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