• Where: La Pachanga, 5647 Brainerd Road
• Phone: 423-386-5780
• Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday
• Price range: $4.95 (Speedy Gonzales: enchilada and a taco with ground beef or chicken, with choice of rice or beans)-$13.95 (Filete Rey)
La Pachanga Mexican Grill & Cantina, a new restaurant on Brainerd Road, is having an identity problem. Although the restaurant opened in May, the site was previously home of Club Envy.
And La Pachanga, roughly translated in Spanish, means to party hard.
So the confusion is natural.
Manager Ruth Luevano, who runs the restaurant with co-manager Elvia Couarrubias, says she's concerned people may not know La Pachanga is a restaurant because business has been slow but is beginning to pick up.
She's convinced if people come to La Pachanga they will like it.
"People think this is a nightclub only or just a bar," says Luevano. "This is a family restaurant here."
Among the specialties are Filete Rey ($13.95), a tilapia dish served with shrimp and melted cheese and veggies, green peppers and wild rice, and Camarones al Guajillo ($12.95), a shrimp chili dish.
They're also Luevano's favorites.
"You can't find [them] in most Mexican restaurants," she says. "We want to be different."
Luevano also wants customers to have it their way. If a customer wants a dish that's not on the menu, she says, the cooks will serve it if the ingredients are available.
And if an item on the menu isn't just like the customer wants, the customer may change it.
For example, the menu lists a taco salad made with chicken or beef. But a customer could ask that it be made with beans and/or veggies, Luevano says.
I don't eat a lot of Mexican food, so I thought I'd stick with the familiar and inexpensive and ordered a chicken taco salad.
It was good and layered with taste and texture. Just don't let your mind consider the 1,800 calories. That's just the taco salad. Let's not discuss the warm chips and salsa that come before the salad is served.
Back to the taste.
The taco salad is served with a cool, white, creamy sour cream on top of crisp, shredded lettuce and tomatoes. There's also guacamole and shredded cheese. That's what you see.
I thought it was going to lack flavor, so I poured a bit of salsa on top. It wasn't bad, but when my fork sunk deeper in the salad, I knew no salsa was needed. I hit a layer of warm, moist, seasoned, shredded chicken. When I mixed it with the salad, it was all good. Cool and warm, crunchy and creamy.
Breaking off parts of the taco shell and eating them with the meal made the experience even better. And I got it for a reasonable price. It's on the lunch special list for $5.50. My Sprite was $1.75. So a good lunch for about $8. I was full and satisfied.
I have no complaints about service. The moment you sit, a server comes with a basket of chips, salsa and a menu. Before I finished the basket, my taco salad was on the table.
There is an elevated dining area on one side of the restaurant called the VIP section. It's usually used for birthday parties or family reunions. On the opposite side, there are large screen televisions that hang around the bar and booths along the wall.
However, most people eat at tables between the two areas in the middle of a hardwood floor. On Saturdays after 10 p.m., those tables are moved aside for dancing, with a live disc jockey playing a variety of music. On those evenings, there is $10 cover charge.
The room, spacious with low light, is decorated with big, golden suns and stars that hang from the ceiling. A few of the columns that support the building are wrapped in brown paper or cloth and decorated to look like palm trees.
Canned but unobtrusive mariachi music plays in the background.
A sizable deck affords outside dining. I remember it usually being full of people when the building was a dance club.
The taco salad was good. It was a good price, and I got full. I'll be back. Maybe next time I'll adventure into unknown territory and try one of the manager's favorite seafood dishes.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.