When Patricia Schwabe discusses her Penca Restaurante, she is short and to the point. However, what she does say matters.
She succinctly describes her well-known, creative bar menu that includes drinks like El Ultimo Trago with Mezcal de Oaxaca, café, palo santo, piloncillo and vanilla; or Flor de Azalea, with Brandy de Sonora, banana, leche de avena, manzanilla and curcuma.
She would love to be known for her chile relleno, chile en nogada or her costillas de ros (short ribs). But Schwabe has accepted her tacos are among the top in the city.
“Our chili en nogada and our chile relleno are more traditional,” says Schwabe, a native of Mexico City.
“But, I think we’re loved for our tacos. I don’t ever want to talk too much about tacos, but people gravitate toward the tacos. We make everything from scratch. Like our corn tortillas are made to order. I think people can tell the difference in that.”
Located in historic downtown Tucson, Penca offers fresh cuisine, a seasonal selection of traditional dishes from Central Mexico.
“A lot of the recipes are traditional, from my heritage,” Schwage says. “They’re my mother’s, my aunt’s recipes from Mexico City. I continue to follow that region of Mexico.
“Now, I work with a chef a lot to come up with a seasonal menu. I’m always willing to apply the traditions of Mexico City.”
The international bar, curated by bar manager Bryan Eichhorst, features more than 30 mezcals, premium tequilas, award-winning craft cocktails and an Old-World wine list.
“The bar manager learned about traditional Mexican spirits,” she says. “Tequila and mezcal wasn’t as popular back then. He continued to study and research, and he goes to Mexico a couple times a year.
“He finds the purveyors and distributors, some of which are less known in the American bar scene. Now, after five years, I think we have one of the best curated mezcal bars in the region. He is also one of the best informed, trained beverage directors.”
Penca is housed in a gorgeous renovated 1920s building, and blends Old-World and urban chic, offering seating in the dining room, intimate bar or private dining room.
“Buildings like this are hard work,” she says. “We want these buildings to keep their charm. Updating them, though, is hard work – fun, but hard work. The food is fun, of course, too.”
Besides being a small business owner, Schwabe has more than 20 years’ experience in real estate. She leased properties to many tenants including the Providence Service Corp., Summit Funding, Yoga Oasis, Cartel Coffee, Tap and Bottle and Exo Coffee. She saw the building that houses Penca, couldn’t lease it and thought she would open a business in it herself instead.
“Five years ago, people kept saying this seemed too far from the entertainment area, Broadway Boulevard and Fifth Avenue,” she says. “I decided to open the restaurant because it was hard to get a lease in this space.
“The building was fabulous. I thought it was a great opportunity.”
Penca is the entire package, a great bar, fun entrees and a beautiful building. Schwabe is happy to see regulars.
“I like knowing people continue to enjoy the food and the bar,” says Schwabe, whose husband, Ron, owned Tooley’s Café on Park Avenue. “I’m trying to be a good partner to our food.
“For the future, I just want to keep having fun and pushing the bar. I want to do things that are more thoughtful and the approach more meaningful. I want to maintain those standards.”