By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
As we waited for a server to bring us the bill after a weekday dinner, we heard someone yell "Bitch!" in a joking, high-pitched voice. It turned out that one man at a neighboring table of three had taken it upon himself to pay the check. He got the usual thanks, but not without a bit of sass. A few moments later, a couple holding hands (both men wearing tank tops and jean shorts) strutted by with a pack of dachshunds and a large greyhound in tow. There seems to always be a lively crowd at Pinche Taqueria on Wilton Drive, and that makes for plenty of good people-watching.
Tuesdays, as they always should be, are Taco Tuesdays, and here, nine varieties were offered at $2 apiece. Unfortunately, both the sweet potato and the crunchy shrimp tacos were already sold out for the night. We opted for Baja-style fish (usually $4), coated in panko bread crumbs, fried, and topped with a spicy coleslaw; braised lamb ($4), with a fresh-tasting cucumber salsa, mint and cilantro sauce, and salty, crumbled Cotija cheese; and al pastor ($3.25), a Mexican classic with slow-roasted pork and pineapple.
Despite being a taqueria — a no-frills joint where the focus is supposed to be on tacos — we found flaws in each of the tacos we ordered. The one filled with fish was crispy with plenty of spice, yet the meat inside tasted fishy, a bit past its prime. The lamb tacos, with the vibrant flavors of mint and cucumbers, should have sung, yet the crumbly ground meat was too dry and fell out of the store-bought tortilla with each bite. Tacos al pastor had a tinny flavor that overpowered the sweet chunks of pork and made us suspect that the pineapples cubes came out of a can.
2045 Wilton Drive
Wilton Manors, FL 33305
Region: Wilton Manors
Pinche Taqueria, 2045 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors; 954-990-6282; pinchetaqueria.us. Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11:30p.m.
Chicken tortilla soup $4
Fish tacos Baja-style $4
Braised lamb tacos $4
Carnitas burrito $8
Brisket rancheros $12
Besides tacos, Pinche offered several simple starters: quesadillas (chicken, cheese, or vegetables), burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, and a pair of salads with various Mexican staples tossed in. Pinche has partnered with Steel Gym, formerly Iron City Fitness, and the partnership has yielded a few healthy menu choices like tacos made with a leaf of lettuce in place of a tortilla. These healthy items are denoted with a barbell on the menu.
The restaurant's name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Mexican slang. Pinche translates to a milder version of fucking — the adjective, not the verb. It got its start in lower Manhattan's Nolita district, just north of Houston Street. Jeffrey Chartier, a financier and partner in independent film studio Soho Films, wanted to open an authentic taco restaurant full of the simple flavors he found while traveling and living in Mexico. The Wilton Manors outpost is operated and co-owned by his longtime friend Stephanie Lee.
A longstanding relationship with Chartier and Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick led Lee to the quaint, garage-like space right across from City Hall that opened as Pinche in February.
Prior to opening Pinche, Lee had spent 15 years in finance as a broker and trader for various banks in New York City. She and Chartier met in 2003 and eventually worked together to open their own brokerage house. When Lee was laid off in 2006, she began working in Pinche's back office managing finances.
"I was spending winters in Fort Lauderdale and decided to work while down here," Lee said. "Several people told me there was no great Mexican restaurant on the [Wilton] Drive, so I decided to pursue that avenue."
What Chartier set out to accomplish in New York, however, didn't jibe with Wilton Manors' tastes. When Pinche Taqueria first opened, "I guess the whole authentic Mexican thing wasn't working; it was too spicy," Lee said. The more authentic dishes didn't sell. "A lot of people around here like the Tex-Mex, they like the fajitas. We still have elote, we still have the homemade guacamole, but now we have a cheeseburger taco."
Lee recently brought in chef Ron Kerr from famed Wilton Manors outpost Georgie's Alibi to overhaul the menu. Kerr is also the owner of Bite Catering and Bite Gastrotruck.
"I have been gone the last two weeks and had to leave a newly trained staff due to Art Basel and catering events," Kerr wrote in an email. "Some tweaks still needed to be made but we hope to get everything ironed out in the next couple of weeks."
No ironing needed, however, at the front of the house. A perky young waitress with her hair tied up in a wrap was ready to fulfill our every wish. "Tell me what you want, tell me what you need," she said before taking our order one night. "Here we go, honeys," she cooed as she set down a small, black, stone bowl full of chunky, well-seasoned guacamole ($6). Besides some stale tortilla chips and a few hidden, palate-scorching pieces of jalapeño, the Hulk-colored dip tasted of fresh herbs and avocado. It was a steal compared to the countless Mexican chain eateries that make guac tableside — and charge $24 a bowl (cough, Dos Caminos, cough).
Pinche Taqueria outdoes its local competitors on style as well as price. The 70-seat restaurant has a red-brick façade painted with two fighting cocks, and a green awning hanging over the sidewalk. Instead of a standard person-sized front door, a whole wall of the restaurant opens up, and patrons enter through a large green garage door. A few tables and a bar jut out onto the patio, allowing diners to eat while enjoying a breezy South Florida winter evening.