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AZ RESTO TOUR

Eating through London's restaurants Alphabetically.

#23 EL RANCHITO

imageCUISINE: Mexican ADDRESS: 111 Wellington Road DATE: October 18, 2013

I’ve decided that there is a certain level of authenticity in Mexican food which I can tolerate.

Like, I love spicy food, corn tortillas, and fresh vegetables. But I also love cheddar cheese, deep-fried goodness and I hate MOLE.

I have tried to like it, but it’s not gonna happen. I don’t care for chocolate in my savory dishes.

Actually, that goes for all dessert flavours in to entrees: I don’t like Lemon Chicken either. Or Marshmallow Spaghetti.*

*not a thing.

That being said, I had reason to look forward to El Ranchito. Its existence on the “York Street Tunnel” section of Wellington Road (since 2002) has got to be an indication of persistence in the face of meth addicts. And I know of people who come in from out-of-town just to get takeout. In the time we dined there, at least 30 people came in to pick up dinner. The place was definitely bustling.

I had another reason to look forward to El Ranchito: the homecoming of Andrew Varkaris, the third blog appearance of my officemate Jess (we spend so much time together, if we both yawn, it’s the same NOTE) and two new guests of the AZ RESTO tour: work friends Michelle and Staci!

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Michelle!

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Can you guess which one is the mother of two babies? It’s not the one covering her face. Staci is still her chill self. Jess, on the other hand…MESS.

Michelle, Staci, Jess and I were headed to a “Ladies Hot Tub Night”, a regular occurrence for us, at Rebekkah the Sceptic’s house. Rebekkah, as a general rule, likes to wear PJs takeout on the couch on a Friday night, so she was “unavailable” (read: NAPPING) on this Friday night.

I love getting new perspectives on the food at any restaurant. Michelle is originally from Australia, known centre of all the best Mexican food*, and Staci has two kids under one, so I can only assume she mostly has cereal and sleep for dinner.

(*still not a thing)

The diners arrived in fits and starts: Jess, Andrew and I were coming from school, where Andrew was giving notes on the play Jess and I were working on at school. We arrived first, and were promptly served giant drinks in cactus glasses.

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YES.

Oh, we also got salsa. Not chips and salsa, just delicious-smelling bowls of Latin sauce. Tantalizing us.

Next in was Ian, and I was excited to share my Bahama Mama, a strawberry banana pina colada that we usually imbibe together on the beach during our annual winter holiday.

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ONLY 50 DAYS UNTIL WE ARE ON THE BEACH IN MEXICO AHHHHHH

Ian and I have been to Mexico twice before, but because the hotel that we went to was considered “gourmet all-inclusive”, we really had no chance to taste the authentic Mexican cuisine.

This place had a gluten-free menu.

Let’s just say, the waiters English was so good, I had no opportunity to practice the pocquito Spanish I still have in my brain from Spanish lessons at 15.

[SCENE: a beachside cafe at All-Inclusive in Mexico. Lunchtime. Needless to say, Ian and I are, ahem, waterlogged.]

MEGAN: Hola!!! Como…esta…usted.
HILARIO: Good afternoon, ma’am. Another Bahama Mama?
MEGAN: Si!!!! Bueno. Muy bueno.
HILARIO: Have you decided?
MEGAN: Yes. Si!! Unh….hamburgesa…san….lechuga.
HILARIO: So, the hamburger? No lettuce.
MEGAN:(beaming with pride) Siii!
HILARIO: Fries?
MEGAN: Si, unh….(looking desperately at the menu; finding no helpful translation). Yes. Fries.
HILARIO: Great.
MEGAN: (Sigh)

[Please note that I am wayyyyy friendlier in Spanish than I am in real life.]

When Staci and Michelle arrived, we also got a delivery of the long-awaited nachos. They were clearly prepared in-house, but most of us found them a little bit too crunchy…almost like the tortillas were too thick to start with.

Of course, if you’ve ever dined in at Mexican restaurant that serves you nachos at the beginning, you already know what happened next: we ate ALL OF THEM.

To be fair, we did like the salsa. It was both sweet and a little spicy, although the spice level was so debatable, we had to try all three bowls on our long table to ensure that they were all the same.

They were, and a medium spice at best.

Drinks in hand (Andrew: The ice cubes are little TOP HATS), we ordered our meals, and I ingested a few of these:

imageBring on the Mexican food.

Sometimes Staci gets weirded out when former students of ours are on the scene, but Andrew was more than excited to be a part of all the teacher gossip. And as per usual, he was spinning some bon mots of his own, including the criteria in order to be considered “drag eligible” (FYI: face, shoe size, wig eligibility).

First out of the kitchen was Ian’s jalepeno cheese soup:

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Ian liked it, but I tried a bite and didn’t taste a flavour any deeper than the beer and cheddar soup at Jack Astor’s.

Also, a platter of my new favourite from our visits to Casa Blanca arrived: fried plantains, just as crispy, chewy and caramelized as they are at Casa Blanca.

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Everyone agreed that they are sweet enough to be more of dessert than an appetizer, and most only politely ate one.

I politely ate five.

Jess was very excited when her meal arrived:image

JESS: It’s a chicken and potato medley!! Like, why would I not get that? It is so good, with this (finger-point, sound effect)….cheese.

Staci got a medley of things as well. She liked the bean and pepper pupusas (the pancake-looking things), and the veggie flautas as well, but the TOSTADA, not so much.

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STACI: Whatever this HARD THING is, it’s not worth the effort it takes to eat it. I feel like if I keep going, I’m going to damage the wires on the back of my teeth.

Ian enjoyed his platter of goodness, too:

imagePupusas that he decreed “better than Casa Blanca”, flautas, a tostada, rice and Ian’s favourite, coleslaw. 

He’s pretty much Britney Spears with his love of coleslaw. At Thanksgiving this year, he declared my mom and dad’s meal “good, but missing coleslaw”. A Twitter post by me, soliciting input, quickly clarified that coleslaw in not a standard Thanksgiving dish and that Ian needs to END IT.

Andrew, formerly of Under the Volcano, ordered his standard dish, seafood paella, filled with mussels, shrimp and chicken.

imageHe declared it “at LEAST DOUBLY as good as the one at Under the Volcano.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Michelle and I both got the same thing, and neither of us liked it. Ours looked like this:

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One was a burrito, one was a chimichanga, both were filled with some kind of mushy interior that at one point Michelle identified as EGG. They were flavourless, too soft, and a big disappointment for those very standard Mexican dishes.

And, after a quick trip to Urban Spoon, we’re not the only ones that felt this way:

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So, to salvage my meal, Andrew and I got fried Ice cream to split.

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The flavour was great, the coating crunchy, but we found the ice cream a little too frozen to fully ingest.

So I ate a couple more fried plantains. They really are good as dessert.

We had a fun night, but for me, it was more about the company than the food. Nothing blew me away: drinks and dessert were ok, app was good, but the chips and meal were really not good.

If you’re thinking of going to El Ranchito…..go to Casa Blanca on Highbury.

Or straight to Mexico LIKE ME IN 50 DAYS AHHHHHHHH

2.5/5 stars

El Ranchito on Urbanspoon