Flavorful Mexican dishes offered at Pancho's

I admit it; I broke down. I will be the first to say that it’s important to expand cultural horizons and try new things, but that all went out the window. Bottom line, I had a craving: the undeniable urge for marinated and spiced meat smothered in cheese and peppers, topped with sour cream, guacamole, and just the right level of heat.

In short, I needed a Mexican fix and I wasn’t going to be satisfied by just any old Taco Bell. Problem is, the pickings are kind of slim around here. Being somewhat north of the border, the selection for authentic Mexican food is limited, so I had to get creative.

A good rule of thumb is that if the name of the restaurant fits the following generic form, “Name’s Authentic [Insert Ethnicity] Food,” then they’re probably overcompensating for something. But, when you’re desperate, you have to take some chances, even if that means trying a place where your expectations are decidedly low.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about the Pancho’s up by Wal-Mart, as I’m sure you have as well. It turns out that there is a much larger one out by Colonie Mall on Central Avenue that I have heard much less about, so it seemed like a safer bet. The interior is a fairly standard American take on “Mexican,” with loud colors and southern decorations, but not unusually cliche.

I’m a big fan of being served food before even ordering, and being served two heaping baskets of yellow corn chips and two jars of homemade salsa is a sure way to win me over, especially if the salsa has the perfect texture and a delicate blend of cilantro with a hint of lime. As an added bonus, they even put just the right level of heat in, so that it packed a mild punch without masking the flavor. Plus, they weren’t stingy, refilling our baskets and salsa twice over the course of dinner. Their menu is fairly standard, with sections for meats, seafood, fajitas, combination platters, and vegetarian plates.

Their appetizers left a little to be desired. Their selection consisted only of quesadillas, dips, soups, and nachos. Each had different pricing for each item added to the plate, so if you ordered the bean and beef nachos, you got nachos with cheese, refried beans, and beef. Not exactly inspired, but not unusually weak. Out of curiosity, I ordered the jalapeño nachos and I got a plate of nachos drenched in their sauce and diced pickled jalapeños ($5.25). I personally would like to see fresh jalapeños, but pickled ones tend to be milder, and most people are just fine with that. While it didn’t look like much, I have to say their queso sauce is terrific. It’s thick and spicy, with full flavor that goes beyond just monterey jack, and branches into cumin and peppers for a full-palate effect.

In the interest of being original, I went with the Enchiladas Supreme ($12.50), a platter of four enchiladas—one beef, one chicken, one bean, and one cheese—topped with lettuce and tomatoes. It was of decent size and presentation, but unlike most enchiladas I’ve seen, it was less like a casserole in that they were well defined and laid out in a pleasing manner. They were drenched in thin layers of queso and sauce that added a sharp, creamy texture to the meat and corn tortilla below. All the types were delicious, but I preferred the beef to the chicken only because the beef had a much stronger blend of spices.

I also sampled the Taquitos Mexicanos. While they were delicious, they weren’t particularly extraordinary, and a platter for $10.75 only gets you three, so it’s not a college-priced dish. The fajita nachos ($13.25), however, were absolutely amazing. They sautéed the peppers, onions, and chicken, and served them on a bed of corn chips smothered in their amazing queso sauce. The end result is something you just have to experience for yourself. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Pancho’s. They aren’t the most amazing Mexican food, but they have some very solid dishes at reasonable prices. Not to mention their margaritas aren’t too shabby and they don’t stint on the tequila. For a laid-back evening with friends, this is just the place to be.