I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Junction City, Kansas.
Greetings from Junction City, Kansas
N 39Â° 1.6925â€™ W 096Â° 50.1447â€™ Elev. 1,102 ft.
It was a dark and stormy night when … actually it wasnâ€™t stormy at all, it was just dark. And late. Early, early, early in the morning, to be precise.
I had been driving around the deserted streets of this gleaming metropolis looking for any not-a-chain eatery that might be open and, with any luck, served decent food. All the places Carmen in the Garmin could find either didn’t exist or were closed. All hope, along with the fundamental will to live, was fading rapidly aboard the SS Me So Hungry.
Then it happened: We decided to do the next best thing and see if we could find a 24-hour grocery store that wasn’t a Merchant of Death based in Bentonville, Arkansas; I won’t name the store. Up popped Kroger.
We love Kroger here on the Street Scow MSH. They have vital viddles that we try to keep stocked whenever possible: Fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt (40Â¢); orange-pineapple juice ($1.99); and Kroger-brand plain cake donuts ($1.50-$1.79/dozen, depending on location).
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find plain cake donuts that donâ€™t cost an arm and a leg? Did you know that many pirates have peg legs because they had to give up a limb to pay for a plain cake donut?
Long story short, we ambled off to find the Kroger. Along the way we stumbled upon Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, which is open 24/7.
Iâ€™m always suspicious of independent restaurants in small towns that are open 24 hours-a-day. It always seems like a cry of desperation that theyâ€™re open. Of course, Iâ€™ve been very, very, very wrong about this desperation thing before, however, and Iâ€™ve been handsomely rewarded for â€œtaking a chance.â€
So I decided to take a chance on Pancho’s. Hell, I thought, even if it sucked blue whale â€” they pack the largest penises on the planet, you know â€” itâ€™d still be hot food. That there was nothing else open helped in the decision-making process, too.
On my first visit to Pancho’s I got Bistec Ranchero, which came with the obligatory rice and beans, along with a drink, for $7.99. For the drink I got a Jamaica (pronounced huh-My-cuh), a semi-sweet, tangy cold tea brewed from dried hibiscus flowers.
Although I thought it couldâ€™ve been meatier, the Bistec Ranchero (skirt or flank steak with onions, jalapeÃ±o peppers and tomatoes) was the best Iâ€™d ever had. I simply couldnâ€™t believe how flavorful and spicy it was. It brought sweat to my brow and a couple of bites brought tears to my eyes. The refried beans and rice were equally good.
The next visit I got the Steak Ranchero ($8.69). Although the picture showed the meat cubed instead of sliced, I figured itâ€™d be basically the same thing … and Iâ€™d get two fried eggs, to boot. Well, not so much.
While it was very good and the meat was remarkably tender, it didn’t pack the same punch as the Bistec Ranchero. I found this quite baffling. After all, Bistec is Spanish for â€œsteakâ€ and Steak is English for â€œsteakâ€ and they were both prepared Ranchero (â€œRancherâ€ in English) style, they ought to be kind of the same thing, right? Well, no. And I donâ€™t know why.
Panchoâ€™s has a condiment bar reminiscent of ones I’ve seen often in California, with four or five different salsas, including that weird, runny green stuff many burrito places call guacamole sauce (it has nothing remotely in common with guacamole). It also contains a half dozen veggies, like those awesome carrots marinated with jalapeÃ±os and onions, and sliced radishes and sliced cucumbers. At least, thatâ€™s what I bagged. Unlike chintzier places Pancho’s provides zip-lock baggies for your condimental booty, instead of relegating you to those little plastic cups that nothing fits in.
Had I known that the Steak Ranchero would be so meek I would’ve grabbed some salsa to beef it up. Unfortunately, I discovered this too late.
I will eventually solve the Spiciness of the Ranchero mystery; the same guy was cooking both times. I will develop a friendly relationship with him. I will seek definitive answers.
Ultimately I will tell the cook that J-Lam may be coming in the near future and will probably want a two-buck Mexican Cock, er, CokeÂ®. I hope he wonâ€™t be too disappointed when, instead of a visit from an internationally recognized Puerto Rican-American bombshell, he gets a diminutive Gator fan.
And so we roll.
Pancho;s Mexican Food, 419 W. 6th Ave., Junction City, Kansas
with locations in Olathe, Topeka, Salina, Lenexa and Blue Springs, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.