Finally, a new Mexican restaurant to check out and report on in Merced! This is great news for me in a town where the Mexican food has been surprisingly disappointing…
Although, in truth, Los Panchos isn’t new. The owners moved to the new location on G Street (former location of Casa Oaxaca, which has been closed for almost a year, nice to see the space occupied again) from a location in South Merced that was fairly out of the way (and that I hadn’t gotten around to trying), and where they apparently weren’t doing much business. A colleague tells me they also have a branch in Atwater, and he swears by it, though I haven’t confirmed that the two places are related.
Anyway, hubby, son and I set out to try it last week. Verdict: nothing earth-shattering, but we left happy and all agreed we’d come back. Quite good on a Merced scale, decent on a valley-wide or LA scale…
The owners are from Michoacan, and the menu reflects this regional bent. As is the case in many central valley restaurants (but not many in Merced) seafood comprises a large portion of the offerings: there are at least 10 types of camarones (shrimp) on offer, along with pescado frito and several caldos de pescado (along with caldo de res).
Fresh, hot chips and two salsas were brought immediately. Both salsas had a good amount of heat: one was chipotle-based, the other was a salsa cruda which was very good but oddly, it was a bit on the sweet side (even though it was also spicy, with visible chunks of jalapeno. )Might have even had a bit of sugar in it. Salsas were brought in small bowls but replenished when we quickly ran out.
To start, I ordered a ceviche tostada: the fish in the ceviche was very sweet and fresh tasting, and the portion was generous. The fish was chopped in small bits and served with slices of avocado and cilantro.Unfortunately, the dish had more lime than I’d prefer (and I ordinarily love lime, enough so that I made the mistake of squeezing a bit more on before tasting). Anyway, I’d give the ceviche a B.
Other dishes at our table:
Chicken enchiladas dinner for hubby. I didn’t try them; looked fairly standard., but not gloppy with too much cheese, so that was a good thing. Shredded chicken inside. He liked them.
Chicken tacos for son. Didn’t try those either, What is it with the men in my family and chicken? However, I did taste the guacamole that came on the side with the tacos and it was well above average. Son also ordered a taco de carne asada; did taste that, the asada was good.
Unfortunately, I am limiting my seafood intake considerably these days, and was over my (personally set) shrimp limit for the month, \With a long, regretful look at the camarones, I decided to try the carnitas. Crispy and juicy, and very flavorful. Came with sliced avocado, more salsa, very average refried beans, and better than average arroz mexicano, with a few vegetables stirred in. The rice was light and fluffy. An order of corn tortillas were thick and fresh, but probably not house made. My guess is that they buy their tortillas at El Rancho Market (a local Mexican supermarket that has an in-house tortilla making operation).
All of our dishes came with a tiny Mexican flag on a toothpick for decoration. Sort of cute.I like the implied statement of pride that the flag made, even if it was slightly cheesy.
Service was very good: there were two large groups when we came in (which was nice to see; I am sure they can use the business) but nonetheless our server kept everything running smoothly.
Total with three Negro Modelos (menu is wine and beer only), tax and generous tip was under $60 for the three of us. We had enough food left for lunch the next day.
Los Panchos is open daily and serves breakfast also. On my list to try soon: the Caldo de res, huevos rancheros, and at least one of those shrimp dishes.
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