So here’s the scene: it’s Sunday and the wife and I are playing our favorite game — “Hey, what’s actually open for lunch on a Sunday in Little Rock?” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge any single business on planet earth for closing on Sunday, because I’ve worked a bunch of Sundays and they all pretty much sucked. But a man’s got to eat, and when his lady says “Mexican, please,” there’s really no chance of anything else.
Our first stab at some south-of-the-border grub was La Casa Real, one of our go-to places for food that is cheap and tasty, and of course I was so sure that the place would be open that I didn’t even check the hours online, thus making it 100% sure that the place would actually be closed — and sure enough it was! But this is Little Rock, and we’re blessed with dozens of decent Mexican joints, so it was no surprise that we spied a Mexican joint named Ponchito’s in a converted steak house just a block away from La Casa Real — and the glowing “Open” sign in the window warmed our hearts (and had our stomachs growling).
Sometimes when a restaurant takes over an existing building, it’s pretty obvious, and things always feel rather strange. This is not the case at Ponchito’s, which has gutted the former steak house down to a shell and rebuilt the place in their own image. Attractive and unique drift wood light fixtures hang over each table, and the dining room is spotless, comfortable, and roomy. Service was good almost to the point of being overbearing — our server seemed very eager to make a good impression, but he also seemed to be suffering from some pretty severe anxiety about taking our order. To him I say, “Chin up, sir, you done good.” He asked us several times to tell our friends about the place, and while I don’t think he had this sort of thing in mind exactly, I’m taking him up on his suggestion and telling all of you about the place, because the food was pretty good.
First up, a massive plate of fajitas. Chicken, steak, and pork, all marinated and grilled with vegetables — and all pretty tasty. It’s a combo priced at $12.99 for one person, and with the amount of food you get, that price is a steal. We both worked on this plate of deliciousness and still took about 1/3 of it home. If you’re a fan of having your food come out in a sizzling skillet, you can’t go wrong with the half dozen choices on the Ponchito’s menu.
Round two was a “dinner combination” which invites diners to choose two items from a list: tamales, tostadas, burritos, tacos, or enchiladas. I selected a tamale and a steak burrito. The burrito was nothing special, just some steak wrapped in a tortilla and covered with red sauce (although the steak was good). The tamales, on the other, were spectacular, with a thin, moist masa shell holding a wonderful filling of shredded beef that was so good that I ordered another a la carte. The best tamales I have ever eaten were made by the mother of an ESL student during my (brief) career as a teacher; these were close to those, and I can’t wait to eat them again.
So there you have it — a bit of Sunday serendipity. The place has been there nearly a year, so I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads at me for being late to the game, but better late than never, right? And for those who haven’t tried it, I think it hits a nice sweet spot: it’s inexpensive, it’s tasty, and it’s served up quickly by friendly staff. Just avoid the green salsa made with jalapenos and honey — that was pretty much the only misfire of this meal.