised tofu with shredded vegetables and Maggi sour cream ($14). The toothsome tau kwa is umami-packed and delicious on its own. And though sour cream is an unlikely dressing to use on this Asian home-style staple, the unusual combination works so well together it would convert a carnivore.

Still famished after a taco or wrap? There are also some very tasty side dishes such as sweet yet refreshing corn cups with kaffir lime leaf, palm sugar and toasted coconut ($5). It’s honest to goodness “drunk food”, as Chan calls it.

The space currently rolls out the food from 5pm to midnight but she is looking at extending service hours later into the night and possibly lunchtime. While seats are extremely limited, revelers can simply stand at the bar and chow down or just hang out on the sidewalk if they so wish. However, the prime “seat”, if you ask us, is the stoop outside this restaurant elevated from the street level – perfect for just dangling your legs and watching the crowds go by while stuffing your face. 

Key ratings:
Food: 3/5
Value: 3/5
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5

Pistola | Address: 93 Club Street | Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 5pm-midnight


Koh Yuen Lin has a decade of experience in the publishing industry and was formerly the editorial director for Ate Media and the managing editor of Appetite magazine. She is currently an independent editorial consultant contributing to various local and regional publications. Koh maintains that while her peers are overachieving, she is just over-eating.