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Pancho’s elaborate decor upstages the food

OK, we’ll address the giant sombrero in the room first: Yes, Pancho’s Restaurant is pricey — at least compared to most Mexican restaurants in the valley.

Some attribute that to its Downtown Summerlin location, but the reason becomes obvious before you even walk into the place. There aren’t, after all, many local Mexican restaurants with highly detailed stained-glass windows, visible from the street as well as inside the restaurant. And then there’s the rather elaborate entrance that, if I’m not mistaken, was salvaged from a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion.

Step inside the soaring two-story space complete with mezzanine and the impressive details continue. There are water features, which can be heard but not readily seen. Enough living plants, including full-size trees, to green up a small rain forest. Details like the solid-wood bar, another salvaged prize. (It’s all described on a page near the back of the menu but is interesting enough that the restaurant ought to put it on its website.) The detail evokes nothing so much as a Disney property, and we all know how pricey those are.

As for the food and service? Yes, they’re there and perfectly acceptable, although it would be a tall order to measure up to this degree of decor.

One thing I liked about Pancho’s menu is that it’s got some offbeat selections along with the requisite choices. Somebody must like artichoke hearts because they figure prominently in a number of dishes, including our starter, Queso Fundido ($16.95). We’ve had a lot of queso fundido in restaurants both local and not, reflecting varying levels of skill and taste, but never have we had one with artichoke hearts, or that was snow-white in color. At first I thought it was fluffy or even foamy, but it just had a very light texture, the artichoke hearts so finely chopped as to be nearly undetectable. It was a very tasty dish but definitely offbeat, and served with tortilla chips rather than the tortillas a lot of restaurants provide.

We’ve had spinach enchiladas ($18.95) before, but these were in another league, the flour tortillas so delicate as to bring to mind crepes. They were rolled around a filling that deftly balanced spinach and a multitude of mushrooms and were napped with a delicate but still flavorful white sauce, again for a skillful balance. On the side was a huge mound of well-seasoned and still-firm black beans and some Spanish-style rice.

Pollo Asado ($24.95) struck us as an interesting alternative to the usual Carne Asada, and it was. Since chicken breast is inherently bland, added flavors must come into play, and a deep marinade worked very well here. Rice on the side with this one, too, and frijoles that were a little on the runny side.

Service throughout was fine, with courses well-timed and beverages refilled and dishes cleared promptly.

Whether Pancho’s is worth the price depends on just what you’re looking for in a Mexican restaurant. But if attractive surroundings are important to you, it’d be difficult to go wrong here.

— Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com, and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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