Atmosphere: Ornate Mexican.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 10 p.m., Sunday.
Price range: $1.80 ala carte to $10.95 for the most expensive complete dinner.
Reservations: Accepted, but not necessary.
Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard.
Special facilities: Easy parking in restaurant's lot; wheelchairs must negotiate two steps to front door; booster seats and highchairs available; strolling guitarist performs Friday and Saturday evenings.
It's said that nothing succeeds like success, and in the case of restaurants, success often translates into a second location. This is the case with Pancho Villa, a popular, well-regarded Mexican restaurant from the Maryland suburbs that has opened recently at a second location in Annandale.
For Pancho Villa, the repeatable pattern for success seems an obvious one: the food is good, the setting decorative, and the prices reasonable, especially if there are children in your party. There are pleasant, brightly costumed waitresses, and on the weekends, a strolling guitarist to remind you of old Mexico.
The Virginia Pancho Villa has taken up residence in a site vacated by another Mexican restaurant, Viva. Pancho Villa has changed none of the decor: stucco walls, rough-hewn brick, Mexican pottery and other artifacts, and the artful draping of serapes to create a Latin atmosphere.
But while Pancho Villa's menu is not distinctive among local Mexican places, it offers Mexican food that includes very good versions of Tex-Mex style cooking as well as a few dishes not typically offered in taco-tamale-enchilada emporiums.
Our dinner began with two baskets of warm, crisp tostados accompanied by a hearty salsa piquante. These staved off hunger while we waded through the menu. It offers three categories, which give diners flexibility on both food and price.
The specialties of the house--dishes like fish Vera Cruz style and shrimp with nut dressing--are a bit different, and most expensive, ranging to $10.95. Either soup or salad accompanies them.
The Mexican plates, which feature more commonly recognized dishes like burritos and chile rellenos, come complete with soup or salad and rice and refried beans. All are hearty dinners for under $7.
The a' la carte menu, which we often turn to in order to make a Mexican plate that includes our favorite items, can be economical if dishes are shared, and offers children a number of inexpensive choices. In addition, a children's plate--one taco or one enchilada, with either rice or refried beans--is available for $2.25.
We tried them all. Beef tacos ($1.80) are made of shredded, rather than ground, meat with fresh ingredients. Burritos are generously filled and nicely seasoned, and there is an interesting selection of them at Pancho Villa. Besides bean and beef, one can choose a vegetarian burrito or one filled with chile verde, a spicy stew of beef and pork. Enchiladas were uniformly good.
We also ordered a chimichanga platter with tortilla soup, described by the menu as a "serious soup." Serious or not, the soup was hearty, delicious, and full of vegetables, cheese and jalape no peppers. The chimichanga, a rolled flour tortilla filled with spicy beef and deep fried, was nicely complemented by a topping of sour cream and guacamole.
To sample specialties, we chose carne asada tampique na, a combination platter of enchilada, guacamole, refried beans, rajas (a vegetable similar to green pepper) and steak. At $9.95, it seemed overpriced. Although the menu did not indicate it, the beef had been sliced in strips and then grilled, and was not a large serving; it was our only disappointment.
In addition to the usual desserts, Pancho Villa serves sweet empanadas ($2.25) and merenguitos ($2.95), a chocolate-filled pastry, but we ordered our old favorites, flan ($1.95) and sopapillas, a doughier version than we have had before, but hot and good, powdered with sugar and drizzled with honey. One order ($1.95) is enough for three or four to share, making it more economical than dessert usually is.
The whole dinner, in terms of quality and ambiance, was a good buy. Our bill for five, including tax and tip, came to $43.26.