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Pancho's Russian HillOMR: 7.25
1639 Polk
cross street: Sacramento/Clay
ph. 415/474-2280
Map Visits: 3
At its slowest, service at this veteran Polk Gulch burrito shop can make molasses seem speedy by comparison. Meanwhile, cheap pitchers of Tecate enhance the chances of an instant frat party bro’ing down at the next table, so watch where you sit as you keep one eye out for loutish mooks with sunglasses perched atop their heads indoors on overcast evenings. Despite these risks, Pancho’s has remained popular through the years — perhaps the peculiar array of folk art, beer flags, signed Julio Iglesias headshots circa ’83, and vintage film posters (en Español) plays a role. Slabular quality can vary wildly, so try to catch the kitchen on a good day. Breakfast available. Open late on weekends. Credit cards accepted.

Will My Health Be Violated?

04/07/09Fajita Grilled Chicken$7.707.25 Mustaches
Swish: burstage abatement (10); vegetables (9); ingredient mix (9); temperature (9); sauciness (8)
Shrug: meat (7); rice (7); size (6); tortilla (6); cheese (6)
Clang: beans (5); spiciness (3)
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Our grizzled judges panel can’t recall too many 7.25-mustache slabs on Burritoeater record deserving of the maximum two-mustache intangibility bonus. But Pancho’s has always kind of rotated in its own goofy orbit — there’s something about this place. Few other taquerias in this rice-happy town know how to go this easy on the universal grain...too bad the rice wasn’t more outstanding here. The chicken remained quietly dull throughout, while the choice of cheddar was an expected turn-off, although at least it was nicely melted. And boo to the overly chewy and ungrilled tortilla, opposite-of-spectacular whole pinto beans, and dimwitted absence of spice. Now for the "Positive Jam" portion of tonight’s show: Thumbs-up to the champ veggie contingent, anchored by much green bell pepper and real glurgy guacamole. Also, onions! Lots of them, grilled. Delicious. Pancho’s salsa verde provided plenty of flavor all burrito long, while the wise ingredient mix ensured that the sub-stellar elements got propped up by the couple great ones. The basics (burstage abatement, temperature) were on the money, and that never hurts the cause. Despite all these ups and downs, intangible cred somehow barreled through the roof. We’ve been at this game for awhile now, and yet some nights at the taqueria still can’t be fully explained.

02/26/07Borracho Steak$6.398.25 Mustaches
Swish: beans (9); vegetables (9); sauciness (9); ingredient mix (9); burstage abatement (9); size (8); rice (8); spiciness (8)
Shrug: tortilla (7); meat (7); cheese (7); temperature (7)
Clang: no elements clanged
Intangibility bonus: 2 (of 2)

Its just-north-of-lukewarm temperatures could have used a post-construction stint in the kitchen steamer, and although it had the grilled look and fragrance of a champion, Pancho’s chile tortilla couldn’t sidestep its overly tough texture. But as lists of burrito grievances go, ours is pretty brief here - and nobody was more surprised at this than our previously against-Pancho’s panel. The biggest sources of satisfaction: Robust vegetables, marvelously pasty black beans, stellar sauciness, and a harmonious ingredient mix from which we could all learn a thing or two about getting along. Pancho’s smoke-enhanced barbecue sauce contributed bite in and bite out to this slab’s greater good, while it also covered for the non-descript steak’s deficiencies; a set of well-thickened guacamole provided further sludge-joy. And we’re always big fans of smart construction, politely boomin’ spice, and thick cuts of chopped onion. For the first time, we emerged from Pancho’s sated, eight mustaches and all.

03/12/05Carnitas$5.396.42 Mustaches
Beware of Pancho’s pulling the ol’ kill-’em-with-spice stunt. Some may wonder what other face-saving tricks a burrito shop can turn when the couscous-like rice is this white and flavorless, the ingredient mix is this dimwitted, the beans taste as if they’ve been refried a thousand times over, and the smatterings of half-melted cheese and punchless roast pork are this irrelevant. But instead of drowning a lousy, undersized burrito in saucy fire, why not just serve only tacos? They seem so much easier to make. Token positive comment: It was a very warm burrito.