Panchos Burritos restaurant, Unit 1 The Quadrangle, Chester Street, Manchester, M1 5QS – Visit Now
Panchos Burritos have just extended their Arndale store to a proper restaurant close to Oxford Road – but does it still have that Mexican magic of old? We found out.
Remember when we all fell in love with burritos? The arrival of the tortilla-wrapped parcel on these shores seemed like early parole on our collective lifetime sentence to sarnie-induced boredom. But now the bloom has come off that particular rose. I mean, sometimes you’re like “I only have 20 minutes for a cheapish dinner on the way to this thing” and a burrito hits the spot, but (speaking personally here) there’s no longer any joy in it. Barburrito, Changos, and the burrito bars proliferating on our high streets stick to identikit, assembly-line burritos, and stuff constructed from the same ingredients, plus nachos. You know what you’re getting.
When Panchos Burritos arrived at the Arndale Foodmarket a few years ago, it was at the crest of burritomania. Actual Mexican food, in Manchester – not the bland, plastic cheese monstrosities served with a sombrero and a cynical leer at restaurants like the blessedly departed El Macho. Mexico City native Enrique Martinez introduced Manchester to fresh and authentic Mexican food. To proper corn tortillas, to meats cooked to meltingness in properly spiced sauces, to enchiladas topped with pickled cactus, to achiote paste and a host of other ingredients – many of them sold to take home for your own Mexican cooking, on which he was always happy to advise.
Mexico City native Enrique Martinez introduced Manchester to fresh & authentic Mexican food
Naturally the little kiosk at the Arndale did very well, developing a rabid lunchtime following. A second Pancho’s kiosk was needed to keep up with demand. Someday, I thought, Enrique will get his own place and then we’ll all get to eat proper Mexican food. And now he has opened his own place. But instead of the little Mexican restaurant I envisioned, he’s done his own version of Barburrito. Admittedly, it’s a better, more authentic take on the “join the queue and state your fillings” burrito bar, but it doesn’t deviate much from the template. I can see the thinking – it’s near the University. Students want cheap, no-frills fast food, and it’s a bankable business model (one so easily replicated, in fact, that Panchos are franchising it). But it’s a little disappointing.
Moreover, on the evidence of our visit, Panchos may not be as easy to replicate as they think. It’s early days, but the food we had at the new place wasn’t quite up to the usual standards. My friend suffered a soggy burrito, which is what happens if you don’t drain the meat before loading it in; turns the flour tortilla all gluey. My tacos were typically excellent – a mixed trio filled with beautifully cooked lamb, pork and beef – but a bowl of chilli con carne was on the bland side. With decent sit-down Mexican food on offer at the popular Lucha Libre and a hotly-anticipated Manc outlet of Thomasina Miers’ Wahaca opening in the Corn Exchange next year, there’s clearly a market for Mexican food that goes beyond burritos. It would be great to see Enrique and co. go after it.