Impression: Los Panchos: OK

Mission past Valencia, San Francisco, CA

I waited for my food with considerable trepidation at Los Panchos. I had set out to get a burrito or something similar, but decided on the spur of the moment to go into the first place I passed, because I need to get to know the neighborhood. The Burger King doesn’t count, so it was the Mexican/Salvadorean place. The omens, however, were not encouraging. It’s not really clear when you walk in whether you order at the counter or sit down until the staff instruct you to sit anywhere. The service is friendly, but really slow; I think they have one waitress and one cook back there. I ordered the pollo encebollado ($7.95), which I’d never heard of, but assumed that chicken and onions would be involved.

During the long wait, I ate my chips. The chips were a bit oily and bland, and the salsa hot while uninteresting, but I was really hungry, so I ate them anyway. My neighbors’ plates looked sort of grim, and as I waited I worried. Life is too short to eat bad Salvadorean food.

When my plate arrived, it seemed that my fears had been realized. My pollo encebollado was a bone-in chicken breast covered in sauteed onions, meat-down in a mess of pale rice and refried beans, with a side of iceberg pieces in generic pink dressing and an order of thoroughly institutional-looking tortillas. I typically don’t care for bone-in chicken (I know the arguments, I just don’t like fiddling with bone and ligament), and I really don’t like refried beans.

I’m pleased to report, however, that appearances were deceiving. Although some fiddling with bones was indeed required, the chicken was really tasty, and the onions were delicious. I don’t know what they did with the onions, but they were the best sauteed onions I’ve had in a while. The tortillas were also really good, and even the beans won me over for the first half of the meal. Everything got a bit less delicious as it cooled off.

In a vacuum, the pollo encebollado would probably earn a Recommended. The service, the chips, and a certain amount of caution make me hold that back to an OK, though. I will probably go back, maybe to try the asado encebollado (or maybe I’ll finally get around to eating a pupusa). Perhaps an upgrade will be in order at that time.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: La Burrita: Not Recommended

2530 Durant Avenue

La Burrita has two locations, one on either side of the Berkeley campus. I’ve seen it for years, and yet never went in. This, it turns out, may have been for the best.

I got a large burrito with grilled chicken on a wheat tortilla ($4.59), and a large soda ($1.25). I had some chips and salsa beforehand. The chips are pretty good — light and crispy — and the salsa is tasty if unchallenging. The burrito, however, was disappointing. For one thing, large is really not that large at all; I don’t expect wonders for $4.59, but most places I like call a burrito that size regular. I give them some points for having a wheat tortilla, but the fillings were lousy. The rice was mealy, the beans lifeless, the grilled chicken bland, and the salsa was cloying and overcooked-tasting. There was some cheese in there too, I think, but it made no impression at all. The salsa really was distressing; it was the flavor of microwave burritos worked up into a restaurant salsa.

I might go back for a bowl of chips, and I might be persuaded to try the nachos, but I think I’ve had my last burrito at La Burrita.

Impression: Henry’s: Recommended

2600 Durant Avenue

So the focus of this blog is going to be shifting again, because I am no longer going to school in the Tenderloin and living in Redwood City. Now I’m going to school in Berkeley and living in the Mission. Thus, I’ll now be writing about cheap food in the Mission and Telegraph areas. This completely destroys the cleverness of the blog title, but such is life.

I had an interview at the Hotel Durant today right before lunchtime, so I decided to try the hotel restaurant, a pubby sort of place. I had a turkey, avocado, and bacon sandwich ($8.95); it came with salad or fries, and I chose salad. I also had a soda ($2.00), which is ludicrously expensive but comes with refills. In general, the prices may keep me away. Twelve dollars for lunch isn’t unreasonable in a nice place with table service, but there are so many cheaper options around here.

The sandwich was good. Avocado can be a problem in a sandwich; it can squirt out of the sandwich or squish all over everything. The avocado here, however, was just the right amount of ripe. It stayed put, but still had some body. Also, the cook recognized that the richness of avocado calls for discretion with the mayonnaise. The bacon was also good. I don’t like bacon that’s been cooked to crunchiness; I think it tastes burnt. This bacon was crisp but still chewy, and went well with the smoothness of avocado. The turkey wound up being something of a bit player, but that was fine.

The salad was fine. A nice assortment of greens with some shredded carrot, and some honey mustard dressing. I could have done without the red onion, though. I think red onion in a salad is like a tuba in a band; if you have enough else going on, it works, but you wouldn’t want an ensemble to consist of, say, a snare drum and a tuba.