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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?