Review No. 21: Don Pepe Gourmet Burritos and Tacos
2225 Prince Street
13.5 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants
She Said: I had a tough workout with my trainer so I was HUNGRY. One of our dear readers had suggested Don Pepe to us awhile ago, and it was time. I had been dieting and working out, and I was ready for some serious tacos. Honestly, I thought they were a chain, so I put off the review for a bit, but when I asked, the cashier said they are locally owned, and Conway has the only location.
He Said: And yes, in case you couldn’t tell, this is another of the thousand and one Mexican restaurants in Conway. It’s one that really looks like it ought to be a Mexican restaurant, with free-standing adobe-colored location right across from the new high school on Prince Street.
She Said: Well, Ruud, it’s actually not free-standing. It’s the street-facing end of a strip mall. And, it’s pretty fast-foody in there, but it’s clean and attractive. We sat in a sunny booth by the windows that was a little strangely configured. The benches were very close to the table, which was a little high. I felt squished and 4 years old at the same time, but it wasn’t too bad.
He Said: There’s a strip mall? Yes, it’s clean and bright inside, and yes, the booth had a cramped feel. There is a counter that you go up to and choose the various components of your meal in assembly line fashion, a practice that replicates what happens at Chipotle. Of course, Don Pepe’s has been open in Conway for more than two years, while Chipotle has been in town just this year, but the two places follow a similar service model.
She Said: I was expecting iced tea, but when I got to the cashier, I saw the beverage fridges held beer and wine. Well, tacos call for beer (and the red wine was chilled, which, well, just … no). They had great beer selections, several Mexican beers like Corona, Dos Equis and Modelo, plus some craft beers and the usual suspects. I chose a Dos Equis ale, and it was just right.
He Said: They have fountain drinks as well as drinks in actual glass bottles along with that assortment of beers Jones told you about. So I had to have a Coke in a bottle. An old fashioned glass one. They actually even had Squirt, of all things, in glass bottles. At a restaurant. Something I probably haven’t seen in 50 years. The more I think about it, the more I think I should have gotten one of those. But Jones was hurrying me along with her “world’s slowest orderer” shaming, and I don’t always make the best decisions under that kind of pressure.
She Said: I love how you can custom create everything you eat here exactly how you want it. For someone with food issues and constant eating consternation, this is VERY comforting to me. I chose the taco option from the menu of burritos, bowls, etc. I was torn between the veggie and the chicken as my protein choices for my tacos. I was foolish and didn’t ask what the “veggie” choice meant, as I assumed it just meant you didn’t get a meat option, and since it was the same price, I thought I would go for the chicken. I wasn’t too upset that I did because the chicken was delicious, perfectly seasoned, browned and tender, but my husband tried a veggie that was mushrooms and other veggies, and he said it was great. I’m having this next time! I also chose the mild salsa, a little cheese dip, lettuce, guacamole (which is extra) and cilantro. I had pinto beans and cilantro rice on the side (you have have them in your tacos if you like). It comes with chips and salsa, but I ate very little of either of these, as the tacos were plenty of food for me, and I don’t like salsa. I did kind of wish they had a tofu option for the tacos, though. We shared a chocolate-chip cookie, and it was crazy good, very undry and chocolaty.
He Said: This is Mexican fast-food, but with this “choose your own adventure” model it’s a cut above Taco Bell or Taco Bueno, but not at the “sit down and order” level of El Parian or Senor Tequila. It’s most comparable to Chipotle, or perhaps Tacos 4 Life. I will say that, at least for my tastes, Don Pepe’s is a good deal better than Chipotle. My main complaint about Chipotle is that everything tastes so dry there (that, of course, is partly because all the choices to moisten up the food are high in fat, which I can’t have). The crispy taco shells that I had were light and crispy, perhaps the best taco shells I have had in a restaurant. For my low-fat options, I could have chicken or one of two vegetable fillings (mushroom or a green medley), and there were a variety of salsas. Like Chipotle, the food is healthy, but with Don Pepe’s you are supporting a locally-owned business.
She Said: This place is set up A LOT like Chipotle, where they have a basic list of items and then you can choose your set up. I should have asked what the “veggie” option meant because everyone there was very helpful and friendly and fast. The World’s Slowest Orderer (people behind him literally slipped the line, got their stuff, and paid ahead of him whilst he was still making up his mind) will have to tell you about his experience. Mine was great.
He Said: The service was certainly friendly along the assembly line, and it was nice not to have to bus our own table. I ordered three crispy tacos and was told the they only had two left. Now my friends, the name of this place is “Don Pepe’s Gourmet Burritos and Tacos.” Wouldn’t you think that they might be better prepared for the possibility that tacos would be ordered? And we were here at 11:30, well before the noon rush, when they might get slammed and, I don’t know, RUN OUT OF TACOS! I was told that if I waited five minutes I could get another crispy taco, but I was already holding up the line, as SOMEBODY was reminding me, so I had one soft shell. It just wasn’t the same. I blame you, Jones. Well, you and Don Pepe’s service.
She Said: For the record, I never said a thing as I waited and waited. I smiled… and waited.
He Said: That was not a smile without meaning.
What We Got and What We Paid: Two three-taco entrees (one including guacamole), one cookie, one Coke and one Dos Equis: $25.12.
He Said: Really good light and fresh Mexican. Iffy on the crispy taco supply.
She Said: I thought the food was great, and I’d like to try the quesadilla and the veggie taco. I’ll definitely be back. This place is a winner … and it’s local!
So…He Said and She Said: Better than Chipotle, and there’s beer!