Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pancho Villa

If you have been following my blog, you know that LevelUp has led me to discover a slew of new places.  It has also led me to finally go to places that I've known about for years, yet never ventured into.  Pancho Villa is one such place.  Everyone in SF knows about it, right?  Located right at 16th & Mission, with a security guard in front at all times.  A SF classic.  But somehow, I'd never been, even though I've been eating a fair amount of Mexican food lately.

I finally ventured inside when I was nearby for their Happy Hour (M-F, 3-5pm).  I'm glad I finally tried it out, and I'd stop in again if I was the Mission, but I won't be going out of my way to return.
Complimentary Chips.
The ordering process is in three steps.  After placing your food order, the second step is to order drinks.  After that, you are handed a basket of chips.  And then you finally make it to the cashier.  It sounds a bit inefficient, but they have it all pretty streamlined.

The chips are about as generic as they get.  They are not served warm.  They aren't really salted.  At least they weren't too greasy, and I do give them bonus points for including chips, even at Happy Hour,  and even if you are just getting a single taco.
Salsa from the salsa bar.
Pancho Villa has a very large salsa bar.  I think I counted 8-10 different salsas.  None were labelled, and since I'm allergic to avocado, I avoided any that were questionably green, in fear that they might have avocado in them.  And since they weren't labelled, guessing what to expect from each one was pretty fun.  I did not like the chips, but I liked the guessing game so much, and the chips gave me something to try them on.

Clockwise, from top left:
  • This one had some visible pepper flakes, so I thought it would be fairly flavorful.  It did have a tiny bit of heat, but overall, the flavor was uninteresting, and it was very watery.  My 4th pick.
  • This one had some chunks of tomato and onion in it, although very small.  It was medium spiciness.  My 5th pick.
  • This one LOOKED very hot.  It had tons of visible pepper flakes floating in it.  It really wasn't that spicy, but had the most interesting flavor of the bunch, a bit smokey.  My favorite.
  • This one was slightly green, and I figured was going to be a mild verde sauce.  So wrong I was.  This was crazy hot! My least favorite.
  • This was creamy, with a mild tomato sauce. I expected to like it, and did.  My second favorite.
  • This was very watery, very mild, basically just a tomato sauce.  But the tomato flavor was good.  3rd pick.
I didn't really love any of the salsas, which was sad, because they had so many.  The salsa bar also included chopped onions, cilantro, lime wedges, radishes, etc.
Prawn Taco.  $2 Happy Hour, $3.50 regular.
At Happy Hour, the regular tacos are all $1.50 (they were $1 last time I was there, prices went up!)  They have a slew of choices (12!), but, I don't really like chicken, pork, etc, so I decided to go for a seafood taco, even though they cost $2 pre-tax, thus putting me a whopping $0.18 over my initial LevelUp credit.  I'm glad I splurged, as this was clearly more my style.

Like many other tacos I've had, they came double wrapped.  The tortillas were warm, soft, but a bit soggy.  I wasn't a fan.

The taco was filled with a bunch of shredded iceberg lettuce.  Not much to say about that.  And my choice of salsa - mild, medium, or hot.  I went for medium, but honestly didn't taste any spice whatsoever.  The salsa seemed to just be chunks of onions and very under-ripe tomatoes.  I know it isn't tomato season, but they weren't good at all.  These components were all incredibly underwhelming, and they were plentiful.  It was impossible to take a bite of the taco without stuff spilling out all over the place.

Also included in the taco was some form of creamy sauce.  I have no idea what it was, as it wasn't listed on the menu at all.  It seemed almost vinegary, a bit strange for a creamy sauce.

And finally, the prawns.  There were 3 good size prawns, butterflied, and grilled.  They were a bit rubbery, but I think that is pretty expected for grilled prawns.  I liked the grilled flavor, and the fact that they were grilled to order (unlike their standard tacos, where the fillings are already prepared and sitting in vats).

My taco also included a bonus: an eyelash!  Slightly gross, but I understand how that happens.

Overall, it was ok, but I wouldn't get again.

Pancho Villa's tacos are significantly smaller than many others I've encountered.  This explains why everyone in front of me was ordering multiples.  The Happy Hour price is obviously good, but compared to the $2 Taco Tuesday ones available at Nick's Crispy Tacos, Pancho Villa's are much, much smaller.  However, their ingredients seemed higher quality than Nick's, and of course they include chips too.  At the regular price of $3.50 ($3 for non-seafood) however, they are close in price to TropisueƱo's fish tacos (and more than their standard tacos), where they also include chips (hot, fresh, and about 3x as many), an INCREDIBLE salsa bar, and the tacos are much bigger, and way higher quality.  So Pancho Villa is an ok value, but I'd pick TropisueƱo  any day.
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