For over a decade, one of Broadway’s best food dives was a dingy little place called Vietnam, a tiny, forlorn space wedged between Sam’s and a hardware store just off the corner of Columbus Avenue. Vietnam was cheap, quick and open ’til 3:00 am, and a staple for the hordes of late-night diners that stumble down Broadway after midnight.


Panuchos at 620 Broadway, just a stone’s throw from Columbus Avenue

Alas, the two little ladies who ran Vietnam gave up the ghost in July. The good news: the space has been filled by the best Mexican dive to bless North Beach since the days of El Gran Taco: Panuchos, The brainchild of Juve Carrillo and Morgan Anderson, Panuchos continues Vietnam’s proud tradition of serving delicious food late and on the cheap (Yelp says they close at 3:00 am, though 2:30 is more like it). But in this case, it’s Yucatecan street food that’s on the menu.

Be warned: my description of this place as a dive is not a playful exaggeration. Their front glass was shattered with a pellet gun just after they opened (I don’t know who was responsible, but the shots were reportedly in a “Z” pattern). They did tape up the glass, but the place looks just a bit rough at the moment. Like most of the places on this stretch of Broadway, Panuchos is not overly concerned with decor.

But the food is quite another story. If you haven’t had cuisine from the Yucatan, you’re in for a treat at Panuchos. For the carnivores, there is a wealth of riches, including three (count ‘em, three) kinds of pork to put in your taco, burrito et al. Cochinita pibil, Juve’s grandfather’s recipe, is arguably the finest of the lot. Slow-roasted for 5-6 hours inside of banana leaves, it is a rich, savory stew that translates equally well in a tostada, torta or quesadilla. The poc chuc is nearly as good, braised in Modelo beer with mellow seasonings that benefit from a bit of the house’s fiery habanero salsa. The al pastor is a standout as well, intensely flavored, but with little of the grease that often accompanies this dish.

cochinita pibil

The cochinita pibil taco at Panuchos

I’m a pork enthusiast, so the biggest surprise for me might be the carne asada: tender and tasting of the grill, it balanced perfectly with the fat black beans, cilantro rice and guacamole in my super burrito ($9.50) on a recent visit. They also offer shrimp and pescado del dia, and for you vegetarians, their veggie burrito is the best I’ve had outside of the Mission, and they also offer tofu marinated in achiote. Breakfast items, meanwhile, include huevos rancheros and one of the best breakfast burritos I’ve ever had on this side of the city.

The chips are crisp and light, and they make a stellar lineup of fresh salsas: habanero aumado, salsa de poc chuc (also with achiote), salsa verde and a brightly flavored mango version. Though I haven’t tried the tostadas yet, I’ve been told by a reliable source that they are the best in the city. And let’s not forget their namesake item: the Panucho. Made with a refried tortilla topped with refried black beans, chopped cabbage, pickled red onion, avocado and the meat of your choice, these are rich and indulgent, and should be eaten right away.


The namesake item: Panuchos

Juve learned to cook in his father’s kitchen, where Sundays were reserved for the preparation of the traditional dishes that now grace his menu. He would cook with his father Felipe and  brother Juan, and on that day each week, no women were permitted in the kitchen: “no girls,” he told me, “and I’ve got five sisters, too.”

There is a lot more to come here: Juve’s father, who was a matador, used to cook for his bullfighting staff in Yucatan, and his signature dish was the cabeza de toro.  A Mayan dish that translates as “head of the bull,” that’s precisely what it is. Though they won’t be able to cook it underground in the traditional way, Juve plans to offer a version of the dish at the restaurant, which his father will prepare once he arrives from Mexico. “My father is the only one who really knows how to do it,” he says. They also plan to start offering traditional Mayan sopes, and there are other surprises in store.

Panuchos has gotten a solid initial response from the neighborhood, and business is steadily picking up as North Beachers discover the hidden gem. Get there before the lines get too long, and keep an eye out for a second location, due to open within a few months on Clement Street in Little Chinatown. Es delicioso!