Unlike the competition a few doors down, the wait staff at Jefe Pancho's in Dublin doesn't greet customers with shouts of "Welcome to Jefe Pancho's Mexican Bar and Grill!"
Instead, they greet with a smile, and a warm basket of tortilla chips and a cup of salsa that arrive at the table almost before you do.
Having had dinner there a few times, I gave lunch at Jefe Pancho's a try first. My wife and I arrived about a half-hour before noon, which was good because the lunch-hour crowd filled the place up.
The restaurant was formerly a pizzeria but got a south-of-the-border makeover not long after a new Home Depot pumped life into the former Kmart shopping center. Its booths are roofed like lean-tos, which is a nice touch. The only complaint might be that the backs of the booths are a little hard and a little too upright. Good for the posture, but a tad uncomfortable.
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I ordered the fajita quesadilla, with rice and guacamole salad, for $5.75. It is No. 30 of 30 combinations on the lunch menu. The rice was fluffy and not too spicy. As for the quesadilla, the first couple of bites were a bit bland, but then the quesadilla cheesiness and grilled-fajita taste began to mix. The veggies in the quesadilla were crisp and crunchy.
My wife opted for two chicken quesadillas, which came without sides, for $5.50. She shared a few bites, and I agreed with her that they were tender, juicy and seasoned just right. However, she said she missed the cheese sauce that some restaurants serve over their quesadillas.
The return trip for dinner was more adventurous. We went on a Saturday night - and brought the kids. The food was good, but the service suffered some due to communication problems with our young waitress.
My 16-year-old son and I shared fajitas for two ($18.50), but instead of the mix of chicken and steak that we ordered, we got only steak. With a large table of teens celebrating a birthday nearby, we decided not to complain. Besides, the steak was tender and tasty. We each got a plate with rice, refried beans, sour cream, lettuce and pico de gallo.
My wife went with her usual, Pollo Sante Fe ($9.85), a hefty serving of saut?ed chicken breast, spinach and mushrooms smothered in a spicy cheese sauce. And, as usual, it was delicious. (I tasted it, too.) The dish comes with rice and a tossed salad.
Our 7-year-old daughter opted for chicken fingers from the kids' menu ($3.25), having gotten her fill of Mexican from the pre-meal chips, salsa and cheese sauce. Her food came out long before ours. I started to object, but then thought that it might be intentional by the restaurant as a means of quieting any hungry young ones. It came without a dipping sauce for the chicken strips, so we requested ranch dressing. Our waitress brought french, but soon made it right.
Jefe Pancho's is a friendly place. The staff is quick to fill an empty glass or chips basket. And the food and atmosphere have an authentic Mexican taste and feel. In a place called Dublin, it's about as close to the border as you can get.
Jefe Pancho's Mexican Bar & Grill
1831 Veterans Blvd. No. 6, Dublin
Phone: (478) 296-0900
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, closed.
Payment: Cash, check, major credit cards
Price (entrees): $4.25 -$12.95
Children's menu: Yes
Vegetarian selections: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Latest health code rating: 95
Alcohol: Beer, wine and mixed drinks