Since 2005, Pablo’s Old Town has been a mainstay of Mexican cuisine in Lansing. Serving an array of dishes, from tacos, quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas to steak, seafood, soups and salads, there’s something for everyone. The only thing that was missing, for many customers, was alcohol.
But the Old Town restaurant was too small to fit a full bar. The only solution was to find a second, larger space and expand operations.
“People have been asking me for years and years to open up a new location because they wanted to have liquor,” owner Pablo Maldonado said.
Their wishes have finally been granted. Guests can now enjoy all of the dishes they know and love alongside a glass of beer, liquor or a freshly made margarita at Pablo’s Eastside, which opened this month at 2010 E. Michigan Ave.
A second restaurant has been in the works for years. Maldonado purchased a defunct Standard Oil station in REO Town in 2014, planning to open a new location inside, but he sold it in 2020. He continued searching for the perfect location and discovered space for sale on East Michigan Avenue, beneath an apartment complex and across the street from The Green Door Bar & Grill and The Avenue Café.
Maldonado called developer Scott Gillespie, who owns the building. He gave Pablo’s a “very good deal” to open up in a corner of the building that had never been occupied.
The restaurant is about three times bigger than the Old Town location, with a full bar, plenty of booth seating and space for 10 tables on the patio.
“I love the spot. It’s very nice,” Maldonado said. “And you wait until summer arrives — there will be umbrellas all over the patio, and there will be a very different view for everyone from the streets. It will be nice.”
“It’s bigger. It’s definitely bigger,” said Maldonado’s daughter, Jacqueline. “The first location has a special place in my parents’ hearts and my heart because we grew up there, and it’s been there for many years, but it’s because of that smaller one that this one was able to happen.”
Pablo Maldonado moved to the United States from a town in the south-central Mexican state of Puebla in the late 1980s. He spent 15 years working at restaurants in New York City but always dreamed of opening his own business.
Then, in 2001, the 9/11 attacks prompted him to move to Michigan.
“I used to work near the World Trade Center, where the twin towers used to be. After everything happened, we decided to move,” he said. “I had family here. Everybody’s moved, but before, we had family here, so we decided to move to Michigan to be close to family.”
Four years later, he opened Pablo’s Old Town, specializing in regional dishes from his hometown in Mexico.
“The Chicken Mole Poblano has five to eight ingredients for the mole sauce and a whole piece of chicken. It’s very popular in Puebla. Probably one of the most successful dishes over there. So, we decided to bring it here,” he said. “And the gorditas. Gorditas are deep-fried packages, and we stuff them with any meat of your choice, cheese and cream. Those are very, very popular here, and that’s also a recipe from my hometown. We have a lot of stuff on the menu, but those are two of the most popular dishes we have.”
“We try to use fresh ingredients the most we can,” he added. “In Michigan, it’s sometimes hard to get ingredients fresh, but we try to get the most we can with no cans.”
For customers, the food is well deserving of rave reviews.
“It’s perfect,” Sarah Reese of Lansing said, looking down at a nearly clean plate. On this trip, she ordered the machaca: scrambled eggs, chopped steak, onions, tomato and green pepper served with refried beans and tortillas.
When asked how Pablo’s compares to other Mexican restaurants in Lansing, Reese’s husband, Brandon, said, “It doesn’t. It’s the best.”
ZaQuan Callahan of Lansing agrees.
“For one, other restaurants don’t have the full drink menu,” he said. “I also feel like they have a pretty decent variety of food, and it’s really palatable for a wide variety of people.”
Callahan is thrilled with the new location, which is much closer to his job at the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Michigan than the Old Town restaurant.
“We really like it because it’s a lot more convenient for us. We’re just down the street, so it lets us be able to support them without having to worry about delivery or long wait times.”
Pablo Maldonado said business at the eastside location has been “great so far,” and he’s only expecting more as word spreads.
Jacqueline Maldonado, who works at the restaurant nearly every day, said its March 6 opening was “really hectic,” and customers have continued to crowd the establishment since.
“It’s nice. It makes you feel proud,” she said.
With two booming locations, Pablo Maldonado has already begun to set his sights on a third.
“I’m thinking about putting something on the south side of Lansing down the road, probably at the end of the year,” he said.
For now, though, he’s just happy the restaurants are a hit.
“All the credit goes to the staff. Their customer service and attitudes are what make the business possible,” he said.
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