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DeWitt: Ponchito's Mexican food

What the Taco Bell generation might not know is that the ground beef taco is an American phenomenon -- real tacos, such as those found at Ponchito's Taqueria on New Court Avenue in DeWitt, come with seasoned pork, marinated chicken, steak, or grilled vegetables. Ponchito's uses authentic South American recipes, but is not too exotic for a more discriminating palate.

Frank Mignacca, who opened the restaurant with his family in February, for a while refused to even serve ground beef, but gave in when his kids convinced him of their high demand. Although it might be easiest to label Ponchito's a "Mexican" restaurant, Mignacca and his wife actually collected recipes from a number of countries and regions in South and Central America.

The tacos don't look any different than your standard chalupa, but the difference in taste is enough to knock anyone who's never heard of a pork taco right out of their seat. The braised pork is simmered in beer broth, rendering the tough meat as tender as chicken, and rolled in a fresh corn tortilla that is fried in oil upon preparation, and crunches deliciously somewhere between soft and hard. Ponchito's also offers beef, steak and chicken tacos, and it is Mignacca's policy that his meat is always delivered fresh, never frozen, which he says makes all the difference.

Below the standard array of American beverages in the cooler are pineapple sodas and non-alcoholic malt beverages called malta, which Mignacca says is mostly consumed by his Hispanic customers. Like beer, it is brewed in barley and hops, but is very sweet, like soda, and tastes distinctly like molasses.

Mignacca's son Frankie, who works in the front of the restaurant says his dad can cook anything, and that he adds his own little flare to everything he does. Although Mignacca is a second-generation Italian, his passion for cooking took him and his wife on South American excursions, following his nose through Peru, Belize and Guatemala, where he sampled authentic Hispanic cuisine and traded recipes with the natives. Telling his story, he marvels at the simplicity of the recipes, and at how much of a difference it makes to cook with fresh ingredients.

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