Pancho Y Emiliano
Pancho Y Emiliano is the most recent entrant into the crowded Mexican restaurant scene in Kensington. With a Mexican chef and named after two Mexican revolutionary heroes (Villa and Zapata, respectively) it strives for authenticity and happily achieves it.
The pork tamales ($3.75) are the first thing recommended by the friendly and informative server, and they're a strong start. The pork is richly flavoured, and even more important, succulent enough to practically melt in your mouth. The only complaint is that there isn't more of it - the corn masa (dough) surrounding the meat takes up most of the real estate and overpowers the pork. The masa is good, fortunately, so it's a minor complaint at best.
Better still is the fish taco ($5.75). The gigantic piece of lightly battered and fried white fish is moist and buttery, and slathered in a creamy sauce. It's paired with guacamole, shredded cabbage and a simple salsa fresca of tomatoes, cilantro and onions. The result is outstanding - delicious, simple and fresh, and worth a visit all on its own.
The other tacos on the menu ($5.75 for an order of two) don't reach the same heights, though they also exude an appealing freshness that becomes a running theme for the meal. The beef barbacoa is dense and savoury, almost like beef cheek, but a bit muted, which makes the tortilla the focus of the dish. It's a good tortilla, but that shouldn't really be the lasting takeaway.
Chicken tinga is a little more exciting: the shredded chicken, cooked with tomatoes and chipotle, is delicate with a pleasing spiciness, and pairs well with its accoutrements. The chicken pibil isn't quite in the same class; the peppery chicken, flecked with onion, is good but not overly notable.
The ceviche tostada ($4.75) also possesses an appealing freshness, fairly important when eating citrus-cooked seafood. It's an intricate pairing of fish, tomato, avocado and lettuce (well, the lettuce is a bit of a filler). A little more fish would go a long way - depending on which bite you got, the avocado predominated - but on the whole the dish worked well.
The enchiladas ($6.75) suffer in comparison. Whereas the other chicken dishes strive to do interesting things with their main ingredient, the chicken here is soft and lifeless, exacerbated by a slightly watery salsa verde. It's a malady that can't be overcome with a healthy sprinkling of cheese and a surprisingly excellent side of beans. The overall result is more indistinct than anything else, and hopefully will improve as kinks are worked out.
Service is both friendly and efficient, with staff happy to expand on the menu and the virtues of traditional Mexican cuisine.
It's a pleasant atmosphere - as we were leaving a sampler tray of freshly made miniature strawberry, chocolate and caramel churros ($1.50 regular sized) was headed out to the bustling Kensington street to tempt passers-by.
You can't go wrong with any of them, as like everything else on the menu they were fresh, and not oily or overly sugared (we also got a proper one for the road). Most of the dishes are also available in vegetarian or vegan form as well, which is nice to see. Drinks are limited to Coke and the Mexican pop Jarritos ($1.50). Do yourself a favour and skip the former and go with the tamarind or cola Jarritos.
Photos by Miranda Whist