It's all in the name for Mexican food at Money Pancho
It’s Money ... Pancho
By Ron Russ 09/12/2013
3661 Las Posas Road, #165
At least once a month, that “must have” craving for hot, cheesy and spicy Mexican food begins to control my thoughts. Recently, this particular craving hit me harder than usual. I did some research, hoping that I would find a place that did not have a menu full of predictable choices, and I landed at the Mexican restaurant Money Pancho in Camarillo. Intriguing name aside, it was a single item on the menu that grabbed my attention and forced me to go and try it. It’s called the “pork shank Money Pancho” and it’s a Fred Flintstone-size leg of pork that has been roasted for hours until fork tender and then smothered in a Yucatan-style mole sauce. While the visual sets in and your mouth undoubtedly begins to water, I’m going to back up a bit and describe the restaurant first.
I must start by saying that my dining experience at Money Pancho included some of the best service I’ve ever had in Ventura County. My waiter, Noé López (who didn’t know I was writing this article), was so informative and passionate about his family and this restaurant, it reminded me of how important it is to support local family-run places like this. Noé is the son of the owner, Jorge Lopez, who has owned multiple restaurants in Mexico and used to own three Money Panchos in the area. They’ve settled down to one Camarillo location, which has been here since 1998. Noé described how their menu is designed to bring you flavors from different regions and cities in Mexico. That’s why you’ll find a unique variety of flavors and preparations from areas such as Mazatlán, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, etc.
From the outside, Money Pancho looks rather cookie-cutter in a strip mall lacking any form of originality. On the inside, however, bright Mexican artwork adorns the walls, offering a warm feeling of authenticity. Furthermore, while I had never dined there before, I’m sure the very recent upgrade of an additional dining room and bar in the back was a welcome improvement to what would otherwise have been a small and potentially claustrophobic main dining room.
We started our meal with some chips, salsa, guacamole and some premium cadillac margaritas to get the party going. The margarita was excellent and was served in a pottery cup rimmed with salt. I almost placed an anticipatory order for another one just as two salsas arrived with chips and a surprise guest of house-pickled vegetables. The pico de gallo and red salsa were acceptable on their own, but when mixed, they reached new heights. The pickled vegetables (cucumbers, jicama, onion and carrot) were definitely tart and sour from the pickling process, but still retained their fresh crunch. It was a nice way to wake up my taste buds and keep me drinking, but I wonder if it killed my taste for the guacamole, which arrived soon after. It was either the vinegar from the veggies or over-ripened avocados to blame because the guacamole was not only forgettable, but a very poor attempt at guac on any level. And for a cost of $8, I was even more perturbed.
As if I was hit with the neuralyzer from the movie Men in Black, my memory of the guac was wiped clean when the tortilla soup arrived. My first sip of the broth was a rush of smoky chile flavor, the kind of flavor that can only come from a lengthy, slow-cooking process using very flavorful dried chiles. Soft tortilla strips filled the bowl along with cubes of avocado and queso fresco. It didn’t come with chunks of chicken and a mélange of garnishes, but rather it was served as I’ve had it in Mexico, where it’s not about the higher-priced proteins or flare, but about using cheap ingredients while keeping the focus on the broth as the flavorful star of the bowl. We drank every last drop.
Next came my grilled fish taco, which was served so hot that I could not pick it up with my hands for three minutes! The fish was seasoned beautifully and the accompanying cabbage added some crunch; the tomatoes and cilantro rounded out the freshness while the grilled onions gave it some sweetness. Wrap that all up with some homemade tortillas and cover it with some of the mixed salsa and you’ve just bought a happy ticket to taco town.
What arrived next was the moment I had been waiting for — the pork shank Money Pancho. I immediately began separating the moist meat from the attached bones with a fork. The aforementioned Yucatan-style mole that the shank is bathed in had bright chile flavors, without the heavy richness mole often brings. The dish came with corn tortillas, fluffy Spanish rice and creamy refried beans, which were all authentic and delicious. I could only make myself about three tacos before waving my napkin in a sign of surrender. Don’t worry though, I took the rest home and made tacos the following day, after there had been even more time to develop flavor. Yum!
I definitely recommend that you give this place a visit if you’ve never been here, or if it’s been a while since your last visit. There are 15 percent off coupons located on the homepage of the website, by the way. You won’t regret it. I’m telling you, this place is Money … Pancho.