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Pancho Villa

16 Aug

Visited Thursday, July 22nd 2010
Ryan
Thursday, July 22, Lauren and I met up with her younger brother Matt, his girlfriend Calla, and four other of his friends to celebrate Matt’s 22nd birthday at Pancho Villa, an inconspicuous little Mexican place on Minneapolis’s Eat Street (26th & Nicollet). Lauren had been to Pancho Villa with a group a few months ago for a birthday party and was amazed at all the awesome birthday deals: birthday boy/girl drinks free all night, free cake, and a spin of the birthday wheel which can win you even more great prizes! Apparently the local community has taken note—I think everyone in the place was with a group celebrating someone’s birthday.

Matt Poulter celebrates his 22nd birthday at Pancho Villa.

The occasion was celebrating Lauren's brother Matt's 22nd birthday.

My review of Pancho Villa is going to be excessively glowing, and my ratings will show it is the best overall restaurant I’ve reviewed so far. They were nearly perfect in every aspect, acing all of the areas I look for in a good place to eat. I would consider a great restaurant to have big portions of tasty food at a good value with fast service, not a lot of sitting around waiting for food and drink to arrive, with a comfortable dining atmosphere, a gimmick or two, and hell, even throw in a giant HD TV right in front of our table in the dining area. Pancho Villa had all of these areas covered and then some!

We were promptly waited on and ordered drinks upon arrival, and within a couple minutes our drinks had arrived. During the week, it’s always 2-for-1 drink specials, and giant margaritas are only $4.98 to start with, so with the special they were really just $2.49 each! I of course ordered that while Lauren opted for the Dos Equis. Free chips and salsa were also at the table for appetizers. Before long, the waitress was back to take our order. She was the first true “low-talker” I’ve met before, like that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry agrees to wear the puffy pirate shirt on the Today Show. Her voice was barely audible, so I found myself just nodding “yes” to some of her questions, but I eventually was able to successfully place my order off their excessively big menu. I ordered the #77, some sort of fajita platter that included a big sizzling plate of chicken, beef, shrimp, and all sorts of veggies.

The food arrived in a very short time; we had probably only been in the restaurant for 30 minutes at this point. My meal consisted of three platters—the tortillas, the meat/vegetables, and a plate of rice, refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and all the fixins. It was a whopping portion of food, and all for $13.95. I received four flour tortillas, which wasn’t nearly enough to hold all the ingredients, but ate what was left over with a fork. I am a sucker for ridiculously insane hot sauces, and they had this tiny bottle of a Hispanic green hot sauce on the table that I doused over my food. I was sucking the waters and margaritas back trying to cool my mouth!

My dinner at Pancho Villa, Minneapolis.

The #77 Pancho Villa Fajitas at Pancho Villa.

I can’t foresee any reason why I wouldn’t come back to Pancho Villa, whether for someone’s birthday or otherwise. I just regret not visiting it more often when we lived three blocks down the street!

Food: 9
Portions: 9 (Gasthof set the bar a bit too high!)
Value: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Staff: 9 (low-talker drops a point)
Experience: 9

I’ve had more delicious food, bigger portions, lower prices, and better staff before, but to have all these things rate this high in one restaurant is rare.

Lauren

As Ryan mentioned, I have been to Pancho Villa once before (in addition, I think we ordered it as take-out when we lived at 26th & Blaisdell) for our friend Sarah’s birthday. Before that I had heard from literally dozens of people that this was the place to go for your birthday. Boy is it ever! As Mexican food should be, it is cheap and filling and decently authentic.

I don’t find the interior anything special, but that’s not the point. The point is, of course, the nearly-constant happy hour and the insane birthday specials. Of course, that’s why Ryan & I suggested it as a venue for my baby brother’s 22nd birthday.

As I have before, I ordered one of the combination plates. They come with your choice of meats so I chose a chicken enchilada, a beef tamal and a pork tostada. And of course these came with a ridiculous amount of refried beans and Mexican rice (which is, I know from work, rice cooked in a tomato-chicken broth. Knorr and other manufacturers even sell this flavor combination as a premade bouillon!)

Lauren's dinner at Pancho Villa.

Lauren's dinner at Pancho Villa.

So, so much food that I could barely finish half of it, not counting the frijoles or the rice. And I don’t think I ate a single chip before our meals were brought out to us. And I think my entire meal cost something like $8! Ryan and I jokingly wondered if the place was a front for drugs or something – how else could they sell their food cheaply, have two-for-ones almost all the time, and give away all kinds of freebies for birthdays??

Everything that I was able to eat was fantastic…..certainly not a healthy meal, but a delicious treat.

The real fun of the dinner was all of the stuff they gave to or did for my brother. The giant margarita (served in one of those novelty glasses that I think are technically meant to be a centerpiece), the flaming shot, the alcohol-soaked birthday cake, and the sping on “the wheel”. The birthday boy or girl always gets to spin on the wheel of prizes, and if you come in with a group of six or more one person gets to spin the wheel. They have options like free entree, free dessert, free entrees for your table…so what did Matt win?

Free drinks for the whole table! We were all very happy to hear that our $5 two-for-one margaritas were, in the end, free! Of course that deal only applies to drinks ordered before the spin, so we were promptly given our bill.

Overall a very fun way to celebrate my li’l bro! Happy birthday buddy!

Ambience: 3/5 – totally not the point! Nothing exciting, nothing wrong with it.

Service: 3.5/5 – good. Again, our waitress was very hard to hear. But other than that I had no complaints (except, I think I had to remind her more than once to bring me a glass of water).

Food: 4.5/5 – delicious! Totally put me in a food coma, and I barely ate half of my plate. This is the kind of place that is right up Ryan’s alley, unpretentious, large portions of food at a low price. It’s not always my cup of tea, but I’m happy to make my husband happy when I can (then he is more likely to agree to eat at places like Surdyk’s Flights when we are at the airport, even though it is the kind of frou-frou food he loathes.)

Overall Experience: 4/5 – Very good! Pancho Villa is a place I highly recommend when going out for a birthday – it always is awkward when the birthday boy or girl wants to go somewhere “nice” for their birthday but you are apprehensive about blowing your monthly budget on someone else’s party (I hope that doesn’t sound snotty. It can be challenging to pick a place for a group to go out to dinner, I know.) But Pancho Villa is a perfect place; their menu is gargantuan and has options well under $10 to over $20 for some of the seafoods.

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Salsa a la Salsa

16 Mar

Lauren and I recently (and by recently I mean pre-Christmas 2009) went to Salsa a la Salsa, which is located on the heart of Eat Street in Minneapolis near the Convention Center.  It was a fierce blizzard that night, and we were surprised the place was even open, let alone serving several other patrons.

Unlike traditional Mexican restaurants, Salsa a la Salsa serves up some wild concoctions—dishes I wouldn’t have thought to be Mexican, and others I didn’t know existed.

We started with margaritas and the complimentary chips and salsa, then tried an appetizer that tickled our funny bones—Tostones con Camarones, which are fried plantains topped with large shrimp, sauteed in Chipotle tomatillo sauce with papaya chutney.  Now believe me when I say I’ve had my share of fried plantains topped with large shrimp, sauteed in Chipotle tomatillo sauce with chutney over the years, but papaya chutney?  This was the best I’ve had yet!  It was exotic and was the perfect taste-grabber for what was to come next.

Drinks and sauces from Salsa a la Salsa, Minneapolis

Margaritas on a snowy Christmassy night

For my main entree, I chose the Chicken Devil Mary Style, which was advertised as “VERY HOT!”, and added a chicken tamale on the side.  I can’t recall what Lauren ordered off hand.  My meal was pretty delicious.  It came with a platter of tortillas and I used the chicken strips, rice, and vegetables to create my own little wraps.  I remember the meal being hot, but not uber-hot.  The sauces that were given to us with our chips really unlocked the flavor of this dish, leaving me mildly perspiring and plenty satisfied, not even about to check the dessert menu.

Our entrees from Salsa a la Salsa, Minneapolis

Our entrees from Salsa a la Salsa

Lauren and I liked this place so much that we bought a gift certificate there for Lauren’s step-brother and his wife for their Christmas present.  Thanks to the great taste, authentic Mexican memorabilia, friendly hosts, and all-weather hours, and very reasonable prices, I give Salsa a la Salsa a strong 4.3/5 Noms.

Laredo’s

23 Oct

Tonight after work, Lauren and I stopped off at Laredo’s in St. Louis Park in the Excelsior & Grand neighborhood.  This Tex-Mex bar & grill is new as of last year, and I’d always been tempted to try it.  When the Twins had a deal on their website selling $50 gift cards to Laredo’s for $25, I snatched one up.

My first impression of Laredo’s was very favorable with a country atmosphere.  Our very attentive waiter made sure we were good to go on free chips & salsa and drinks.  Their drink menu featured a few signature cocktails, including the Excelsior & Grand, which I tried.  I believe it was a type of margarita with cactus juice served in a martini glass.  I would have to look up the ingredients again, but I rather enjoyed it.

The menu wasn’t very expansive, but we both found entrees we wanted to try and ended up sharing each other’s meals.  I ordered the Seafood Combo Platter, which consisted of two San Diego fish tacos and two seafood enchiladas served with refried beans and desert rice.  Lauren opted for the Drunken Tequila Shrimp—five jumbo grilled shrimp served with a tequila-lime tomato broth, fried plantains, pineapple & desert rice.

Laredo's Seafood Combo Platter

I made a bold choice with the Seafood Combo Platter.

Laredo's Drunken Tequila Shrimp

Lauren also opted for seafood, trying the Drunken Tequila Shrimp.

My meal was excellent!  It took me until I was 25 to try tacos, enchiladas, or burritos, but as long as they’re light on the cheese (which I specifically requested) then they’re good.  The fish tacos were my favorite.  The only downside was they went a little overboard on the refried beans.  Lauren’s shrimp was also tasty.  I’ve never been one to fill up on a handful of jumbo shrimp, but for someone with Lauren’s appetite they’d do just fine.

I would recommend ordering the extra spicy salsa, both with the free chips and with your main course.  It truly was a sweat-inducer.  Lauren offered me a dollar to eat the little container of spicy salsa, but I turned her down.

This place filled us up.  We were nowhere near finishing the two meals when we threw the towel in.  True, we went a little overboard on the free chips, but these portions are bigger than expected.  It was also a little on the spendy side.  Expect to drop $16 per plate.  Those fancy drinks were also spendy at about $7 each.  Thankfully I had that gift card, but even then I owed another $20 on top of that.

Overall, I’d recommend this place.  Excellent atmosphere, excellent service, great freebies, and huge portions.  Just beware of the prices and don’t overeat!

Lauren:

When Ryan decided to buy one of those 1/2 off gift cards, I was skeptical. So many Tex-Mex places really are total garbage, loaded down with sour cream and boring fare that you could make, easily and cheaply and much more healthful, at home.

Laredo’s surprised me in that sense. In the first place, the salsa that comes with the free chips actually has a bit of spice to it, better than the marinara-sauce-in-masquerade that you’ll find at most joints. Secondly, sangria! I love a good, authentic margarita made from triple sec, tequila and lime juice (and ONLY those three ingredients) as much as the next gal, but I adore sangria and don’t get to have it often enough. I ordered a small carafe and quenched my thirst with the fruity, boozy concoction.

I also liked that Laredo’s had some options that weren’t loaded down with sour cream. Nothing puts me off Tex-Mex food like a giant glop of sour cream covering up some kind of spicy dish. So the shrimp in a smoky, spicy, tomato-y broth was just up my alley. I did try a few bites of Ryan’s seafood platter, and that was pretty good. But if he had let me have my shrimp to myself, I would have been just fine with that 🙂

Ryan: 4/5 Noms

Lauren: 3.5/5 Noms.