When a friend invites me to join him for dinner at Panxa Cocina, the first thing I do is to quickly check Yelp. My first impression is that it is a Mexican restaurant, however, I arrive to find that it is New Mexican cuisine — something I am not familiar with. Luckily, my friend is well-versed with New Mexico, and its cuisine, and I find myself not only in good hands to experience something new, but also, a chance to learn something.
The restaurant stands in the middle of a residential area, and while there is some street parking, you may find yourself circling around a few times before you find a spot. However, if you’re not into doing that, Panxa offers valet parking for your convenience.
Order some cocktails to start, Casa-Politan ($10) and Smokey the Pear ($10). The first is Panxa’s version of a Cosmopolitan, while the latter is tequila-based with prickly pear puree.
We choose a booth in the back corner, where I am hoping to use as much of the natural lighting as I am able before dusk sets in. We order Chips and Salsa ($5) to munch on while we peruse the menu. The house chips are served with three seasonal salsas: red, green and one comprising tomatoes, onions, corn and pepitas.
My friend asks about Sopapillas ($4), which is not on the menu, but we are able to have some. I am not familiar with sopapillas and find these pockets of fried dough exceptionally delicious. I slather with butter and a drizzle of honey — the way it is eaten in New Mexico I am told — and decide to not reach for more no matter how difficult that is to do.
There are a lot of things which catches my eye, but I wait for my friend to make suggestions since he is the expert here. When he glances at me quizzically and mutters Chick-a-rones ($4), I smile and nod. What is not to like about crispy chicken skin? These are seasoned with some chile powder and an accompanying ramekin of chile pequin salsa. With or without the salsa, these morsels of crispy fried chicken skin are addicting.
Shrimp Escabeche ($14) is a light dish with plump shrimp drizzled with piquilo aioli sitting atop pickled vegetables. The dehydrated corn kernels add an element of crunch, as well as sweetness to the mix. If I am eating here on my own, I will be happy ordering this, some sopapillas and be done with it.
Potato-Cheddar Pancakes ($8) are not quite what I imagine them to be. In my mind, they look like potato latkes, however, they are more in the same vein as crabcakes. Break into one and make sure you take a little of the Hatch-chile apple chutney and a dab of the crema before putting into your mouth.
Like I mention before, I am not familiar with New Mexico-style cuisine, therefore, it is only fitting that we order NM Style Enchiladas ($12) to broaden my knowledge. We choose chicken and Christmas (a mix of both red and green) sauce to go with it. Enchiladas in New Mexico are stacked, or layered, and not rolled. They are traditionally served with a fried egg on top — which they offer, but on this occasion, we decline.
Whole Grilled Fish ($24) with creamy poblano rice, citrus salsa. We opt for grill bread instead of tortillas, and I am happy we do. Reminiscent of naan in texture, it possesses a smoky flavor from the char and has a great chew. The whole fish means head and bones intact. We pierce the flesh with our forks and break off pieces of moist, flaky fish. Absolutely a must when you visit Panxa.
Our server suggests Panxa Fries ($6) with creamy poblano ($2) and we relent. Of course, these are the best tasting fries ever! French fries are topped with creamy poblano, salsa and queso. The poblano sauce is SO good.
Pinon Ice Cream ($10) is possibly the best dessert I have eaten in a long time. I am a sucker for ice cream to begin with, but this isn’t like any ice cream I have ever eaten. It is rich, creamy, and packed with the aroma of toasted pine nuts. I don’t need the caramel sauce, but the pine nuts give texture and additional flavor.
Panxa Cocina has opened my eyes on a style of cuisine I am not familiar with, and I love it. While the ingredients might be familiar, the way in which they are used may not be. Everything I have at this meal is delicious, especially the sopapillas and shrimp escabeche. I believe it is also its simplicity which wins me over. Definitely worth a visit!
3937 E Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90803