Superb Tacos al Pastor at Pancho’s Tacos

By
Photo courtesy of Pancho's Taco's.
Photo courtesy of Pancho's Taco's.
0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 Google+ 0 Reddit 0 Pin It Share 0 Email -- Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 0 Flares ×

 

I HAIL FROM COLORADO, where I spent the past eight years confronted with either a Qdoba or Chipotle on every other block. These are the Starbucks of Mexican food restaurants. The food is good enough – $6 for an enormous burrito that will reliably satisfy your appetite – if your appetite is satiated by vanilla calories. I can only liken the experience to eating Spam instead of filet mignon, or imitation crab instead of freshly caught salmon from the foaming rivers of Alaska. Qdoba and Chipotle represent merely the tip of the iceberg though – these massive corporate chains are a mutant strain, conceived between fast food McDonalds and the omnipresent low rent local Mexican restaurant.We have them here in Connecticut – restaurants that make up for their flat menus by spewing an ambiance of Disneyesque imitation authentic cuisine. These are family restaurants that ultimately fail to  express a unique family character through the flavor and diversity of their food and sincere yet modest customer service.

 

I walked through the doors of Pancho’s Tacos Mexican Restaurant in Danbury, to a warm, low key atmosphere. No Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or goofy waitress with a vest full of flare (see Office Space). No pompous or arrogant airs among customers scurrying out of their nests to get a taste of the new trendy restaurant. I could tell this place had a history, but at the same time it wasn’t a local dive. There was a timeless class that speaks of the character of the owners and staff.

 

Gratefully I didn’t catch “Cielito Lindo”, but it was pleasant to hear traditional music the likes of “Cuatro Milpas” or “El Cascabel”. Complimenting this music was myriad tasteful Mexican-themed décor, including a wall-sized picture of an Aztec woman draped in the arms of a towering, ornately dressed Aztec man.

 

An unassuming waitress brought chips and a choice of red and green homemade salsas. At this point I would normally grab an iced tea, Corona, or Modello Negro. But, knowing that my readers would be more interested in margaritas – I decided to take the dive – despite my general abhorrence of the drinks.

 

Upon entering Pancho’s, it’s difficult to miss the full bar conspicuously situated across from the front door. With over 67 tequilas and two Mescals, the bar is affectionately called “Tequila Town”. The most expensive tequila, Seleccion Suprema, goes for $31 a shot. All but one margarita, including lemon, strawberry, blue, papaya, mango, pineapple, guanabana, peach, and of course the original flavor – are $7.99. There are various other liquors, beers, wines, soft drinks, and even milkshakes – but I decided to go for the Cadillac margarita – the $8.99 special that includes Grand Marnier in the recipe.

 

The waitress brought me a glass slightly smaller than my head, rimmed with bluish-green salt. My first sip was very much like any other tequila experience – too sweet, too full of high fructose corn sugar (syrup). But after a couple sips the alcohol started doing its magic, and I began to meet the layers of tequila, Grand Marnier, and whatever sweetener was used. This drink packed a wallop. Two more of these, and I’d be dancing on my table singing “El Lay” with a burrito as a microphone.

 

With these thoughts racing through my head on the backs of tequila and Grand Marnier, it was time for some food. I already knew what I was going to order – tacos al pastor and carnitas. Al pastor is chili marinated pork cooked on a rotisserie, tenderized with pineapple, and combined with coriander, onion, and lime juice. Carnitas are spice coated pork shoulder braised and hopefully slow-cooked to absolute perfection. These are the main two dishes on which I personally judge a Mexican restaurant.

 

Both dishes met my satisfaction both in quantity and quality. I can’t say they were the best I’ve ever had, but they were certainly good enough for me to come back for more, and certainly better than 99% of the Mexican restaurants out there.

 

The waitress brought me a glass slightly smaller than my head, rimmed with bluish-green salt. My first sip was very much like any other tequila experience – too sweet, too full of high fructose corn sugar (syrup). But after a couple sips the alcohol started doing its magic, and I began to meet the layers of tequila, Grand Marnier, and whatever sweetener was used. This drink packed a wallop. Two more of these, and I’d be dancing on my table singing “El Lay” with a burrito as a microphone.

 

Some of the favorite customer entrées at Pancho’s are burritos, chimichangas, fajitas, suzias, sopas, and anything with the well-known homemade mole. Tacos are $2/each, and I would say they are the best buy. Lunch dishes are $8.99 with rice, beans, and tortilla included. Dinner entrées can range from $13.50 for enchiladas, to $15-$18.99 for fajitas and house specialties – all with rice, beans, and tortilla. Anything with shrimp or seafood is extra. Students get a 10% discount with ID.

 

Fresh food is a must for all dining experiences, unless you’re eating hongeo (fermented skate fish). This is what I love about Tri-State restaurants – widespread use of fresh local produce. It’s easy to spot a fake – and I usually never return to their canned Disney farce. Pancho’s purchases most of their produce from West Point New York, with the only exception of beef, which they get from Omaha Beef.

 

When I take time out of my busy schedule to eat out at a restaurant, I fully expect to be treated as a house guest. If I’m rushed out before I even finish my food – it’s an affront to the invitation and customary hosting manners. Unlike so many restaurants that fail to truly excel at customer service, Pancho’s staff do not stare, or glare, clear their throats, or make any rudely apparent gestures to get me out of the restaurant. It’s clear sailing from chips to drink, to entrée, to more drink, and perhaps more chips and drink.

 

It’s obvious to me that this comforting customer service experience stems from the restaurant’s family roots. Pancho’s started 18 years ago as Pancho’s Deli only a few stores down the block from the current location.

 

The Bernabe family. Photo by Matthew Beres.

It’s obvious to me that this comforting customer service experience stems from the restaurant’s family roots. Pancho’s started 18 years ago as Pancho’s Deli only a few stores down the block from the current location. After six years they moved next door as Pancho’s Tacos. A couple more years later, they moved next door where it changed to Pancho’s Tacos Mexican Restaurant.

 

At the time of Pancho’s Deli, the menu only included items such as tacos and tostadas, but through the years the menu has expanded to an array of appetizers, main dishes, house specialties, and let’s not forget, Tequila Town. Primitivo Bernabe, the owner of this fine establishment, says his recipes have not changed over time – they have remained and will always remain family recipes. Says Bernabe, “I started at nothing, but God gave me an opportunity.”

 

Through hard work, Primitivo, his wife Asuncion, and their entire family have witnessed steady business even through our depression/recession. Like so many immigrants, Primitivo has realized the American Dream. Too many sedentary Americans have forgotten that through hard work, determination, and a good product at a fair price – the American Dream isn’t a historical allusion – it’s $4 worth of superb tacos al pastor and a huge Cadillac Margarita from Tequila Town, Danbury, Conn., USA. It’s of course impossible to get the real flavor of Mexico in Connecticut because these place are at least 2,000 miles apart. The produce is not grown from Mexican soil, it’s not hydrated from Mexican water, and it’s not caressed by Mexican air. But if you want a comfortable, personal, and authentic Mexican dining experience, try Pancho’s Tacos and Mexican Restaurant.

 

 Pancho’s Tacos is located at 145 White Street in Danbury and is abierto seven days a week from 9am to 11pm.  Visit their website at panchostacos.com or give them a call at (203)798-9898.

by & filed under Appetizers, Food, Local, Restaurants.