Photo by: B.A. Nilsson
a Better Burrito
By B.A. Nilsson
536 Crescent Rd., Clifton Park, 383-2930. Serving
lunch Mon-Fri 11-2:30, dinner Mon-Thu 5-10, Fri 5-10:30, Sat
noon-10:30, Sun noon-9. AE, MC, V.
Cuisine: Americanized Mexican fare
Entrée price range: $7.45 (taco salad) to $15.50 (shrimp
Ambience: cheerful, Dennys-like
Clientele: soccer moms with families
Dinner was as much a reward
as a sustenance ritual. Not because of the restaurant—once
I was inside, it was a smooth, delightful experience—but because
of the challenge of getting there.
Clifton Park, like Stepford, has evolved a code of behavior
familiar to any commuter-suburb denizen. Because neighbors
don’t depend on sustenance from the land, and therefore don’t
depend on each other, the resultant isolation increases territorial
urges. Boundaries are zealously guarded and fights erupt over
property lines, church pews, parking spaces and, as I discovered
one recent weeknight, traffic lanes.
My purpose wasn’t helped by the fact that my Chrysler Concorde,
amusingly reckoned as a full-sized car, was dwarfed to nothingness
by the pickups and SUVs that surged around me. As Crescent
Road widened into a multilane strip-mall feeder, I was imprisoned
too far to the left to make a necessary turn, and no combination
of signal and speed would grant me the needed lane-shift window.
Pancho’s isn’t far from Northway exit 8, an interchange I
crossed twice in pursuit of my turn lane. Housed in a former
Waffle House, the restaurant building has the cheerful, neon-enhanced
look of a chain place, which our server assured us it definitely
is not. But the Mexican-American family that opened Pancho’s
has been successful enough that a second unit is set to open
next week at 1343 Central Ave., Colonie (482-3940), site of
the former New York Grill.
Inside the Clifton Park Pancho’s, the brightly lighted room
carries on the prefab look of the outside. Decor includes
souvenir-shop accessories and airbrush- generated artwork.
It could be Denny’s or Friendly’s, or any family-friendly
eatery. What distinguishes it, however, is a busy staff serving
better-than-average Mexican fare, nearly all of it familiar
from the model long ago established to represent south-of-the-border
How does Pancho’s differ from the competition? Flavors are
a little bolder in some dishes, as the guacamole exemplifies—it
sneaks up on you with an afterbite even as you’re enjoying
the sweet, pungent mix of avocado, lemon and spices. Note,
too, the accompanying chips—served as a matter of course when
you’re seated—that have the look of an in-house finish.
Salsa, too, bears the mark of an original recipe. The cilantro
presence is more keen, the tomato more roughly chopped. It’s
not overly spicy, so I asked for something hotter and was
served a monkey dish of a much more fiery concoction, complete
with a whole pickled jalapeño.
Along with the guacamole ($4.25) are a number of other appetizer
dips, similarly priced: concoctions of beans, cheese, spinach
or a $5 combo. You’ve also got nachos to choose from, in the
$5-$6 range, with the topping of your choice. And there are
soups and salads as starters, including a big bowl of black
bean soup ($3.70) that was more broth than beans but nevertheless
rich with a deftly seasoned flavor.
Mexican cuisine lends itself to vegetarian dining, and Pancho’s
calls attention to this with a column of suitable combos.
Meat dishes include several beef preparations ($12-$15) and
a carnitas dinner of pork tips.
A brief lexicon explains what’s what in case you’ve forgotten
what’s in, say, a chile poblano (it’s a mild version
of a jalapeño popper). We sampled many of the listed items,
and found them all to be huge portions. The template is a
serving of some characteristically seasoned sautéed ingredient—beef,
usually, although chicken and beans are available—usually
with evidence of onions and peppers, wrapped in or served
upon corn or flour tortillas. Cumin and cilantro give the
filling its Mexican-ness, and side dishes of rice and refried
beans complete most of the plates.
The burrito, which sports a flour tortilla as wrapper, takes
up most of a plate; the similarly fashioned enchilada is smaller
and wrapped in a corn tortilla. And they’re welcome antidotes
to the limp, bland versions too often foisted upon us.
A chile relleno puts the filling in a large, mild poblano
pepper, while the chalupa is built on a flat corn tortilla,
fried to crispness, topped with beans and guacamole. The classic
taco, served in an ark of fried corn tortilla, remains as
unwieldy as ever, launching its filling out the far side with
Put together two ($8.75) or three ($9.75) of the items (as
described on the combinaciones list) with sides of
rice and beans. Or try one of the fancier combos on the long
list of especialidades, which includes an $11.50 grande
special that combines much of what’s mentioned above.
Fajitas are another specialty, with lots of fillings options,
singly or in combination, for $10 to $15. We saw several such
platters emerge from the kitchen—appearing on the deck of
a reach-through window—sizzling and steamy, and that alone
is a compelling selling point. Alas, our order of chicken-filled
fajitas had lost its sizzle by the time it was carried to
our table. Nevertheless, the mix of meat with sautéed onions
and peppers is delicious, and we enjoyed building a variety
of different sandwiches with the sour cream and salsa and
large flour tortillas that accompanied the platter.
Soft drink refills are free, an economic advantage when dining
with kids (or with me), and the fried ice cream is an irresistible
dessert. Although I long for more exotic Mexican fare, this
is better than most of what you’ll find in this neck of the
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
want your feedback
you eaten at Ponchos
Mexican Restaurant, or
other recently reviewed restaurants?
Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...
address not required to submit your feedback, but required to
be placed in running for Nicole's Bistro Gift Certificate.
one of the things I usually like about B.A.'s
reviews, that was missing here, is that
he often brings his family, specially his
child to these meals and includes their
dining experiences in his columns. As a
parent who is always looking fo kid-friendly
places that also serve good food that I'd
want to eat, so I especially enjoy "his
take" on what his daughter orders and
how she likes it too, as well as the entire
me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving
fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings
of prepared, marketed fried things. Even
could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens
to be perfectly honest. I read the review
mostly because my office stares right at
it's front door and we all watched as the
refurbishing was done. My problem here today
is with your first two paragraphs.
kind of news article that bugs you is what
percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes
or less preparing food!?!? You know what
kind of news article bothers me? "Remains
of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......"
or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from
injuries sustained in shootout with suspect."
I realize food and it's service and preparation
may be the all consuming obsession in your
life, but please tell me you have a bigger
heart than that.
the reason "44 percent of weekday meals
in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or
less.." is that some people work 2
or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent
with young children, who may only have less
than 30 minutes to spare.
I promise you this, the next time I get
35 minutes or so.........I'll order some
Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms
and the ingredients to make a proper buerre
blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie,
apron and plenty of snotty attitude and
invite you over for dinner.
Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?
really love this guys knack for picking
"the best kept secrets" in the
Capital District. Way to go B.A.! Keep up
the good work!
Leon's review was wonderful. Her descriptions
of the various selections made me hungry.
I am saving the review and putting it on
my refrigerator to remind me to take a busman's
holiday to Great Barrington for melitzana.
eaten here twice- I agree with all said
by Nillson- HOWEVER- No authentic Mexican
place should be totally rated without mention
of their Margarita quality -which is superior-very
limey with just the right ingredients- and
their selection of Mexican Beers-Tecata-Negro
Modello and Dos Equis Dark and Amber. Excellent
Selection. Another mark of good Mexican
cuisine is the freshness of their pico di
gallo-the true MEXICAN salsa- again excellent.
If it were not for the diner atmosphere
I would have rated it 4 stars- and yes-
please bring back the star rating system
which I relied on heavily.
surprisingly nice effort for a city which
seems to only allow Italian restaurants
very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading