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Restaurant review: El Panchos, Stoke Newington Road

PUBLISHED: 18:21 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:57 05 October 2010

El Ranchos restaurant on Stoke Newington High St, 17th Apr 2010

El Ranchos restaurant on Stoke Newington High St, 17th Apr 2010

Olivia Harris, oliviaharris@mac.com 07881 810 878

By Jeff Kuntz As a Yankee transplanted in London, I always keep an eye out for Mexican restaurants. In many ways, Mexican food is the US counterpart to a fiery Indian curry in the UK. But what really makes or breaks a Mexican restaurant is the vibe: Is th

By Jeff Kuntz

As a Yankee transplanted in London, I always keep an eye out for Mexican restaurants. In many ways, Mexican food is the US counterpart to a fiery Indian curry in the UK.

But what really makes or breaks a Mexican restaurant is the vibe: Is the restaurant as lively as its menu items? Is the salsa and guacamole homemade? Does the music move your conversations along? Do the staff put you at ease? Can they recommend a starter and a cocktail? If you're at El Pancho's, the answer to all these questions is YES.

Walking down Stoke Newington Road, two phrases greeted me on El Pancho's storefront: Let's roll the fajita & slam the tequila and below that: Birthday - hen party - wedding - EVEN divorce! I headed inside to investigate.

Opened in September by restaurateur Volkan Yildirim and former Mexican night club owner Cesar Garibay, the straw-reed ceiling and bold red, blue, orange, and yellow walls of El Pancho's teleport you straight out of east London into a beach bungalow in Cancun.

"Our cooks have a lot of experience in Mexico. Let me bring you some nachos," Volkan said before zipping back behind the bar, which stocks five Mexican beers for £2.75 each and mixes over two dozen 'Mind Blowing Cocktails', daiquiris, margaritas, and mojitos for £4.45. That night, shooters like Flaming Lamborghini were on special, two for £3.45.

For the sake of Lowdown readers, I defied my puritan upbringing and ordered a pre-dinner margarita. It went down a treat: sweet, sour, and just a hint of tequila. Next, I spotted the manager Cesar working the crowd: a family at the window table, a sombrero-clad table of friends out for dinner and drinks, and a lively 20-seat hen do singing along with Madonna's 'La Isla Bonita'.

Cesar arrived at my table and guided me through the dozens of meaty mains like chimichangas, tacos, chargrilled lamb, tuna steak, and beef Acapulco - all for under £10. I ordered my old standby chicken enchiladas, but couldn't decide what else. "Do you like fajitas? They are our most popular dish. Try steak and prawn," Cesar advised. I couldn't argue.

Topped with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, the ample platter of nachos was almost a meal in itself. But I happily rolled fajitas with the sizzling steak and king prawns and dug into the enchiladas, filled with shredded chicken stewed in tomatoes with Mexican rice and beans.

Last, I test-drove a frozen lime daiquiri and, on a waitress's recommendation, a fruity, rum-laced Wild Sex, one of the Mind Blowing Cocktails, before ending with super-rich, layered Choc Lump Bumpy cake.

In the end, I had hoped for homemade tortilla chips and more spice and flavour all around, but the come-one-come-all atmosphere of El Pancho's won me over and delivered excellent value for the money. Great for couples, families, parties, or as an affordable place to acquaint yourself with Mexican cuisine, El Pancho's offers lunch specials, half-price cocktails from 12 to 5pm daily, and a live mariachi band once a month. Take Cesar's advice: "Don't siesta, just fiesta."

Ratings:

Food : 3

Service: 5

Atmos: 5

Overall: 4


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