¡Viva la Revolución! – Eat Drink West
From the Río Bravo to Tierra del Fuego
ABOUT two-and-a-half years ago there was a revolution on Armstrong Street as Pancho stormed onto the local food scene, headed by business partners Jose Fernandez and Simone Baur-Schmid.
Dually named for Fernandez’s pet monkey back in Venezuela, and also his uncle, Pancho is a humble Latin American style cantina aiming to recapture all the things Fernandez loved growing up.
“We wanted to create the best simple, relaxed and good quality experience people could have,” he said.
“In South America you go to these little suburban restaurants and sometimes you’re sitting in the kitchen if there’s no tables. People come in and we know what they want, because they are having the same thing every single day. For me it’s beautiful, because I grew up with that.
“My parents had a restaurant for 30 years in Venezuela. I grew up with people, with kids, they became part of my family, and that’s what we want to do here.”
Like Meigas, Fernandez’s seven-year-old tapas bar located across the street, Pancho is all about authentic food and drink, and was born from the special requests at the Spanish restaurant.
“We had a lot of customers coming into Meigas saying can you make me some South American food, I want to remember the food that I had there,” Fernandez said.
“I don’t like to mix, as people get confused, and that’s how we came to open Pancho.”
That desire to deliver an authentic Latin American dining experience has created a near-cult like following among Central and South American ex-pats, locals, and visitors alike with a list of flavourful favourites along with an ever-changing specials board.
“We have Brazilian customers, Columbians, people from Chile, Argentina, and it becomes like their second home,” Fernandez said. “People are driving from Melbourne and Geelong to have dinner here because of the music and the food.
“It’s the little details, people feel like their eating in their neighbourhood.”
Due to the highly specialised and authentic menu, produce used at Pancho is a mix of local, and ingredients from further afield.
There’s the 10 boxes of limes a week supplied by Wilsons, but Fernandez also has to trek through African and Asian markets to find things like plantains and other exotic items.
It’s all part of trying to create a menu that’s representative of Latin American culture and cuisine.
“We try to cover food from Mexico to Patagonia because our customers are not only Australian,” Fernandez said.
“That’s why we have taco, tostada, tamales, arepas, tequeños from Venezuela, patacon from Columbia, ceviche from Peru, pupusas from El Salvador, and then we have a fish stew in coconut from Brazil.”