PICTURED: The Burrito Grande at Money Pancho — stuffed with beef, chicken or carnitas — is as big and delicious as it looks. (Photo by Mike Nelson)
by Mike Nelson
3663 Las Posas Road, Camarillo
155 E. 7th Street, Oxnard
“Tus ojos son más grandes que tu estómago.”
No, my Norwegian/English mother from small-town South Dakota never said such a thing — at least, not in those words. Her exact words, when I tried to eat or order a large amount of food that I really liked, were, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
And if Mom were around today, she could give me the same warning whenever I order from Money Pancho, known for serving excellent Mexican cuisine and plenty of it. A Ventura County fixture for two decades, Money Pancho reopened May 27, in accordance with state and county guidelines that stress health and safety among its mask-and-glove-attired staff, and restrict seating of its large and loyal clientele.
I thought of Mom recently when our family ordered takeout from Money Pancho’s Camarillo location. I selected a three-item combination: shredded beef burrito, chicken tostada and chile relleno, with rice and beans ($15). All of the ingredients — from tortilla to meat, from guacamole to ranchera sauce — complemented one another, with a noticeable and welcome absence of onion-y domination that can easily permeate some Mexican dishes.
Knowing how large the Taco Salad Don Jorge and the Burrito Grande are (and having enjoyed both on previous visits), I was expecting compact, sample-size items in my combo, which would have been fine. But when I saw how much there was of each item, I began wondering which of these would make the next day’s lunch.
Our son chose and enjoyed a similar combo, with chicken taquitos in place of the tostada, while my wife had the Tacos Mr. Pancho, two soft-shelled corn tortillas filled with grilled filet of sole, tomato, onion, cilantro, shredded cabbage and chipotle ranch sauce ($15). We also ordered a liter of pre-mixed margaritas, cold and ready to pour at home (just add ice and salt, if desired).
The menu was created principally by now-retired chef-owner Jorge Lopez, who started the original Money Pancho 45 years ago in Guadalajara City and opened the Camarillo location in 1998. Specialties are grouped by region (Jalisco, Puebla and Guadalajara) and there are also seafood, salads, soups, appetizers and a la carte choices. The all-you-can-eat brunch buffet is once again available Sundays at the Camarillo site for $21.
Everything my family and I have tried ranges from very good to excellent, though I would add that if an item says “spicy,” pay attention. On our first visit, our server told us that a smooth, dark red salsa served with chips was spicy; two days later, we still had the burnt tongues to prove it.
After having curtailed operating hours during the past two months, Money Pancho is welcoming back its large and loyal clientele with slightly expanded hours. The Camarillo location is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends, while the Oxnard location is open 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.
“We’re operating at 50 percent of capacity, with tables spaced farther apart, and staff having temperature checks and wearing masks and gloves that they switch out every 30 minutes,” says owner Claudia Lopez, daughter of founders Jorge and Maria, who now runs Money Pancho with her four brothers. “We want our customers to feel safe, because money may be important but health is more important. We’re trying to serve our community, especially those who’ve supported us for so long. And we’ve been holding the line on prices, and not taking advantage of the situation.”
Such loyalty is appreciated by customers like us, who have missed Money Pancho’s friendly, homey atmosphere, starting with the welcoming smile of Jorge Lopez himself who, like his wife, loves to keep busy at the restaurant, even in retirement.
“My folks enjoy greeting people and being active,” smiles Claudia. “This place is in their blood. And our customers are happy to come in and sit down once again.”
And to fill their stomachs. Because at Money Pancho, all sizes of stomachs are welcome.