- Reporters Desk
Old World Meets New Mexican Cuisine
Panxa Cocina’s Tom O’Brien. Photo by Phillip Cooke
By Gina Ruccione, Restaurant and Cuisine Writer
It takes serious balls to open a restaurant. Competition is fierce and customers are fickle. Answering to investors can be a total pain in the ass, but without them your next-best option is digging deeper into your own pockets to pay for just about everything under the sun. And, what restaurant owner doesn’t just love sifting through to toxic Yelp reviews by people who just don’t get it?
When Chef Art Gonzales opened Panxa Cocina in Long Beach a year ago, he obviously knew what he was getting into, and thank God for that — the food is wonderful. But let’s get one thing straight: It’s not Mexican food. I made the mistake of calling about their plans for Cinco de Mayo, and I want to spare you the same embarrassment. While there are similarities between Mexican food and the food at Panxa, it is much more than that. Think fusion. Think Old World Mexico meets New Mexican Cuisine with a Santa Fe twist and some slight German components. I know, right? What does that even mean? If you’re confused, bear with me. I’m going to walk you through it and by the time I’m finished you’ll be on the phone booking your reservation.
Gonzales does what I wish most chefs would do — he cooks with passion and from the heart. It’s more than preparing a dish. For him, it’s a form of self-expression. Each dish at Panxa is curated and reminiscent of something Gonzales experienced during pivotal moments in his life. As he walked me through his dishes, he recounted stories of his mother making German food while his grandmother would whip up some mole. His style of cooking has evolved from dishes he grew up with and flavors he fell in love with while working in New Mexico.
It’s inventive, yet comforting. Though it may be inspired by mom and grandma, it’s obviously much more elevated.
The atmosphere is hip, slightly modern and in no way over the top. The southwestern motifs aren’t kitschy— in fact, they’re stylish. Handmade Native American prayer beads hang over pieces of reclaimed wood and the hand-painted mural of the Native American woman in the dining room is stunning.
The ceviche mixto is a must. It is clean, refreshing and incorporates several citrus elements topped with pico de gallo, shaved onion spirals and pepitas for an added crunch.
Another favorite are the potato-cheddar pancakes. Gonzales channels his German side in this dish, but unlike most potato pancakes that tend to be underwhelming and only seasoned with salt, these proved to be the perfect vessel to transport the delicious hatch green chile and apple chutney topping straight to my mouth.
Of course, the showstoppers on the menu are the stacked enchiladas. Unlike Mexican enchiladas that are rolled and fried, this dish incorporates layers of tortillas and slow-cooked, tender short-rib. It’s almost like lasagna — but somehow, quite different. Choice of meat varies in this dish from chicken, beef or pork and so does the chile (sauce) that accompanies it. The red chimayo chile is salty and smoky, but finishes with a heat that hits back of your throat. The hatch green chile is slightly tangy but definitely has a kick. I ordered the “Christmas” version, which comes with both. I say go both or go home. And, if you’re a real bad ass, add a fried egg on top for the win.
I also had a chance to try the mole, which is more flavorful and complex than other moles that I’ve had in the past. In his version, Gonzales uses over seven different kinds of chiles, sesame seeds, pistachios and apricots.
I’m going on record to say there wasn’t one plate that I didn’t completely devour.
The desserts are phenomenal, and I don’t typically order dessert. Like every other dish at Panxa Cocina, everything was thoughtful and even incorporated different textural elements. I’m still dreaming about the strawberries that came out in yuzu citrus juxtaposed with dollops of cream and little crunchy meringue bites— it was heaven on a dish. For you chocolate lovers, order the tort de chocolate. Just trust me.
Dishes are between $12 to $28. Full bar.
Panxa Cocina is at 3937 E. Broadway in Long Beach.
Details: (562) 433-7999; www.panxacocina.com
Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. She is also a member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.