Omnivore - Pancho's: A monster dose of nostalgia neuralgia

Pancho's hasn't changed much since its beginnings.


You remember the '70s, right? I know. You weren't even yet cringing in your mother's womb when she went to Los Mariachis on Buford Highway to listen to blaring Mexican folk music and swill margaritas. At some point, the name changed to Pancho's, "home of the monster margarita." You can read the history on their website.

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It was nostalgia that sent a group of us back there Friday night. Margarita-loving ex-boyfriends, a severe shortage of Mexican food in the city, weed that turned mariachi music into pure camp, and greasing-up before hitting the clubs made Pancho's pretty popular. You're supposed to dine on the festive patio out back, but we decided to dine inside. It was quiet. I don't think I heard a note of mariachi.

That was a good thing, since our conversation was about the afterlife. One of our group's ex had died a few days earlier and, even if not explicitly articulated, that unbearable cliché came up: "He's in a better place."

Food-wise, we certainly weren't in a better place. This remains your usual Tex-Mex stuff. I blame the food's blandness for the bad picture above of the faux carnitas I ordered. I've had worse and I've had a zillion times better. As usual, these are actually hunks of roasted pork, dry and chewy.

I have no explanation why anyone claiming to be Mexican would not cook carnitas in the traditional manner. The meat should be braised and fried. It should be caramelized and easily shredded, so it can be folded into tortillas. The usual refried beans, guac, and the obligatory fluffy filler of "Mexican rice" accompanied the dish. A bit of pico was hidden under the guac drop that was plopped over lettuce.

Everyone else at the table ordered the usual combo platters of enchiladas and tacos. They cleaned their plates. Our server had to say "It's not spicy. Everything is mild" about four times. She always seemed to be about to race away from the table when she came by, presumably because she was also serving diners on the patio.

Those "monster margaritas" are still shocking to see. They remind me of the dreams I had years ago when I quit drinking: I sipped gin and tonic from an aquarium.