Pancho Villa the place for some tasty Mexican food
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When sushi just won’t cut it and McDonald’s doesn’t feel right, head to Pancho Villa Mexican restaurant in Sagamihara.
Unlike the well-oiled machine that is dining in Japan, Pancho Villa is a one-man show. Owner David Scott is the host, bartender, cashier and head chef. This Los Angeles native turned ex-pat turns out appetizers, entrees and margaritas all while meeting and greeting his customers, who seem more like pals than patrons.
“When I came to Japan 23 years ago I tried (Japanese-style Mexican food). It wasn’t Mexican; I don’t know what it was,” Scott says recalling his frustration. “So 18 years ago I decided to open a restaurant so everyone else could enjoy it. I discovered I wasn’t the only foreigner who was craving Mexican food.”
The restaurant, like the revolutionary general for which it is named, packs a punch and is popular with locals. Scott says the majority of his customers are from Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
“When the air wing (CVW-5) comes in they take over the place,” he says. The squadron plaques, stickers and various paraphernalia decorating the “cantina” testify to the restaurant’s popularity.
“I’m a picky eater and even I am satisfied,” says Ashley Cox, an Ayase City resident. “Mexican is usually difficult for me because I don’t like spicy stuff. Also the margaritas should come with a warning label,” she adds with a smile.
Kristen Wright, NAF Atsugi Group Fitness instructor, piped in, “It’s the only place I’ve seen in Japan to serve a margarita made with fresh fruit.”
Such kudos from customers flow freely.
“We love Dave!” a crowd of Camp Zama residents shouted in unison. “And the food matches his personality.” It seems the regulars come for this “Cheers”-like atmosphere where “Dave” knows everybody’s name – as well as the burritos.
Scott, however, takes food seriously, as is evidenced by the fresh ingredients he uses in dishes such as the popular chicken ole and enchiladas.
In an impromptu Mexican food 101, he explains that the difference between a burrito and an enchilada is the former is a large flour tortilla stuffed with beans and meat and is topped with spicy Colorado or mild ranchera sauce. The Enchilada is a corn tortilla stuffed with meat and cheese, rolled and topped with sauce and cheese.
For dessert, Scott offers honey cinnamon chips: Lightly fried tortilla chips coated with cinnamon and honey. Although Mexican food is hardly diet friendly, this dessert is light, crisp and not at all greasy.
“I am the original,” Scott boasts. “This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Kanagawa (Prefecture). The flavors have not changed in 18 years. My customers may have gone to other Mexican restaurants in the past, but they don’t go back.”
Prices are quite reasonable from chips and salsa at 400 yen to the mucho hombre combo topping out at 1,650 yen. A basic margarita is 750 yen or 2,600 yen for a pitcher. The experience as well as the food and doggy bag are well worth the “yennies.”
Pancho Villa is open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays). It’s closed Tuesdays. The restaurant comfortably seats 20, with a second-floor party room that can accommodate a group of 20.
To get there from Camp Zama’s Gate 7, go straight toward the Sagamihara Housing Area. After passing the Lawson minimart on your left, look to the left for the green awning, festive Christmas lights and sandwich board on the next block.
Pay parking is at the end of the road (look for a green “P” sign) or at the hospital around the corner (left at the traffic light, then three blocks straight). Scott asks that patrons not park in nearby private parking spaces.
If a mango margarita (or three) is on the agenda, hop the Odakyu Line to Odakyu-Sagamihara. Take the North exit and follow the main one-way road perpendicular to the train line. After the road becomes a two-way street, turn left at the second traffic light (across from a pay parking lot). Pancho Villa is a few minutes walk on the right-hand side.
It may be harder to find Pancho Villas than Taco Bell at the food court, but it is well worth the adventure – and the margaritas! Call 042-742-7999 for reservations or directions.
Note: This story was originally published in Stripes Kanto, Jan. 22, 2010 edition.