There’s something to be said for tradition, especially at a place like Mando’s. For Pacific Grove, it’s a neighborhood kind of spot – you can tell by watching the small dining room fill up quickly, even on a Sunday morning. It’s an old-school menu. It’s not trendy, and certainly no place for hipsters to find the latest brunch. Yet, the eggs Benedict could rival any, along with a cold chavela. And you can’t find more affordable offerings in the neighborhood.
The extensive menu brings a mix: American diner meets Mexican comfort food, maybe leaning toward Tex-Mex. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served all day, so it’s pretty tough to narrow it down. Do you feel like banana pancakes? New York scrambler with salmon? Maybe you’re more in the mood for fish tacos or chile rellenos?
A little of everything can make for some warming fusion plates, like chorizo scrambled eggs. Flavorful sausage peppers each bite, while a side of refried beans mellow out the light spice.
Care for more heat? The Mexican Benedict delivers a punch with grilled jalapeños scattered throughout the chorizo. Perfectly poached eggs release a pool of yolk onto the zesty sausage, while English muffins buried underneath soak up the leftovers. Hash browns deliver a satisfying crunch over a filling of luscious potato.
Fajitas have long been a crowd favorite. The chicken option brings smoky, charred meat along with a heap of grilled peppers and onion. The same refried beans that come with breakfast suggested a soft spot to land, as did the tomatoey Mexican rice.
Though reliable food is reason enough to explain the bustling restaurant, service can be on and off. A local in the know at our table asked if we could have the homemade tortillas on the side, but what we got were clearly store-bought. When she reminded the server of her request, the basket was whisked and promptly replaced with the good stuff: corn tortillas, made in-house. The difference was so stark it made me wonder why Mando’s wouldn’t serve the homemade option to everyone. It takes more time and energy, but it’s worth it.
Then again, maybe they’re past needing that level of quality, since the floor remains full. They’ve been around since 2010, and have been beloved ever since. Owner Armando Cruz gets the sense that people enjoy the community of his restaurant: “I talk to customers like a friend.”
Cruz also claims his following has something to do with his food. Though our server forgot to start us off with the restaurant’s standard complimentary chips and salsa, once it was requested and arrived, it was hard to hold a grudge: The salsa is just so good. A juicy tomato puree with just enough cilantro and onion was scooped up bite by bite on warm, crunchy chips.
The small touches, when remembered, are what keep a joint like this around. Year after year, as the cool and the new come and go, Mando’s will surely stay.
MANDO’S RESTAURANT 162 Fountain Ave., Pacific Grove. 10am-9pm Mon; 9am-9pm Tues-Sat; 8am-3pm Sun. 656-9235, mandospg.com