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Monday, 17 September 2012

El Rancho - All in the Family

Dining at family-run eateries is a privilege. You know that the proprietors are not reading out of a manual and that recipes, more than likely, are derived from family traditions.

Moo enjoys a cold one - Salvadorean Kolashampan (champagne-flavoured cola)

Moo, Adventures of a SK Girl and I have heard much about El Rancho, which is a family-run El Salvadorean restaurant on 118 Avenue. The space is small and dressed in warm colours. Our server turns out to be one of the owners; she normally cooks with her mother in the back. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the menu, naturally; her suggestions for supper are spot-on. She even makes some menu changes for us, such as adding additional items into platters that normally contain two of each item, so that we all can sample everything.

Don't ever pooh-pooh the pupusas

Supper starts with a trio of pupusas. Each pupusa is a thick and tender tortilla made of white corn, stuffed with flavourful pork and cheese. A spicy tomato sauce and lightly-dressed coleslaw are along for the ride. Each bite is a sweetly granular burst of sunny corn that evolves into creamy cheese and subtle pork. Dribbles of tomato salsa elevate this dish to the realm of "absolutely addictive."

Enchiladas in the foreground, framed by flautas, tacos in the back right corner

We dive into a generous platter of flautas, tacos and enchiladas Salvadorenas. The flautas, while deep-fried, are not heavy and are bursting with juicy shredded chicken. The tacos are soft and, though I must confess that Tres Carnales sets the bar pretty high, are stuffed with a credible mixture of chicken, cilantro, tomatoes, and onions. Enchiladas are, so far, the evening's runaway hit. At first, they appear to be a precarious tower of cheese, chicken, tomatoes, cuke and radish that barely balances on a crispy tortilla shell. Amazingly, the shell remains intact until the last delicious bite. One wrong move and the entire works would end up on my clothes.

We are yet still hungry (and the last photo did not turn out, unfortunately), and continue to nosh on tamales. These are steaming bundles of cornmeal stuffed with tender chicken, potatoes and chickpeas. A dark green banana leaf wrapper keeps the ingredients in place. Winner of the evening is fried plantains. Creamy on the inside and wickedly caramelized on the outside, each bite begs for another. The plantains alone would be grounds for another visit to El Rancho. Knowing that the family behind the scenes is personally invested in each bite of food served is the best reason of all.


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