Pancho-Drunk Love: Bar San Pancho

  • By Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Wed May 11th, 2016 5:30pm
  • DiningEat

If you drive north from Puerto Vallarta to secluded-but-suddenly-hip Sayulita and then proceed to the next town, you will come to the village of San Francisco — better known locally as San Pancho. Whether this play on words inspired Joe Hargrave and the powers that be at Tacolicious when they rebranded the former Chino space on the corner of Guerrero and 16th streets as Bar San Pancho, I do not know, but the 15-year lease suggests they hope it will be a destination long after the other San Pancho is discovered and discarded by gringo cool-hunters looking for the next It-resort.

Chino — which was preceded by the moodier, more upscale tapas bar Andalu — was a lot of fun, but for whatever reason it was not considered a success. (Xiaolongbao are hard to make, and Chino certainly took some flak for theirs.) That its successor dispenses with much of the over-ambition suggests that Hargrave et al. determined that 16th Street in the Mission is a place where people come to get wasted without messing around, and Bar San Pancho makes this plain with a menu category called chingaderas. (To the extent that you can translate that word into English, it basically means “fucking things,” in the sense of “uh, it's on the tip of my tongue, what are those fucking things called?”) On that list, you will find things like a chopped romaine and avocado salad and mussels a la plancha, as well as a Dorilocos Pie, MF Hot Wings, and MF Hotter Wings.

As a sports bar with a cocktail list and better-than-fried-spuds food, it's following the model established by the Castro's Hi Tops, but to suck in from the sidewalk the same demo that hits up Double Dutch and Delirium, Bar San Pancho lets its bro flag fly high, too.

We were hungry and we went with tortas, specifically the Milanese de San Pancho ($13) and a Vegetariano made with cauliflower in lieu of a meat patty ($13). The side of ancho chili fries rescued that Milanese — fried chicken with avocado, pepper jack, and grilled onions — from near-anonymity in a city full of top-notch fried chicken. Burgers being the other bar food entrée of choice, B.S.P. has something called a Quesoburguesa, a burger that oozes con queso and comes with an explicit prohibition against substitutions.

The drinks were decent. I asked for the most spirit-forward staff favorite hoping I would be told the Nosotros ($12), and I was — and the server pronounced it with a snap of the tongue, so: bully for respecting Spanish. A mix of Del Maguey Vida mezcal, cardamaro, Carpano Antica, and bitters, it ran after the amaro trend so hard that it lost its balance and turned harsh. By contrast, the Papi (Matusalem rum, Luxardo, grapefruit, and lime, $11) is tropical and innocent and much more satisfying. You can build your own cocktail for $11 by using one of five spirits and one of three house-made syrups, but if that feels like inviting the judgment of your peers, you can always go with a michelada, of which there are three. The note “Made with Tecate unless otherwise requested” spurred me to imagine how I've been limiting myself with the assumption that micheladas require low-ABV Mexican beers, but Bar San Pancho gets experimental in the right proportions with a variation that involves miso honey, habanero, and lime — which I recommend — and another revisits the MF Hot Sauce.

It was busy but not packed on a Friday night at 10 p.m., and the lone server working the entire floor was being run ragged. You have to feel more sympathy than irritation in that situation, but combined with the terrible lighting — almost all the illumination comes from three screens mounted over the bar — the sauce-stained menus, and the phoned-in décor that looks like what a senior class would do if allowed to repaint the high school cafeteria, it's not the most inviting place to get a nice cocktail, even if you're pairing it with jalapeño poppers. Bar San Pancho's crudeness is refreshing in its own way — I like getting really drunk with my friends and messily stuffing elote popcorn in my face as much as anyone — but there are already a million places to do just that. The team here seems to have made a calculation to hit a lower common denominator while retaining some semblance of culinary aspiration, and the muddled result is neither a proper dive nor an ideal atmosphere for eating well.

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