In all my years of living in this town, our Main street has seen countless restaurants come and go. With sky high rent prices and old and clearly unknowledgeable landlords with high expectations for “suitable” rent rates have made it very difficult for businesses to thrive. Time and time again we see a new business open and customers barely have the time to figure out what they’re all about. Then poof* They’re gone.
After a local bar crawl last January my boyfriend and I ended up at Maloney’s for a last round. Suddenly we were chatted up by Dan the owner of Pancho Villa, a Mexican restaurant and true gem located right on Main Street in Matawan, NJ. He was a very entertaining character and he deserved all of the Coronas that came his way that night. After a long evening of brews and laughs, Dan invited us over to his establishment for an after-hours preview of what his restaurant has to offer. We were taken aback by his indecorous hospitality and how tasty our unexpected late night munchies were. Dan even made sure we got home “safely” by driving us home in his white pickup truck. As we walked out that night, we knew a proper return was in order. Dan, we thank you!
So, Who is Pancho Villa? Where did Dan get this name from?
José Doroteo Arango Arámbula (famous bandit and politician) born June 5th 1878 and died in July of 1923 was nicknamed “Pancho Villa”. He was one of the most prominent Mexican Revolutionary generals as well as Governor of Chihuahua whose memory is honored by Mexicans far and wide. He performed as a “Robin Hood of Mexico” by seizing hacienda land for distribution to peasants and soldiers whilst robbing and commanding trains and printing false money to support his cause. He spent his life robbing from the rich and giving to the poor and was assassinated in 1923 in Parral.
What Makes Pancho Villa (The Restaurant) so special?
The Experience: As soon as you enter this establishment you realize this place may be tiny, but it has a lot of heart! You are immediately greeted with warm Mexican hospitality and a dish of the most amazing nachos. Fear not vegetarians, they are not topped with meat! These freshly cut and deep fried tortilla chips are adorned with a black bean sauce and just the right amount of cotija cheese. I could seriously make a meal out of these alone, but then I would be missing out on all the other fabulous treats this restaurant has to offer.
After looking at the menu for a bit and working out that they are minus a liquor license, it can be a bit dissapointing and often a turn-off for some. However, Dan does not mind if you B.Y.O.B.! After all, what is a good Mexican meal without some nice tequila to pair it off? No worries about corking fees, as the only payment you may have to make while bringing your own bottle is a friendly shot with the owner and some delightful conversation. Dan is full of that…
We happened to have a bottle of Don Julio laying around. (Remnants of my NY mini bar that once was) So, we brought that in forgetting that we did not have all the other ingredients necessary for a “proper” margarita. We got a little creative and raided Dan’s refrigerator for the next best thing. We found out he has a whole assortment of Mexican brand beverages imported for your enjoyment. (PPM Tip): For a makeshift margarita try the Jarritos Lime drink with a splash of Jarritos Pineapple and a shot of tequila.
Once you get all settled in with your bevs, if you’re anything like me you need some guacamole with your complimentary nachos, and some salsa (because you’re saucy like that). If things get really crazy, you may even need some more nachos. Once again you’ve come to the right place with hands-down the best guacamole in Matawan (next to my own). These nachos and guacamole have it all. The guac has just enough salt and the citrus is present and balanced by the cilantro tomato and onion. BAM! A fiesta in your mouth.
After taking a good long look at the menu we decided to start off with one of Dan’s featured “hot appetizers” of the day which are conveniently listed on the dining room whiteboard. One can get a bit overwhelmed with their menu featuring a very busy collage of images and Spanish names (we Anglophones have a limited clue about).
The Caldo de Camarones was presented in a very generous bowl with lime wedges. We were instructed to squeeze these into our piping hot and spicy soup. Dan noted: “This is perfect for you if you have a cold.” Now I’m not certain that Dan knew we were going to be sharing it or not, but he made sure it was filled with numerous large prawns. Stinginess is not allowed at Pancho Villa! The broth was an amazing concoction of spicy chili and tomato with a hint of coconut milk. The lime was a magical touch!
While I tried my hardest to dissect the menu for something I was in the mood for, I asked our pal Dan if he had any fish tacos. He told me he ran out, but that he had a beautiful fish in the kitchen “just for me”. Next thing I knew this pretty little basket of freshly made tortilla appeared clothed in a floral embroidered napkin. Minutes later my Sea Bass arrived with rice and beans (of course) and salad. Now normally I’m a bit apprehensive when I order a fish that has been de-boned on the spot. Lets face the fact that when you have given up meat for nearly half your life, and fish has only been re-introduced to your diet in the past few years, there’s nothing worse than swallowing a bone, especially a small chewy one that scratches your esophagus the whole way down. Sorry, no one likes that. Dan succeeded once again! Not one bony incident and PPM was pleased with our $36.00(inc. tip) purchase. Where else in Matawan can you be fed like this for under $40.00?
Pancho Villa is a very casual restaurant without one pretentious bone in its body. It is perfect for (most) occasions, and complete with plenty of kitsch artwork to admire. I couldn’t help but notice his random appreciation for Chinese good fortune lions, and was relieved to find out they were a souvenir from Dan’s son that happens to be serving in the US military. He was stationed in Asia and brought them back as a souvenir for his new business. There was always the possibility they were re-gifted from the last (Asian-Fusion) restaurant that previously occupied the space. Not sure what the feng-shui rules are for recycling these little feline figurines, but we sure hope they bring Dan way more good fortune than the previous tenants…
A Peak Inside:
That’s right Aby’s, move over…The REAL Mexican Restaurant is finally here! Even YELP gave them 4.5 out of 5 stars. For those in and around Matawan, please stop by and show your support. You won’t be sorry. Don’t have time? Pancho Villa handles take-out orders as well.
129 Main Street Matawan, NJ 07747 (732) 970-5931
Dan Dan he’s our man! If he can’t do it, no one can! (He’s very camera shy!)