Off the Beaten Path, El Ranchito: Legit Tacos


The best Mexican food in the city? A bold statement, too tough to call, but one thing is certain: Taqueria El Ranchito is too legit to quit (the race for the golden taco). Gooey white cheese intermingling with some of the most succulent, juicy beef married in a tortilla bed of taco, burrito or quesadilla ecstasy. Truly a transformative experience that will take you to a whole other level of epic tacos, straight to an authentic land of horchata and honey.

After confirming through a recent poll, one would be hard pressed to find an individual who does not like Mexican food. That being said, there are various levels of taco greatness. Taco Bell, while delicious in a well hydrated haze at 2 am on the weekend, is not considered "real" Mexican by most. The shells and burritos are there, but the mass produced Americanized version of south of the border fare is far beyond traditional with new fangled stars like the quesarito (burrito wrapped in a quesadilla) and the waffle taco (pretty much what it sounds like).

Enough about the Bell, although it is a staple in fast food culture, it is not exactly quality. Yes, it is like every other Taco Bell you walk into, but you are almost guaranteed some quality time with the porcelain throne after a late night fiesta. We admit we're intrigued about the new waffle taco, but our gastrointestinal tracts cringe in ominous forewarning.

However! "Don't judge a book by its cover" is a lesson that we all remember, though it can be hard to put into practice. Upon driving up to El Ranchito, one might worry they had the wrong address. A veritable hole in the wall, it is tacked on to the back end of Legends Sports Bar on North Clinton. The sign is unclear, with zigzagging letters mounted on corrugated iron above the door and sole window only spelling out: RESTAURANT.

Those faint of heart might at this point turn away, put off by the lack of facade and the barren landscape. However, after braving the night markets and street food of Asia, this explorer pushed onwards, only slightly deterred. Often the best kept secrets are a city's most local, most authentic spots off the beaten path. They may not be pretty, but they're real … tasty; and the parking lot was full. One tell-tale sign before eating anywhere: notice how busy they are. Lots of people = good food.

Every time I've been to El Ranchito, no matter the odd hour, the tiny corner kitchen is always bustling. Seating is limited to about 4 booths and 3 tables, and they're usually occupied. Don't be put off if you're the only Gringo inside, wait a few minutes, someone will join you. I'm constantly amused by the range of people, from Spanish speakers to businessmen in suits, good tacos are good tacos. What it lacks in size, it makes up in flavor.

Even the decorations are zesty. Flaming horse paintings hang next to half naked Aztec gods and brightly colored brick-a-brac. Once the decor is noted, the menu becomes the main attraction. Walker, from Saint Louis, MO, leaves this raving 5 star review on yelp for "Taqueria El Ranchito:"

"Their food is amazing!! This is the freshest chips and guacamole I've had in a while. The Al Pastor is cooked with the pineapple and spices and it gets charred right when served. I also had the tongue, pork belly, and chorizo tacos. They were all cooked perfectly  … and perfectly tasty! They also have a full selection of glass-bottled drinks including pepsi, and sidral mundet (apple soda). You can also get Boingo in mango and guava flavors. Boingo is this glass-bottled nectar that goes great with your spicy meal."

Not convinced by this traveling roller derby fanboy's review? If you're looking for "authentic" food, who could give better advice than a chef? The man behind the big yum known as Chops, Chef Bryan, first introduced Das Fort to El Ranchito. His house favorite is the lingua, which is a tongue taco, and he also enjoys the chorizo tacos. I called him for an official statement:

"It's the best taco spot in Fort Wayne, hands down. Not really heard of, it's a hidden gem. You can get a couple beers, have a few tacos, and the service is great too."

There you have it. A bold statement backed up by an authoritative figure in the food world. If you need further recommendations, the staff and owner (Sergio) of El Ranchito are extremely friendly and helpful. The horchata is sweet, and the food is consistently high quality, reasonably priced. What's not to love?

To be fair, the beefy queso dip is not quite as good as Cebolla's, another strong contender in the best Mexican race. The atmosphere is not as commercial as Cebolla's either, but that is half the charm. "Real" Mexican in a "real" joint.

Personally, I think it's the best steak quesadilla in town. Find out for yourself, visit El Ranchito today, open Sunday-Thursday 10-10, Friday and Saturday till 4 am at 4104 North Clinton Street, Fort Wayne, IN.