We’ve eaten in many sorts of places all over the world, but the Petite Pantry might be the strangest. Lacking the formality of a normal restaurant, it feels something like going to a supper club at your accountant uncle’s office. You will sit in a computer desk chair under a wall of family photos. You will be greeted with familial familiarity and subjected to knee-slapping gibes from the one-man kitchen and service team. When you leave, you will be sent off with too much food for one person to carry back to the car. You will drive away bewildered.
The Petite Pantry is a Mexican-American diner. Meals begin with a platter of home-fried chips, both flour and corn types, with fresh salsa. The salsa is spicy and very good. The chips probably could have used an oil change, but we’ve had worse. Then comes soup or salad. Get the soup. The salad comes from a bag and is served with a dressing that we don’t trust. The soup is homemade, flavorful and fresh.
Chicken birria lunch is tender, flavored mostly with cilantro and faint notes of chili. Tamales have a generously meaty filling — a tad dried out, but still enjoyable. However, the rice and beans we got were dry beyond reason. That’s a pity, because they tasted like they might have once been decent otherwise.
Another quirk of this place — which is itself a labyrinth of quirks — is that leftovers are wrapped as burritos for you to take home. This is a great feature for those planning on mountaineering in the Sierras. Stick to stews (a regular customer recommended the chile verde) and things that reheat well. Much of the food is zapped to order anyway, and most of your gigantic meal will go home with you wrapped in foil.
Signs outside advertise homemade pies. One slice we got came out well past its prime. However, the chocolate pie, which the whirlwind chef-server-owner gave us on the house, was fresher. It has a tasty pudding filling and fluffy whipped cream on top.
The Petite Pantry serves uneven, occasionally unsettling food, but with an abundance of earnest hospitality and generosity. Best of all, it comes with a huge scoop of weirdness on the side. You will have a conversation with every townsperson who comes in. The better parts of the meal were satisfying and made for a week’s worth of leftovers. Locals love it and we understand why. Even if you are just passing through, eating here makes you honorary townsfolk.