I finally got around to trying Panchita's #3. I'm not sure how I feel about my experience there, but the food was very good. Here's how it went:
We arrived at around 7:30 on a Thursday night. There were about four tables filled--about 8-10 people seated (about 1/4 capacity). There were four or five people at the bar, talking to the waitress/hostess and the women behind the bar (other waitresses?--they never left the area behind the bar). Those at the bar were obviously regulars who were there to hang out and drink, not to eat. I had a bad feeling when we walked in b/c the hostess, as she seated us, continued her conversation with the men at the bar, and didn't exactly make us feel particularly welcome, but, at the same time, she wasn't especially rude either. What really got me was the music--it was *extrememly* loud. Like booming out of a car with tinted windows loud. Really really loud. It was comical--you couldn't even hear the bass b/c it was so distorted. Hmm. I looked around at the other people eating, but they didn't seem to mind.
After being seated quickly, we were promptly served water, as well as chips and salsa (kind of mediocre). We made our selections from the menu in a few minutes, but I couldn't seem to catch the waitress's eye to subtly signal that we were ready to order. After about 15 minutes, she came over. Meanwhile, the music was turned down to just kind of loud. We got our beers quickly enough, and then we waited. We had ordered two papusas for appetizers--the chicharron and the camaron. After about 20 miuntes, they arrived. They were absolutely delicious. The corn/masa flavor was very strong and the fillings were, in the case of the pork, rich, savory and complex. The shrimp was light and subtle, but not over-powered but the cheese. Some of the cheese had spilled over and gotten crunchy in the pan and that was really yummy too. My memory fails me, but I think there were two sauces atop the papusas--a cilantro crema and a chile crema. I'm not quite sure. Anyway, I would gladly eat those papusas every day.
I told the waitress that the food was delcious and she thanked me. I kind of got the impression that she was one of the owners (the place is owned by a couple, right?). Anyway, we waited almost half an hour for our entrees, at which point we were chided gently for only having one beer. I had the chicken mole and my boyfriend had the lomo saltado. Both were excellent. The half chicken was an amazing deal at only $11. I finished it for lunch on Friday. I really liked their mole--somtimes I feel it is too earthy/dirty-tasting, but this was really nice--I thought the chocolate flavor really stood out. The chicken was extremely moist, as other hounds have posted. Mmm. The lomo saltado was very tasty as well--it was cooked with olives, which was nice, and topped with thin sliced of crispy potato.
Okay, so the food was really great. The problem was this: at no point did the waitress seem to want to make any effort beyond the bare minimum to ensure our happiness. We waited a *very* long time for our food, with no comment as to when our food would come, if we needed anything else, etc. It was disappointing. We both felt as though we weren't welcome there. Clearly, Panchita's #3 is a neighborhood restaurant. the focus of all the energy in the house was on the conversation and joking at the bar. The diners were truly secondary. It just struck me as strange--and unexpected. The place has gotten a good amount of press, and I don't recall reading anything about any service problems. I noticed that the other tables also took a very long time to be served, and that the waitress (who was serving all four tables, but wasn't exactly busting ass) never checked on anyone except to serve them.
I guess I just wasn't expecting to be treated as an afterthought. It's funny; we almost felt as though we were being served in a bar, where the food IS an afterthought. But we weren't! Clearly, the restaruant is designed to focus on dining--candles at the tables, fancy napkin-twisties in the wine glasses, white table clothes, etc. Furthermore, the food is great! I feel like if I had been treated as if I was welcome, and that they appreciated my business, then I would have gladly gone back.
It's too bad. Two other insults: after making a big show of us only ordering one drink, the waitress charged us for two beers each. Simple mistake, but not cool. Also, after we left, we got a block and a half away, and I realized I had left my hat at my seat. I dashed back, and went to my seat to retrieve my hat. The bar crowd noticed my re-entry, but the waitress couldn't even be bothered to say "Oh! you forgot your hat!" or "Have a good night" or anything. Sad Melissa felt neglected. And we had actually left a good-size tip, mostly b/c we didn't want to wait to get change.
Maybe I was just having a bad night and was overly sensitive and critical. Well, actually, I think if I had known what kind of service to expect, I would have been less disappointed. Or maybe if we had gone later (and there was perhaps less post-work hanging-out going on), there would have been greater emphasis on service--on the fact that the place is actually a restaurant.
If I go back, which I will probably do, b/c my stomach will drag me blindly back to those papusas, I will go with low expectations--as far as service goes--and a lot of time on my hands.
3115 22nd St (at S. Van Ness)
San Francisco, CA 94110-3218
Phone: (415) 821-6660