El Ranchero Bar & Grill

Written by on May 28, 2012 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(elrancherogrill.com) – Ballston neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: Our friend Bryan first recommended El Ranchero to us in September, when we first moved into our new apartment. We tried it once. We were hooked. We introduced more friends to this taste of Mexico.

Type of cuisine: Mexican. Page after page of brunch, lunch and dinner selections offer a taste of Mexico to an American audience.

Ambiance: From the outside, a lone building sitting on Wilson Boulevard, El Ranchero gives an air of humility, moderation and a less is more approach to authentic Mexican cuisine. Walking past the outdoor patio to make our way inside, we were greeted with a bright space, eclectic, bold and more of a let’s see how much we can cram in here approach. Brick flooring and half-brick walls were the most untreated parts of the space. The yellow walls with rounded windows and doorways were painted with brick print around the curvitures. Every inch of wall space decorated with cowboy hats, metallic bowls, plates, framed pictures, paintings and artwork, a watering can, vases, paper flower leis, Corona beer signs draped from one side of the ceiling to the other, an enormous, over-sized set of spoon and fork (with a missing prong), lanterns, sombreros, wicker baskets, something resembling a witch’s broomstick, and more. One window space had a mural painting of a bustling Mexican restaurant with diners, wait-staff and mariachi band. The thick, wooden tables and matching, heavy chairs with red cushions, kept close together in the seemingly small dining space gave each of us a comfortable, yet very erect seating posture. A large paper fan turned slowly at the center of the ceiling, attracting our eyes only when we looked up from the windows, bedecked with Christmas lights, facing Wilson Boulevard. Just when we thought we had seen it all, out popped the bust of a deer swearing a cowboy hat, red, flannel scarf and bead necklace, a guitar hanging backwards against the wall and a large, plastic balloon chili pepper. The interior, while warm and cozy, gave much entertainment in its clutter and lack of space.  

What I ordered: Among the four of us dining, we selected two appetizers: Guacamole Dip ($6.95), a blend of avocado, tomatoes, onions and spices, served with tortilla chips, and the Chili Con Queso Dip ($6.25), pure melted cheese with red-hot crushed peppers, served with more tortilla chips. This, in addition to the chips and salsa that are presented to the table immediately upon being seated. A glass of lemonade for Chris, three waters for the rest of us, and we were ready for dinner! Our table enjoyed one order of the Carne Asada ($15.95), grilled beef steak topped with sauteed onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and slices of avocado served with flour tortillas and a side of rice and beans, garnished with an El Ranchero side salad.

Carne Asada

We also had one Chicken Fajita ($15.95), and Chris and I shared a Combo (beef & chicken) Fajita for two ($28.95).

Fajitas

Both fajita orders were served with grilled, mixed vegetables (eggplant, red and green bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, zucchini), flour tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes and pico de gallo. Dessert could not be passed up! And the four of us shared two orders of the sopapillas and two home-made flan.

Sopapillas

On a return visit, July 4, 2012: We returned with our good friends, Kit & David for another El Ranchero extravaganza. After enjoying our two appetizers: queso ($6.25) and guacamole ($6.95), all three of my dining companions were in the mood for the Carne Asada ($15.95 each). I had to be different, and was in the mood for a salad; I opted to take our server’s advice and order the Tostada Grande ($11.95): a crispy flour tortilla, topped with beans, beef or chicken (I chose ground beef) and served with tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. To end our meal, we shared two orders of the sopapillas ($5.75 each): fried flour tortillas covered in honey and cinnamon, usually garnished with slices of orange and topped with whipped cream (but they were out).

More Sopapillas

What I loved: Fresh avocados are always a plus in my book! That, and freshly grilled, crispy, yet charred vegetables, tender meats and spicy pico de gallo make for a delicious meal every time!

Why I loved it: While the food always satisfies, our server, Abdel-Wahid was the star of our evening out! His friendliness, personable nature and quick wit leant us more than a few laughs! When you go, make sure and clean your plates! He loves seeing entrees enjoyed to the last morsel. Glasses of water must always be full, regardless of whether you will drink it or not; “I’ll drink it after you leave!” says Abdel-Wahid. Be yourself, joke with him, encourage it, and you will, no doubt, have more than dinner on your visit – a comedy show will definitely be included!

Cost: Average ($13-$20 per dinner entree)

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