Restaurante Y Taqueria Panchito

It’s been too long since I’ve had a meal that really hit the spot. Food that didn’t just fill the gut, but the heart, too. Luckily, Taqueria Panchito on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond, VA, hits the heart like an arrow dipped in hot sauce.

panchito

Somewhere, a cute, unassuming logo – perhaps a chubby man in a sombrero or a smiling jalapeño – is lost. May he one day find his rightful home.

Like most truly great places, it’s unassuming, great not because it tries to be, but because it just is. It’s next to, I believe, 3 motels in varying states of disrepute, on one of Richmond’s low rent commercial strips. Y’know the type, with big, empty parking lots and cheap signs. Not a house in sight, as if the people live in their cars, driving round and round from one dollar store to the next.

That’s maybe what makes Panchito so – well – soul-rending. It’s like watching sea anemone reclaim a sunken ship. You walk in and Rocky is on the TV, of course with Spanish voice-overs. Outside, a man is devouring a creamsicle, his clothes dirty, his hands tired, and a boy in suit pants and dress shirt and tie is selling flowers for Mother’s Day. There’s life, humanity, in an area where you don’t expect it.

flower_for_mexico

In Virginia, fire hydrants are silver.

That’s how I saw it. An oasis in a desert, with a spit and some charcoal.

The food didn’t disappoint.

First, there’s the salsa. Panchito could’ve served up your garden varieties salsas, prepared with fresh ingredients, and who would’ve noticed or cared? Green salsa with tomatillos, green chiles, cilantro, and onions is a timeless condiment. But no, Panchito’s throws in avocado and citrus notes, just because. The red salsa? Watch out, one of those ladles contains some smoky adobo flavors.

Panchito could sell the salsas alone and do brisk business.

inside

They love it!

But it is a taqueria, isn’t it? The tacos are, quote-unquote, the real deal. It’s all the meats you’d expect, from beef head to chicken, packed on corn tortillas with diced onions and cilantro.

Great. Awesome.

Now that we’ve got that outta the way, what I really want to tell you about are the pambazos. Truly, words almost fail me.

Almost, but not quite.

If you’re hip to tortas, you’d know that Mexican cooks do sandwiches as good as anyone. Pambazos, though – if tortas are two-bit gangsters, a pambazo is Scarface leering over you with a loaded machine gun. There’s nothin’ to do but let it wash over you.

For starters, the bread used for the sandwich is dipped in red guajillo sauce, staining both the bread and, later, your fingers. It’s then grilled and stuffed with a combo of chorizo, mashed potatoes, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and cheese. How could you go wrong?

pambazo

Does that not make your mouth water, your arteries harden with resolve?

Panchito’s pambazos pretty much stick to the proven formula, and it’s an orgasm in your mouth. Perfect. Symphonic. Delectable. The contents of the sandwich mush together into a paste, a Mexican Gerber for discerning, macho adults. Add Corona and you’re set.

Trust me, you’ll be ready for a good spoon feeding by the end of your first pambazo, perhaps a bib, too. The perfect mix between spicy and comforting, it’s easy to pack away 2 pambazos in a sitting. Or 3. or 4.

Does anyone know where I can rent a second stomach?

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6 thoughts on “Restaurante Y Taqueria Panchito

  1. Silver fire hydrants? That’s ridiculous! Don’t they know better?

    And yes, it just so happens that I do know about that type of low rent commercial district. I hate everything about those areas, except when they deliver cheap, delicious, authentic Mexican food!

    . . .or cheap, delicious , authentic soul food.

    . . .or cheap, delicious, authentic Mediterranean food.

    . . .or cheap, functionally delicious tires.

  2. “Food that doesn’t just fill the gut, but the heart, too.”

    I can’t tell if that line is hilarious or poetic, George.

    Well, it’s definitely hilarious, but maybe it’s both. Consider my heart hit by a hot-sauce dipped arrow.

  3. Why warm your heart when you can fill it?

    You know, there’s actually been a lot written about the renaissance of the ’50s-’60s era strip mall (and actually, you probably already know that, but still). And most of it’s driven by immigrants. It makes sense. Thanks to how overbuilt retail is in most suburbs, you can get dirt cheap rent on buildings that generally have less upkeep and are more up to code than the long struggling urban counterparts.

    Back in the Detroit, there is a great Thai/Vietnamese strip on John R in Madison Heights, starting just north of 11 Mile. And really, besides the modest parking lots, it’s not functionally different from Mexicantown.

    It’s not until you’ve been in America for a few generations and are seated firmly in the lap of luxury that coolness becomes almost more important than quality. That’s when you just gotta dine or sip coffee at an ancient brick building, poor plumbing and cramped bathroom be damned. Because, mainly, the wood floors are awesome and the crafty little touches put on the facade are kinda European.

    In Richmond, they have their own version of the Metro Times called Style Weekly. There was a blurb in an article on local retail that put the trend I’ve been babbling about in blunt terms (http://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/retail-therapy/Content?oid=2068216):

    “Cheaper rents can be found on eastern Midlothian Turnpike, Jefferson Davis Highway, inner parts of West Broad Street and along Parham Road. Some are snatched up by recent immigrants to the area, notably Chinese, Indian, Pakistanis or Hispanics, for retail outlets catering to their cultures.

    During the last 20 years, the Hispanic population in Richmond has shot up by 300 percent to more than 46,000. Many members of that community operate tiendas, clothing or other retail outlets along inner suburban corridors, such as Jefferson Davis Highway, says Rita Willis, who tracks business for the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

    A rule of thumb is that newcomers from Mexico and Central America will run stores and restaurants, she says: ‘We have a handful of people from South America who tend to operate restaurants.'”

    There you have it.

  4. I’m sorry, George, but I refuse to accept the existence of silver fire hydrants. That is because fire hydrants are red by nature. Ya’ll crazy.

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