Wednesday, January 27, 2010

La Pachanga

1185 Scenic Drive
Herculaneum, MO 63048-1433

Just off I-55 at the Herculaneum exit, in a small strip mall behind the more visible Cracker Barrel.
'Pachanga' does not translate to anything I can find in online translators.
The Urban Dictionary defines it as follows:
1. Someone who used to be your friend and no longer is.
2. A traitor.
“Comes from the name of Luis Guzman's character in Carlito’s Way. Also a song by Fabolous describing this situation.”
Either that or it’s a Cuban dance, but that doesn’t make sense as this was a Mexican restaurant, not Cuban.
So I really don’t know what it means. We discussed this in the car on the way, and decided that at worst ‘Pachanga’ sounded like something that Dr. Reed from the TV show ‘Scrubs’ would call someone’s private parts.

The Place:
Anchoring one side of a rather new strip mall La Pachanga is larger than the other two or three establishments. The windows were lit up by numerous neon signs advertising Mexican-ish beers. The inside was surprising, they’d put some thought and $$$ into it. The walls were textured to resemble aged adobe. Around the walls and above the bar there were faux roofs made of Spanish style terra cotta tiles giving the impression, or trying to, that you were on a quaint Mexican veranda. This kind of worked since the remaining ceiling was painted glossy back which could be interpreted as a night sky.
The seating and the tables, both in the center tables and the verand-ized booths, were brightly painted in primary colors highlighting the Mexican theme. There was apparently some mariachi music playing, I could occasionally hear a note or two.
We were seated by one of the four or five waiters, all of whom were dressed in black, head to toe. There was a basket of the obligatory thin nacho chips and we were quickly served a carafe of mild, lump-less salsa and individual dipping bowls (which allows for double-dipping). We reminded ourselves to not overdo on the chips, finishing them off merely means more will be brought to you until you eventually explode. This, I suspect, is how the Mexicans intend to ultimately defeat us; endless complimentary nacho chips.
We ordered our drinks, tea, Diet Coke and Pepsi. The menus were laminated tri-folds with lots and lots of selections; fajitas, burritos and enchiladas in various configurations along with a full page dedicated to combinations of all the standards.
Angel ordered a combo, enchilada and tamale,. Adam asked for a taco and the beef enchiladas, I loosened my belt, unsnapped my jeans and went for the ‘Diner Especial’ which was to put it simply, one each of everything. All came with refried beans and Spanish rice.
I had a little trouble ordering my meal, as I didn’t know whether to try to pronounce it as it was printed. I tried that and the waiter looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon. I ended up pointing to it on the menu and he replied “Ah, The Dinner Special!” I apologized adding that my Americanese was a bit rusty.
The tea was unremarkable, but not bitter. The other drinks were universal and mass-produced and not worthy of being rated or mentioned further. Soda pop is an unsophisticated or lazy person’s drink of choice. Sugar (real or fake) and bubbles, nothing more. No class, no craftsmanship, no thinking or discerning palette required. It’s always exactly the same wherever you go; it is certainly evidence that there is still rampant, evil communism lurking just around every corner.
We were well into the second basket of chips when our food arrived. Mine arrived on two large plates. It all looked great with enchilada sauce bleeding all over the rice and beans. I love Mexican style food where everything mixes together in a red, brown and white cheesy puddle.
The tacos were simple and excellent; thin shelled as you find in places that aren’t Taco Bell, probably because of their fragility. These were filled only with beef and cheese, the beef was mildly seasoned, the cheese was coarse shredded white with a sultry, smoky flavor.
The enchiladas were generous though the sauce was a bit timid. The first few bites of everything caused ummm’s all around. That is until Angel let Adam try her tamale.
The tamales (I had one as well) were meat filled, wrapped in very thick corn dough and were the size of an enchilada. Adam tasted it and declared it “Too cornbready”.
I tried mine and agreed there was too much dough, and the innards were very salty. After that discovery we made a few more. Some of the stuff was good, but there was a salt dome building up in our mouths. Angel’s tamales were abandoned, as was mine. The enchiladas were okay, but nothing to write home to Uncle Pedro about. I didn’t come close to finishing my meal, there was just too much that wasn’t great and the saltiness built up fast and weighed heavy.
I mentioned to my beloved family that I had ordered essentially the same platter at Los Portales in Hillsboro earlier on our quest and had no problem finishing it there, even though it required willpower and a certain amount of near-suicidal reckless abandon. Los Portales, I declared, was significantly better. Angel grumbled at the time, but later, in the car she agreed.
At first it was fine, the ambiance was exceptional, the service quick and flawless. The price was in line with similar places coming in at under forty dollars including the tip. The food was the problem. It was at best not bad as for the enchiladas and tacos, but that tamale was nasty.
After we left we made a stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some dog food. It was about then that I detected another foul aftertaste, distinctly metallic, like a mouthful of old pennies. I’m pretty sure it was the enchilada meat seasoning. I tried killing it with a cough drop, then another, but only time and wine finally restored normality.

I can’t say that I’d recommend La Pachanga. It wasn’t entirely awful and some more precise selection rather than a shotgun platter would probably make it okay, but only okay. I’ll give it an eighty five. Next time we want Mexican though we’ll just go to Los Portales in Hillsboro. Sure there’s no fake adobe or tiled faux verandas, but the food is just that much better

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