Restaurant Review: Ranchero Kitchen
Ranchero Kitchen sits in a strip mall on Morse Road just East of 71. It should be easy to get to, but things can go catywaumpus on Morse, and here, Siri suggests an adventurous path that includes driving over a lawn. It’s worth the ride.
With a shimmering chandelier at the center of the joint, it makes a ritzy first impression. Settle in, though, with the laminated menus and the silverware rolled in paper napkins, and Ranchero Kitchen’s mission becomes more clear: to provide Salvadoran foods in straight-shooting style.
Pupusas are one of the more well-known options associated with Salvadoran cooking. Here, the traditional munchie is built on a wholesome, grainy, poofy tortilla that holds a surprise inside. Then again, it’s not really a surprise if you know pupas; they’re filled with chicken, pork, beans, or loroco. The loroco option was unfamiliar, and the server helpfully explained that it’s an herb. In a pupusa, it becomes a vehicle for melty cheese that’s accented with its little green leaves. The chicken pupusa also provides ample melted-cheese with a few little bits of chicken in the mix. Both are universally likable, and all versions are bargain-priced at $2 each. The pockets are easily binge-worthy, and come with a slaw that is fresh and crisp — more reminiscent of brined pickles than a traditional, sweetly dressed slaw.
While there are still a few months before prime soup weather, the Short Rib & Veggies ($9.99) soup is pleasant enough to justify some off-season slurping. Its big chunks of soft, stewed meat soak in a light broth with equally sizable, coarsely cut chunks of vegetables: mostly cabbage, zucchini and carrots. There’s a little vat of sauce on the side. Sampled straight, the sauce will burn your face off . . . the soup is (temperature-wise) warm enough, but for hot heads who need more spice: it’s there for you.
Typical midwestern sandwich construction involves layers that deliver uniform doses of flavor. Ranchero Kitchen’s Pan Con Pollo ($7.99) delivers a little something different and worth investigation in each bite. The sandwich adventure-land comes courtesy of its parade of vegetables that make every mouthful distinct: cucumber slice, watercress, beans, and the very best: marinated cauliflower in the hue of glowing orange. Under the veggies is the house slaw and a few blobs of chicken salad with a curiously strong (and pleasant) flavor that is reminiscent of egg salad. It’s all packed into a great big, soft roll.
For those who are more comfortable with south-of-the-border classics, the menu also features tacos, quesadillas and burritos. The tacos are bargain priced at $2 each (like the pupusas). The traditional ones are served straight with cilantro, onions, lime and salsa verde. Both the chicken and the al pastor versions were winners.
For those who aren’t comfortable with south-of-the-border stuff, about a third of the menu involves items such as burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fettuccine. The latter is a few grades above Olive Garden, with lots of creamy sauce, chunks of chicken and a serious investment in loops of red and green peppers, plus slices of garlic bread. It’s entirely likable, if not terribly authentic-seeming.
Service is solid. There are some timing issues. One entree was about five minutes behind the rest, and the bill took a little bit to receive. Good-natured types won’t mind. Bad-natured guests will lose their minds over this, though: choose your companions carefully.
You can find it (using Siri at your own risk) at 984 Morse Rd.