Baja Cantina by Exec Chef Taylor Virina from the Philippines


I always get asked why I moved to Texas from NYC. I also am regularly questioned why I felt I could take the helm of a Mexican (yes, CaliMex) restaurant in Houston with no background in anything Spanish. So sometimes the conversation goes:

Q: So why Texas? Why Mexican food? You’re Filipino.
TV: Would you say San Antonio, more than Houston, can lay creds on Mexican food for Texas?
Q: Of course! It’s where it began, bro!
TV: You know what San Antonio was called before Texas was even Texas?
Nuevas Pilipinas.

When I left Manhattan and moved to Texas, I knew I had to do a deep dive into Mexican, CaliMex, TexMex cuisine — considering I was born and raised in NY and studied in Asia. 38% of Houstonians speak Spanish, and I didn’t. I had my work cut out for me.

Executive Chef Taylor Virina, Baja Cantina – Woodlands Waterway
1 Year Anniversary: Triumph Over the Lockdown
From Food Truck to Social Hub, and Ousting a Cofounding Chef
From Food Truck to Social Hub, and Ousting a Cofounding Chef

So Baja quickly grew from its boxpark roots to its location at the most popular restaurant row at the #1 Best Community to Live in the US (Niche). Right formula for launch? Why not? Then as quick as it opened, so did the pandemic. Our 1st year was the beginning of the lockdown.
I was brought in by the owners and the GM. Was supposed to be the Exec Sous, and on my 1st day… the cofounding Exec Chef walked out the door and never came back. Ownership asked me if I can take the helm, I laid out how I would professionalize the kitchen from its food truck roots, and modernize the menu to competitively keep pace with the Westin Hotel 40 yards to my left and the Marriott Waterway 50 yards to my right.
I just then had to keep the line and members of the front-of-house from killing me for what they perceived as me ousting the chef. But before that: How are we going to do a kitchen turnaround when there are barely any people coming in due to the pandemic?