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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Southside’s Poncho’s Still Shining

Consider this fair warning: Once you have a chimichanga at Poncho’s Mexican Restaurant on South Central, you may be disappointed when you order one anywhere else. They are just not the same.


Same with the Pollo Fundido, not to mention the refried beans, which are legendary.


In fact, the menu at Poncho’s is filled with old family recipes that have kept diners coming back again and again over the last couple of generations.


The Vasquez family recently celebrated their 40th Anniversary with a complete remodel of their flagship restaurant.


“We just went through and made everything new – the carpet, the dining room the bar. We added TV monitors. We just updated everything,” said Ralph Vasquez who runs the restaurant with brother George and assorted other family members.


Poncho’s opened on July 29, 1972 as a Mexican food take-out spot.


“My dad worked in the Safeway warehouse. It was a hard job. I know because I worked there summers,” he said. “We wanted to get him out of that warehouse.”


Even though he worked hard during the week, on weekends Poncho always had other things going on.


“He was always doing something, not just lying around,” he said. “One of his lifelong dreams was to open a little Mexican food place.”


Vasquez said that in about April of 1972, his mother, Isabel, told him his dad was ready to open his place at which time Vasquez  agreed to help if she would ask her sister to join them.


“My Mom could cook, but her sister Soccoro Valle, my aunt – I couldn’t wait to get to her house on weekends because I knew there was going to be some great stuff on the stove,” he said.


Valle agreed to come help cook and the rest, as they say, is history.


The brothers, Ralph and George had hoped the take-out could make enough money to get their dad out of the warehouse, but the little business took wing and performed beyond their expectations.


“When we opened, I swear in two weeks, we had them lined up 10 deep every Friday and Saturday nights for dinners,” he said.


In 1975, the take-out was expanded to the house in back which became a restaurant and in 1977 the cocktail lounge was added. Now between the two, 160 can be seated.


Another claim to fame, besides its fabulous food is that on July 7, 1999, President Bill Clinton stopped in for a bite.


Vasquez had learned the president was going to several cities to encourage people to open businesses in lower income parts of the cities.  South Phoenix was one of the destinations.


Vasquez contacted Congressman Ed Pastor and suggested the president stop at Poncho’s. Then he heard nothing until the president showed up and ordered a ton of food, which is now called “The President’s Choice,” on their regular menu.


He said for two weeks after the president’s visit, Poncho’s had more business than ever before and some people from such far flung locations as Cave Creek and Carefree came for a meal.


Three months later a major builder began a project of 350 new homes.


“It was crazy,” he said.


The business continued to grow and in 1986, brother George opened Someburros, a fast food restaurant serving Poncho’s food. He and his children have expanded it to five locations throughout the Valley.


“Even after all these years, it’s still all my family’s home recipes, our hot sauce is very popular. It is my uncle Joe’s (Vasquez) recipe,” Vasquez said.


What makes the refried beans so tasty is that lard is used in the preparation.


“If they don’t shine, they aren’t mine,” he said with a chuckle.


There are some items on the menu for those who are watching their waistlines, but for the most part the Mexican dishes are prepared the old-fashioned way because that is what their customers prefer.


“I just want to thank everyone for their loyalty over the past 40 years, especially the people in immediate South Phoenix. I hope we keep doing a good job for them,” he said.


Poncho’s is located at 7202 South Central Avenue in Phoenix. For more information call 602-276-2437 or visit ponchosaz.com.






One Response to “Southside’s Poncho’s Still Shining”
  1. I would like to say hello and keep up the great job with the good cooking ,its delicious. I too am part of the Vasquez family. Poncho was my uncle. And Jessie was my father, he too is gone now. And I would like to add for any Avon lovers out there visit my website. Many blessings to the Vasquez family.

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