Taco lovers rejoice! At long last, a West University/downtown vacancy has been filled, and I am here to climb on my stump and preach: Pandita served up some of the yummiest food I’ve had in the Eug in a heckin’ long time.
Located on a bustling corner of East 11th Avenue, in what was trying to be the Animal House bar, Pandita has a fresh new vibe, offering share plates, tacos (praise them), tostados, burritos, panda bowls and cocktails. I enjoyed Pandita’s draft BNF peach rose kombucha with guava nectar and lime.
Eight weeks after opening, and owners William and Amy Winton are glowing as they chat with me. A lunch crowd fills every corner of the stylish interior space, with chatty patrons enjoying the fresh air on the patio that spills out onto the sidewalk.
“At 750 square feet, including the kitchen, space is limited,” William Winton says. “I have this saying, though: ‘You know it’s fresh, because we don’t have space to store much of anything!’”
After signing a lease in January 2019, the husband and wife team oversaw the permitting process and then began building out the entire space, including plumbing, electrical and engineering and design. And they got to work developing the menu.
“I grew up in a restaurant,” Amy Winton says. “My grandmother owned a restaurant in Japan, on the island of Kyushu, which is known for its seafood. I was born in Japan, and when we moved to Southern California, my mom started a Japanese restaurant that she ran for 35 years.”
The nexus of those cultures — hip, sun-kissed Southern Californian Mexican cuisine, combined with Japanese-style food and technique — is what makes Pandita a standout.
“Her mom’s employees experimented all those years, bringing together Mexican and Japanese flavor blends,” William says.
Amy says : “If food doesn’t evolve, people get bored.”
The carnitas, a Carlton pork topped with queso fresco, pineapple, onions, cilantro and a tomatillo verde salsa is a delectable combination of salty and sweet.
“All of our salsas are fire-roasted in-house,” Amy says.
Mama Panda’s braised beef features a Northwest grass-fed tamari braised beef with cabbage medley, queso, pickled onions and a bright, flavorful carrot habañero salsa, with just a hint of orange, that I would seriously eat by the bowl.
An avocado tempura is light as air, sitting atop a cabbage medley with avocado puree, and topped with crema. Its accompaniments, a pickled carrot and an onion escabeche, make me glad to be alive on this day to eat these vegetables.
It really was an insane lunch, but it just kept coming, and this one goes out to the vegans: Tired of a limp plant-based option? The smashed black bean tostada is “like a Mexican pizza or tlayuda,” Amy says. With house-made beans and crunchy veggies, this open-face tortilla is a rich, satisfying and savory meal.
Amy’s mom and the cooks in her kitchen developed Pandita’s signature dish. It’s the kind of taste combination so good that, once you have it, you may crave it until you have it again.
Mama’s salmon tostada, with its poke-style raw salmon, crispy gyoza, ponzu and yuzu and avocado, green onion and house-made chili oil, is simply foodie heaven. It haunts my dreams.
“When people order that, and they come back, they usually order it again,” Amy says.
The Wintons hope to expand their theme nights and maybe add more live music.
And though I sampled more of their haute cuisine offerings, this is a casual place, and friends and family could sure have a good time tucking into chimichangas or nachos made with waffle fries.
The name Pandita was what Amy’s family called her. And now it’s the nickname the Wintons call their own little girl, Nylee, who loves the restaurant’s panda bowl, a healthy, hearty option for kiddos. This is a place for everyone.
“To see people’s faces light up, when they’re enjoying the food, it makes you happy,” Amy says.
Pandita is located at 398 E. 11th Avenue. 541-654-5112. Hours are 11:30 am-9 pm Tuesday-Friday and 11 am to 9 pm Saturday and Sunday. Pandita is adding a Tuesday through Friday food happy hour and weekend brunch menu soon. PanditaRestaurant.com.