Authentic burritos coming to downtown Savannah?


Headlines are important. I’m well aware. But in this case punctuation is more important. That question mark at the end of the headline can make all of the difference in the world.

If you love Mexican food and are interested in something perhaps different than what you will find downtown Savannah, then this might just be the answer. Time will tell.

The good news is, Patrick Zimmerman is a veteran restaurant guy in Savannah. His background was in fine dining. But he got tired of that and just wanted to do good uncomplicated food.

He was part of the team that opened the very popular Betty Bombers once upon a time. Later, he and his business partner created Butterhead Greens which enjoyed tremendous success on the Bull Street corridor before it was a “Bull Street Corridor.”

Most recently he created The Black Rabbit. One of Savannah’s best lunch spots. Sandwiches, soups and a full liquor bar. It’s a true hidden gem and I absolutely hate that term. I’ll share the reasons why another time.

Patrick had been closing in on a space to do something unique on Savannah’s East side last year. He promised me details when the time was right. Unfortunately that time never happened.

“We were three days away and someone came in and paid $15,000 over asking no due diligence. Cash in a suitcase. So they took it.” he says.

Savannah’s hot y’all. Believe the hype.

Thus began Patrick’s search for something else. He made a few offers here and there, but nothing came of it. He would have loved to buy downtown but couldn’t afford it. Enter Matt Garapolo, co-owner at Pinkie Master’s, Savannah most popular dive bar.

“I had asked Matt about this space and he said he’d get back to me.” Patrick says.

The space he’s referring to is a small ‘deli-sized’ sandwich shop a couple of doors down from Pinkie’s on Drayton Street near Harris downtown. It opened a couple of years ago as “Diplomat Luncheonette.” Later, it was Leon’s Sandwich Shop, which it remained until October 9th of this year.

“Matt called and asked if I was serious. (about the space)” he says. “So here we are.”

“Here” in this case is the primary build-out and set up stages for a brand new take-out burrito joint that Patrick has been stewing on for years.

Burritos meaning something like Chipotle? Not even close. He’s calling it “Burritos Pantano” Pantano being a Spanish word for a Marsh or Lowland, which is Savannah.

But back to that question mark at the top.

The majority of my conversation with Patrick surrounded exactly how he planned to make this different than the other offerings we already have in Savannah. I mean, burritos and tacos we’ve got. Where does he see Pantano fitting in? I can tell you he knew where to start.

“I’ve gone out and mapped through Hinesville in the huge Mexican market and/or the small ones like the Quacco Road area. I went out and spoke to a lot of those people.” he says.

“First of all, the food is amazing. If those people spoke English and felt comfortable downtown, they would kill it.”

He’s absolutely right. I’ve mentioned it before in this space, but if you know where to go in this region there is a lot of great Mexican fare on the landscape. That too is a story for another time. Patrick is just trying to tap into some of that and understand where the best sourcing of products will come from.

“I’ve cooked an amazing amount of Latin and Mexican food in my life. I lived in the West for years and years. But, I’ve never used Bravo Foods. I’ve never used these different purveyors that I’m going to be using.”

“No, it’s not Chipotle and it’s not Southern burritos. It’s Mexican/Sonoran style real. We are using chiles, but it’s gotta be Americanized to a certain degree. I mean, I’m using melty cheese in some of my things, but we are also doing refried beans with lard in them. We’ll also have veggie too.”

The important thing here is that he is going to be pushing the envelope. He already knows what he wants and he says it doesn’t exist downtown Savannah.

Add to that the fact that he in tourist central. Literally in the shadow of the massive DeSoto Hotel. He could get some locals to survive, sure, but he is going to need tourists in order to thrive. 

“We are planning to talk to a lot of concierge and industry people to help get the word out (to tourists).”

What can we expect? I’m not sure. But I do expect it to do well. There will be a handful of offerings hovering in the $10 range. It will be small, especially at the start. 

The space is getting a few minor cosmetic updates. Coming up on the holidays they are in no rush to fling the doors open the day after Christmas. They are taking their time to make sure they get it right.

We can expect to see Burritos Pantano open for keeps in January.

About The Author

Jesse Blanco

One of the most recognizable personalities in the Savannah/Hilton Head Island television market, Jesse Blanco is sometimes called "Savannah's Anthony Bourdain." His 'Eat It and Like It' show has become a major regional brand in the foodie world.
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