El Ranchero Bar & Grill

Written by on November 21, 2011 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 Chris as a great, “one of the best” Mexican restaurants in Arlington. I happened to walk by it on my way to Safeway and made a mental note that Chris and I should try it at some point (being only a five-minute walk away from home). When I suggested it to Chris, he alerted me of the high recommendations and we decided to try it out, for the first time, when our friends Sam and Jenelle were coming to town to join us for dinner. 

Type of cuisine: Mexican. Page after page of brunch, lunch and dinner selections for a taste of Mexico for 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.

El Ranchero Wall

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: After a quick glance at the menu, I found a page of house specials and was thrilled to see several combination platters that would give me a sample of more than one menu item. I chose the Rancho Platter ($14.95) with one cheese and onion chile relleno, one chicken enchillada and one beef chalupa.

Ranchero Platter

Chris went for the Carne Asada ($15.95), partly at my request since I wanted to try it; grilled beef steak, topped with sauteed onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and slices of avocado served alongside four flour tortillas, rice and beans, and garnished with an El Ranchero side salad.

Carne Asada

The other two in our party ordered the same. When seated, while awaiting our dining companions, we were presented with a plastic football-shaped dish of warm tortilla chips and spicy, watery salsa, with large chunks of fresh-cut jalapneos.

Salsa in a football

Needing a mini break from the spice, we asked for the Chili Con Queso Dip ($6.25) and were offered a small ramekin of smoked, melted, orange cheese (without the red-hot crushed peppers) and our request for a small side of sour cream was never granted. Chris also chose a lemonade and our two dining companions went with the full Mexican theme and ordered margaritas, complete with salted rim.

What I loved: My favorite part of the meal was the fresh avocados on Chris’s plate! On my own plate, the Chile Relleno stole the show. Chris preferred my meal most, defeatedly claiming, “You always order the best thing on the menu when we go out for Mexican food!”

El Ranchero Sides

Why I loved it: The food is great, the portions huge, the staff friendly and the space cozy. We love that it is only a five-minute walk to our mini Mexican getaway.

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

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