It’s always nice to get something a little different – especially when it comes to Mexican.  Don’t get me wrong – I can eat burritos, tacos, tortas and quesadillas, etc all day long, but sometimes mixing it up a bit really works.

Recently I was heading down Monument Blvd, returning from  a Costco run and decided that a torta would be in order.  Now, anyone who has driven along Monument knows that choosing a Mexican restaurant there can be a daunting task, given the number of very credible options which the street offers.  In this case, however, I opted for a Mexican market I know with a decent lunch counter attached – but when I got there, the restaurant section was closed.

It was then that I noticed just a few storefronts down in the same strip mall (right next to the Afghan Market) the Pancho Villa Birrieria y Carnitas (as the sign out front says, or Birrieria y Barbacoa, as the card says – you choose).

I have to say that the strip mall itself appears a bit on the seedy and ill-kept side, but the restaurant is bright and appears to be very clean.  Even better, the employees (proprietors?) are friendly and enthusiastic.  They seem honestly glad you’re there and really want you to enjoy your meal.

The menu transcends the usual burritos-tacos-tortas-enchiladas-chile rellenos choices. Similarly, the selection of meats is not the typical asada, al pastor, cabeza, etc.

Instead the menu offers goat in several forms and lamb. Other items include quesadillas with huitlacoche (“corn smut”) or flores de calabaza (squash blossoms), huaraches (no, not the sandals), machitos (“ingredients in machito include the internal organs of the kid goat and the goat’s intestines used to wrap and tie the resulting mixture”) tlacoyos, and lots more.

I opted for the goat, which I really enjoyed.

The order comes with a pile of really excellent home-made corn tortillas – almost good enough to be a meal in themselves.

I liked the place enough to have been back several times.  I’ve had pupusas there, which were good but not outstanding.

Most recently, however, I had a borrego (lamb) burrito which was, in fact, outstanding. It was a monumental thing, loaded with meat. The lamb itself was very flavorful and the rest of the ingredients complemented, rather than overwhelmed, it.

I still need to get back to try all of the various unknown (to me) items on the menu. (I expect there to be another posting or two on this place in the future.)

By the way, I’m told that on weekends (and Fridays?) after 5 PM they have $1 tacos – yet another reason to go back.

Pancho Villa Birrieria
1500 Monument Blvd
Ste F13
Concord, CA 94518

Even on vaca, you can only sit around the lake admiring the water and the weather for so many days in a row. In an ordinary Adirondack summer, you’d have some rain to break up the monotony of one beautiful day after another, but we had no such luck for most of the trip.

Finally, in order to mix things up a bit, we decided to undertake an expedition down the Mohawk River to see what Schenectady had to offer in terms of exotic cuisine.

Like Utica, Schenectady is another city undergoing a long-term decline. The current population of some 66,000 people is far below its 1950 peak of 91,000, while some 24% of the population lives below the poverty line. Downtown, there seem to be more closed storefronts than open ones.

Looking online I came up with Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant, which, according to the net was a little hole-in-the-wall place. In fact, however, we arrived to find that it had moved into an impressive new location about a month ago and had just had it’s grand opening the day before.

The day’s menu was bit limited but I opted for the curried goat plate with rhoti. The portion was generous and the goat was tasty. I enjoyed the sides – and particularly the collared greens – as well.

One of my companions ordered the stewed oxtail, which was very good – in fact, I was a bit jealous after swapping bites with her.

The only real disappointment is that they were out of the peanut butter cupcakes for desert.

1113 State Street
Schenectady, NY