Downtown Summerlin has grown into a very well-balanced casual dining destination. There’s a great American steakhouse (Andiron) and a solid Brazilian one (Fogo de Chão). There are neighborhood favorites with new locations like Grape Street and Sushi Loca and popular familiars like Shake Shack, Red Robin, Capriotti’s and Five Guys. It’s still a mall, but one with a Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and a Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken.
And now it isn’t missing a Mexican restaurant. Pancho’s, a Manhattan Beach, California, institution since 1945, has opened in the southwest corner of the sprawling complex, near the Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t look like much from outside, but inside it’s a kinda-kitschy, quite lovely and large hacienda with an expansive cantina, a second-story dining space, Tiffany-style chandeliers, stained glass, fountains and lots of plants and flowers. Pancho’s is likely the family-friendliest restaurant at this mall.
Don’t take that to mean the food is bland or caters to the lowest common denominator. Prices are generally a few dollars more than your neighborhood beans-and-rice combo-plate fave, but portions and flavors reflect the upgrade. The complimentary salsa has an unexpected kick and serves as a nice complement to appetizer dishes like cumin-laden albondigas soup ($7.95), crispy taquitos dorados ($12.95) filled with shredded beef or chicken, or a unique take on queso fundido ($14.95) laced with cream cheese, artichoke hearts and jalapeños. Little differences go a long way; also consider a salad of mixed greens with sautéed shrimp, mango, jicama, roasted pumpkin seeds and cotija cheese in a citrus-honey vinaigrette.
All the Mexican-American foods you’re used to are here, from quesadillas and tostadas to enchiladas and tacos. And feel free to combo-plate it up—Pancho’s combinacion especial ($16.95) assembles a beef taco, cheese enchilada and chile relleno. A wide range of tacos is available, from corn tortillas filled with lobster ($20.95) to Tijuana-style al pastor ($14.95). Shrimp diabla puffy tacos ($18.95) use fried flour tortillas. There’s even a burrito/cheesesteak hybrid. Why not?
Pancho’s efficient kitchen shines most when you order one of its specialty entrées. There’s chicken in traditional mole Poblano or mole verde, and then there’s the oddly wonderful chicken Pipian ($16.95), a pumpkin-based sauce with a multitude of balanced spices resembling an Indian curry. Tinga Poblana ($17.95) offers slow-roasted pork with chiles, tomatoes and herbs, and Pancho’s stellar take on birria ($17.95)—beef, not the traditional goat—is tender and rich from a deep, long simmer with guajillo chiles.
For dessert, deep-fried ice cream ($6.95) reminds me of childhood meals in West Coast Mexican restaurants like El Torito, with its crispy cornflake coating, cinnamon-caramel sauce and whipped cream. If you have fond recollections of such an experience, Pancho’s is exactly that place. Welcome back.
Pancho's Downtown Summerlin, 702-982-0111. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.