If you saw a sign on the side of a gas station advertising subs and a grill, you most likely wouldn’t stop. Many assume dining by a pump is the last resort of the hungry person filling a tank who figures it’s better than jerky and Funyuns.
I’ve seen the El Patron Subs & Grill sign a time or two, nestled near a convenience store. I even received a recommendation or two, but never checked it out. You’ll essentially have to visit to fully see the menu. Google it, and you’ll find some a picture or two rendered useless once you zoom in. There is no menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page or website, either.
Once you go, you’ll find plenty of seating, but no sign as to whether it’s allowed at the moment. Several arrived to pick up orders and all had called in advance. You might want to snap some pictures on your phone for future ordering. Those who called their order in swiped their card on an iPad, grabbed their bags and were off in a matter of seconds.
Normally, I would call or use online ordering for my takeout, but today was all about R&D for future calls. First thing I noticed was that all the orders I observed were not for any of the subs, burgers or hotdogs you’ll find on the menu. Instead, they were snapping up tortas, tacos and burritos.
I dug around beforehand and discovered the owners started out in Smiley’s Flea Market, a known spot for tacos. I’m not saying to avoid the burgers here by any means, but for my first visit, I knew where I’d be focusing my attention.
The problem is, even taking subs and burgers out of the equation, there is so much that looks good. There were breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros, but then I got sidetracked pondering the fajitas.
The frejol y queso pupusa is a recommended starting point, with griddled pockets of masa enveloping a layer of beans and cheese. It’s ample in size and just less than $3. The real star was another El Salvadoran dish of curtido, or fermented cabbage, served on the side. It was enjoyably tangy and not overtly sour, with notes of cumin. All that flavor on the side at such a low price made this dish even more incredible.
The draw of the burrito could not be ignored. You can choose from several protein fillings, but you won’t regret ordering the carnitas. The burrito is a little more of an investment at a little over $9, but this isn’t a freezer aisle sized burrito. It’s massive. And, no you don’t pick your toppings and sauces a la Chipotle. This burrito comes as it comes around your meat choice. It has rice, beans, cheese, sour cream and pico, nothing more, nothing less. It’s worth the $9.
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I didn’t even intend to order a quesadilla, but spying one cooking on the plancha won me over. It was a full-sized burrito tortilla mounded with pastor. Once again, don’t expect anyone to tailor make your quesadilla; it’s filled with cheese and grilled onions. After one bite you’ll realize that’s all it needs.
I finally made it to the tacos and realized I only had a few dollars below my $25 takeout cap. Some options such as the campechano, shrimp and lengua jump were more than $3, so I kept it inbounds and opted for the pollo. This was a solid place to start anyway. It came seasoned and cooked with plenty of flavor, which meant you wouldn’t need to add more than the few toppings provided.
The taco came with meat in a double layer of corn tortillas, which didn’t appear homemade but were still decent quality. The salsa bar, which offered everything in pre-sealed in portion cups, included chopped cilantro, diced onion, sliced limes and a few different salsas.
I can’t tell you what the price of gas was outside, but I can tell you that the food coming from inside is worth your visit. I’m glad I started with the dishes I did. I’ll debate trying the cheese steak next time but I know I’ll go right back to the tacos.
IF YOU GO
Where: El Patron Subs & Grill (Arden, 2251 Hendersonville Rd.)
Phone: 828-676-1777 To order online: el-patron-subs-grill.business.site
Beverage notes: Sodas.
Contactless pickup available? No.
Matthew DeRobertis is a chef, writer and father to a kid who loves food more than her dog. Contact him at email@example.com.
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