This month’s edition of Let’s Eat features North Bay’s only authentic non-chain Mexican restaurant, run by a husband and wife team who serve up food made fresh every day.
Maria Rubio and her husband Jose Hidealgo opened Mr. Pancho Mexican Food three years ago.
Rubio says their food is slightly different mainly because they use the style of cooking familiar in her hometown in northern Mexico. Although the food isn’t considered spicy, the heat can be ramped up for people who like a kick to their meal.
“Every day we make everything from scratch and it is from Mexico but it is from Sinaloa. I am from the north of Mexico, so it is kind of a unique flavour,” explained Rubio.
“We still use all the Mexican ingredients but it is Sinaloa style; more grilling, more seafood, not as spicy. So it is kind of unique. There are not many places even here in Ontario for Sinaloa. I think we have the only one. Nothing comes frozen.”
The couple had been living and working in North Bay for a decade before opening the restaurant.
“We had a dream to open a Mexican restaurant and we opened the restaurant three years ago,” Hidealgo added.
“It was really well received especially because our food is authentic Mexican food. In the beginning, we had the concern if we had to adapt our food in order for people to like it but we made the decision we are going to serve up our food as authentic as it is. So that was a huge decision we made, to present our Mexican culture to the people of North Bay, and we were very well accepted.”
Everything is prepared fresh with the flavours as close “as we can get to back home,” Hidealgo stated.
“We work with local farmers to get our produce and we try to support the local businesses by getting our meats from North Bay. We use local produce to make our salsas and all our dressings.”
The menu offers a wide selection of Mexican cuisine including totopos with two cheeses, sour cream, pico de gallo, jalapeno, guacamole, and re-fried beans. Eat it as is or add some meat to the meal. Other items include but are not limited to hard or soft tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and picadillo served with a side of rice, salad and corn torillas.
Many people enjoy the combination platters including cochinita pibil-pull pork Mexican style in a taco, quesadilla or tostada.
“The food most people love is our burritos. Our burritos here are huge. Sometimes it might be a little challenging for one person to finish but that is the way we prepare our food. The second one is our tacos. Our tacos are made with soft corn tortillas. We put on picco de gallo, and we use lettuce. And all the meat we put in the tacos we prepare here. We grill it here and we marinate it here. It is really fresh,” explained Hidealgo.
“And a huge plate is the Fiesta Box which we started preparing last year around this time and the people liked it, so we will continue to prepare it. It has gorditas, flautas, quesadillas, burritos, guacamole, pico de gallo, and tortilla chips. The large will feed four people.”
Another favourite is their quesabirria.
“It is a corn tortilla with shredded beef and cheese on it. We put inside a little cilantro and green onions and the salsa is a homemade hot salsa and lemons.“
The house special people gravitate towards is their Three Carnes plate served with three choices of meats, a side of rice, salad and corn tortillas.
The North Bay restaurant opened the doors to its first location at the bottom of Algonquin Avenue just one year prior to the start of the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, we were in our first year so we did normal business like we were very busy during the lunchtime with the people working in the downtown and then when the pandemic hit there was a huge impact for us,” Hidealgo shared.
The owners found continued success after reinventing their business, focusing more on take-out as they adjusted to running a restaurant under strict provincial health guidelines.
“In the first week we were really scared because we were just starting our business, but we made the decision to continue. The quality of our food is fresh food, but at the same time we can prepare it really fast and we can turn our food to fast food. The transition was really fast. In the matter of a week we handled the transition and we continued with the take-out food so people could enjoy the same freshness and same quality of food, but to take out,” explained Hidealgo.
“Being successful two years into a pandemic, that gave us the strength and confidence to keep running and we have huge support from the North Bay community and our dream is to grow.”
Their dream to own a second restaurant is coming true, with the opening of a new location at Northgate Shopping Centre. The expansion will be a smaller version of the existing restaurant, with the same detail to authenticity, freshness and quality that people have come to count on. The Northgate mall food selection will be limited.
"We’re going to have tacos, burritos and tostadas but if you want to get more plates it is going to be from here,” said Hidealgo referring to the Algonquin location.
The couple has worked hard to get where they are today.
“We are proud we made it here and we are proud to be part of the North Bay community and we see the opportunity to get another location in the Northgate mall and so we made the decision we are going to keep going and expand, regardless of what is going to happen with the pandemic, because we are people who like to work. We are able to take a risk. But we are really confident with our food, our product and we are really confident we are going to keep getting the support from the community. So that is something that is going to keep us running through these pandemic times,” shared Hidealgo looking to the future with eagerness.
“The support and the love from the people we treat here as friends, the really good friends we’re making here is important to us. And we have families who regularly come and eat here so that gives us the hope to keep going. This location is going to be running as always but the other location at the mall will give us another kind of customer.”
With the reopening of restaurants, they are seeing people returning to the restaurant for indoor dining.
”We have to adapt to that as well like we have to put our tables to the side and we have to take measures to be safe while we work here and to be safe for the customers,” said Hidealgo.