Everything I could find on the board about Panchita's #3 is at least a few years old, so I thought I'd report back on last night's dinner.
There were only two of us, so we couldn't try a ton of dishes, but everything we had was quite good, especially given the low prices.
The interior made us laugh -- it's amusing to sit at white-tablecloth place settings with decoratively folded napkins and flowers on the table while the staff cooks up pupusas in the open kitchen behind the bar, with a TV broadcasting NBA games on the counter. It has a decidedly neighborhood feel -- there were clearly a number of regulars at the bar who wandered in to chat with the staff, drink a beer, and watch the basketball game after work.
The quality and presentation of the food, however, proves that Salvadorean can go upscale. We started with two pupusas - chicharrones and vegetarian. Both had wonderful, fresh masa flavors, grilled to perfection with some beautiful crispy brown spots. The vegetarian had been recommended in reports from a 2003 Chowdown. It was tasty, but the chopped bits of zucchini, mushrooms and peppers added little to the pupusa. The chicharrones were delicious, though, with rich, salty bits of pork bursting with flavor.
The pupusas were drizzled with a few different sauces -- the red one was definitely beet, and the green was most likely a cilantro crema. The accompanying tangy, crunchy cabbage slaw offset the pupusas nicely.
We also tried the platanos fritos. Plantains can be bland and starchy, but these were fried expertly, full of wonderful plantain flavor. They sat in a sweet, syrupy sauce -- my girlfriend thought it might contain maple syrup. Alone, it would've been sweet enough to be a dessert, but the dish came with "casamiento" -- spicy, salty black beens topped with a crumbled, salty, fresh cheese. Eaten together in the same bite, this interplay of sweet and savory really made the dish.
For mains, we shared the camarones en mole verde and the chicken in black mole. Other than the word "mole," these dishes couldn't have been more different. The half-chicken was simmered in a classic rich, bittersweet chocolate mole, studded with sesame seeds. The chicken had been well browned before cooking, with flavorful, well-rendered skin. The leg meat was incredibly moist, and the breast not bad either. Nothing unusual here, just a straight-up, classic, well-executed chocolate mole.
The camarones en mole verde were equally good and, in my opinion, more interesting (my girlfriend preferred the chicken). The large shrimp were just a tad overcooked (as is nearly always the case), but full of briny, shrimpy flavor. The green sauce was a puree of stewed tomatillos with a complex array of fresh herb flavors that I couldn't identify. Unusual and wonderful -- this was the standout dish of the meal.
We split a chocolate cheesecake for dessert, which was fine but note noteworthy.
Previous posts mentioned that the wine list was a disappointment, but I think this food goes better with beer anyhow.
Total including tax and tip was about $25 per person, and we had enough leftovers for lunch for each of us the next day. This is a great find -- inexpensive enough to share lots of food, but a nice enough atmosphere for a date or a special occasion. The food is not out-of-this-world, blow-your-mind good, but it's well above average for Mexican/Central American, and certainly worth trying. We'll be back.