Friday, July 28th, 2017:
After chasing a monstrously sized mechanical dragon through the streets of downtown Ottawa to catch a glimpse, we were famished! (Just as I had imagined that dragon would be if it were real and waking up in a new city for the first time.) Tourists and locals alike flocked in hoards through the pulse of the nation’s capital for “La Machine”– mesmerized in awe of the creative and geniously-crafted giants. Luckily, the unusually wet summer decided to take a hike and Mother Nature gifted us with a perfect summer evening to roam around city with. My two hospitality professionals and I could no longer say that “nothing fun” happens here – quite the opposite actually! The nation’s capital proves to be very much alive and thriving, so dig in!
Did I mention that we were hungry? The question was, which restaurant was going to satisfy our voracious appetites – and be able to accommodate our wish for a patio seat on such a busy night? Our stroll took us along a very vibrant Elgin street in search of patio accommodation. One of us (not me) was former employee of Pancho Villa of almost 20 years ago. He suggested we consider that restaurant as an option as it is a long time favourite, even after all of these years. I’ll try anything once, and if I like it- more than once. Authentic Mexican food and margaritas, anyone? Si Si Senor!
The stars aligned perfectly for us as we shuffled our way to a cozy corner nook on their extremely busy patio. Perfect – a break from the crowds and a chance to people watch. The new moon gave us a beautiful backdrop to boot. Could this summer evening be any more nostalgic? I wondered.
Our server greeted us with a warm and hospitable smile – step one, she nailed it. Despite the no-doubt hectic evening for the employees, no one would guess they were most likely beyond exhausted. After taking our resident Pancho expert’s advice on the-best-nachos-and-enchiladas-in-town, we eagerly complied and ordered. A round of deliciously authentic (and not too sweet) lime margaritas and red sangrias arrived shortly after our order was placed. We were happy campers! At last- summer has finally arrived for good in Ottawa. Better late than never?
As current and former professionals of the hospitality industry, we understood that the food might take a little longer than normal given the busier-than-usual night. Much to our surprise, a healthy plate of yummy looking nachos with house-made tortilla chips and fresh guacamole appeared in less than 20 minutes (we decided on half beef, half chicken). These were no wimpy looking nachos! We held a brief group discussion of our collective previous experiences from ordering overly priced nachos in other venues. You know, the ones where the ingredients are not only sub-par, but sitting on top of a mere handful of chips leaving naked chips to disappoint? These were some serious nachos loaded with generous portions of perfectly seasoned, tender-pulled-pieces-of-meat. They were devoured in minutes. With each bite, I could smell the authentic Mexican spices. A hint of warm cinnamon tickled my palate and invited me to keep shoveling it in as if I hadn’t eaten in days. (It seems I had acquired the appetite of a dragon.) And the appetizer was far from over-priced! In fact, I wondered if the “Super Nachos” were priced high enough at $10.95+ tax for the restaurant to make sufficient profit with increasingly high restaurant expenses. Since Pancho has been in business for several years, I assume they know what they’re doing (and they do!)
By the time our mains arrived, we had just enough time to order another round of drinks. We kept secretly hoping that Long Ma the Dragon, or Kumo the spider might wander down the streets of Elgin, but, no dice.
We shared the most simply delicious vegetarian enchiladas (Pancho’s Veg. Enchiladas, $12.95 + tax) and the Pancho Special of the Evening. The two corn-tortilla veggie enchiladas were far from complicated and packed full of flavor with a mix of chunky onions, green peppers, tomatoes, cheese and a house sauce. It was accompanied with a side of Mexican rice and a very simple but refreshing iceberg lettuce salad. Iceberg lettuce rarely gets me excited and holds very little nutrition, but the tangy homemade dressing drove it home and cleaned the palate in between bites. (Who wants to eat “healthy” on a Friday night anyway?). The Pancho Special included chicken and cheese enchiladas, savoury black beans, some more iceberg salad, and homemade guacamole – with no shortage fresh cilantro. The tortillas were nice and crispy without being too dry, and the chicken was marinated to perfection for an ultimately juicy and mouth-watering experience. Is your mouth watering yet?
Needless to say, we cleaned our plates – and if we weren’t in public we would have licked them just to get another taste of their house made jalapeno hot sauce. Green and bursting with flavours of zesty lime, garlic and jalapeno of course- without the usual caliente-back-of-the-palate hot sauce burn that tends to eliminate other flavours in its path. Stuffed to gills and now sleepy, we all agreed that it was time for Siesta, por la noche. We quickly received our reasonable bills and settled up.
Would I go back to Pancho Villa? In a heartbeat. AND I WANT THE WHOLE ENCHILADA! Consistently good food and hospitality after so many years is difficult to achieve in such a highly competitive and growing industry, sombreros off to Pancho Villa for delivering on all fronts!