Out of the many restaurants that we've lost in the near-decade I've been the food editor at this infernal rag, few pained me more than the departure of Nancy Puebla Restaurant, a SanTana dive that was one of the first regional Mexican restaurants in the county to cross over to the mainstream. Its take on moles were legendary, as was its unique specialty on the little guys: godornices (Cornish game hen) and quilotes (quails). And best of all were the aguas frescas, which many a Mexi non-profit used for their fundraisers.
Then, around late 2007, Nancy Puebla just up and left. The owner told me he was moving to Perris, to take advantage of the housing boom at the time, and was relocating his restaurant with him. Perris? That tiny town off I-15, whose only claim to fame is it's not Menifee? I wished him well, but feared the move wouldn't work--after all, how many poblanos could possibly live in the Inland Empire?
There was never any reason for me to check up on Nancy Puebla--until this past Saturday.
The Perris Public Library invited me to speak, and I did so under condition I get treated to Nancy Puebla afterward, of which the nice librarians had never tried. After wowing a crowd of 10 with my rambles, the head guy and I went to Nancy Puebla.
First good thing: it was still open. Second good thing: open 24 hours. Third great point: they're located just outside the entrance to Lake Perris, ensuring business forever from 909ers looking for respite from the inferno that is living in the Inland Empire.
The meal started how I remembered it: freshly fried chips, served with a side of refried beans, queso fresco, and a pool of their spicy mole poblano. The librarian that treated me quickly lapped up the dish, loving each drop. He also enjoyed the mulita I suggested he order, prepared how I remembered them: fresh masa, fat, with gooey quesillo inside.
So many choices, so little time, so I went with something they didn't carry at their original SanTana location: a cemita poblana.
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Oh, how I love this legendary Pueblan sandwich, and oh, how so many people get it wrong. Not here: the toasted, challah-like bread, the expanse of crunchy milanesa, the splayed chipotle pepper, creamy quesillo, all of it. They even had pápalo, the metallic-tasting herb that connects all the flavors together and stays on your being for the rest of the afternoon.
Eating at Nancy Puebla made me miss the place terribly, and I don't plan on returning to Perris until next year. But if you're ever in the region, go pay your respects to one of the missed masters of Mexi cooking in SanTana...
Nancy Puebla Restaurant, 85 Ramona Expy., Perris, (951) 657-2704.