Emma Tresemer
Don Pancho Taqueria
2002 NE Alberta
459-4247

Another taqueria isn't the first thing I'd vote for on Alberta Street, but after eating at the new Don Pancho taqueria it's certainly not the last thing I'd vote for either. The latest addition to the cluster of Mexican restaurants in the area, the Don Pancho distinguishes itself with simple, lovingly prepared dishes, and fantastic homemade Mexican staples like spicy horchata, screamingly fresh guacamole, and house-fried tortilla chips.

Ordering at the Don Pancho can be a little daunting, as the menu that hangs above the counter has color photos of combination platters consisting mostly of giant pieces of meat, a fried fish with the head still on, a big meaty chicken leg, or a slab of beef the size of a waiter's tray. They do, however, offer all the staples like richly seasoned al pastor tacos, carnitas burritos, and chicken enchiladas--and with these items, they do a wonderful job. Particularly--perhaps because Don Pancho has such a focus on meat items--their steak, chicken, and pork are outstanding, especially for a relatively low-maintenance Mexican joint.

The chicken in the chicken burrito comes in big tender chunks and bathed in a tomato sauce with just a hint of creaminess to it, accenting the flavor and freshness of the meat, but not drowning it out. The flourish with which they serve their meats--in their own perfectly seasoned sauces--makes the rice and beans you find clogging most burritos largely unnecessary. Although, if you're hungry, you shouldn't skip a side order of the restaurant's rich refried beans and tasty vegetable rice medley.

Don Pancho's tacos are served simply, with warm corn tortillas that don't flake apart, a generous pile of meat, and a pinch of onions and cilantro--much like the simple culinary treasures you'll find at a roadside taqueria in Ensenada. My favorites were the Al Pastor--pork marinated in a zesty and slightly sweet red sauce prepared with grilled onions--and the Carne Asada, which wasn't much more than a delicious piece of steak sliced up and grilled crispy on the edges. Steak, if it's any good, doesn't really need a marinade.

Other favorites are the crispy taquitos stuffed with shredded beef and dipped in Don Pancho's guacamole, or the torta sandwiches made on fresh chewy bread and spread with still more guacamole. If you're a fan of homemade horchata to drink (made traditionally with almonds, rice almonds, cinnamon, sugar, and lime), Don Pancho's version is particularly delicious and cinnamony, so don't pass it up.

If you're married to your own favorite Northeast taqueria, it's time to have an affair. Don Pancho may not be better looking than the Mexican restaurant you've been in love with until now--the taqueria is sparsely decorated and housed in what used to be the owner's clothing store--but that's part of its understated charm. And besides, what Alberta Street needs even less than another taqueria is any more dressing up.