The Tamal hits the table with a whoosh of masa scented air.I'm stretched out on the back patio at Ponce's soaking in the gorgeous first day of Fall 2008.
The little building on Chalmers has seen a handful of tenants in the last few years and I've eaten at each one.Rico's was good for cheap hamburger combos but he went under a while back and the building sat empty for a bit before the Salvadorans saw a business opportunity and capitalized on it.A sign outside promises Comida Centro Americana which is a sure bet to get me pulled off the road and into the parking lot.
Walking in there is a small counter you may eat at but it's tiny and offers little grace save affording a nice view of the goings on in the kitchen.
There is a small,tidy patio off to the side under the shade of Palm trees which offers a nice view of bustling Cesar Chavez.A pinata shop is off in the distance reminding me of how much fun it is to be blindfolded and gorged out on cheap candy.
I'm starting to relax a bit about restaurants charging for chips and salsa.They're wearing me down I reckon.Or perhaps I'm suffering from outrage fatigue in this busy political season.
And when the Chips and Salsa are this good I don't mind paying.The totopos are handcut from homemade corn tortillas,deep fried in good fat and dusted with salt.The Red Tomato Salsa is smoky and delicious,spiked with chunks and chunks of garlic but it only has a little chile heat.I haven't had tortilla chips this good since Azul Tequila quit making their's per order years ago.
I love restaurants that plaster their walls with lurid color photos of their menu offerings[only homey,Polaroid style xeroxes though]and Ponce's hits on all cylinders in this department.DEEP FRIED GROUND BEEF TACOS are very alluring.POLLOS ASADOS are fire engine red and pretty.Many,many more photos offer a visual tour through their menu.Someone has a cousin with a camera who works at Kinkos it appears.
Pupusas are kind of like Central American pancakes stuffed with White Cheese and perhaps some meat.They are one of the best things you will ever put in your mouth and if they're on a menu I cannnot resist .They are accompanied by Curtido which is cabbage sliced up like for slaw,tossed with thin slices of Jalapenos and dressed lightly with vinegar.Sometimes an herb is blended in,in this instance cilantro but more typically oregano.The molten white cheese plays nicely with the tart vinegar.
The Tamal comes and is three times the size of the typical Mexican version.It's served in a Plantain husk.The masa is cloudlike,light and porky,the meat is chicharron and the whole thing has been steamed til hot then lightly sauteed til crispy at the edges.It is wonderful.
The Pupusa and the Tamal come with two bottles of salsa;a non descript Green and a vivid Red that is brightly flavored but has little heat.
The hang is quite good.A grizzled gentleman is a table over guzzling soup from a big styrofoam cup,cars are rambling by on busy 1st street.The calm is briefly broken by some pain filled wailings off in the neighborhood somewhere but they are mercifully brief.
I can't wait to get back to Ponce's Patio and work my way through more of the menu:There are Baleadas,Chilaquiles,Tajadas,Sopa de Concha Jaiva,Chimichangas,Cactus Burritos,Hamburgers and Queso de Rajas to name a few of the more intriguing items.
My bill comes in at a little under $9 which is more than I like to spend for a Mexican-style lunch but to be fair it was a lot of food and I could've ordered one item less and still been really full.
Ponce's is open Monday through Saturday 6am-10pm and is located at 1701 East Cesar Chavez[actually on Chalmers behind this address.]512-236-1120
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