The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Mick Vann, February 4, 2011, Food

Mi Ranchito Taqueria

1105 FM 1626, Manchaca, 512/292-8107
5200 E. William Cannon, 632-9196
Monday-Saturday, 6am-9pm; Sunday, 6am-2pm

The first Mi Ranchito opened up at the northwest corner of William Cannon and Pleasant Valley about five years ago. It occupies the eastern interior portion of a hopping little convenience store and has limited seating (hence the frequent to-go orders at that location). Ten months ago, owners Leticia and Celio Najera opened a second, much larger location at the southwest corner of where Manchaca Road dead-ends into FM 1626; going south on Manchaca, you'll run right into it unless you turn. The south location seats about 45 or so, and the tables turn quickly. Both locations feature the same menu of dishes from Mexico's Cuernavaca and Morelia.

My chef buddies and I started eating at the south location about three months ago, and as we've explored the menu, every single dish has been outstanding; it has become our go-to Mexican restaurant in town. The tamales (12 for $10, six for $6.50, one for $1.50) garner wide acclaim and are available in pork, beef, or chicken. The porky masa is light and fluffy, and the plump fillings are rich and delicious. "We make tamales every morning, and the secret is to work the masa and lard for at least an hour. That's what gives it that great texture. People love our tamales," says Leticia. The same masa must go into making the huaraches ($6.50), sopes ($7), and gorditas ($6.50) because they're all excellent, with none of the dense, heavy texture that's so common in lesser restaurants. Any of the three can be topped with your choice of meat.

The tacos are wrapped perfection (breakfast, $1.50; savory, $1.75). The folks at Mi Ranchito use high-quality corn tortillas, which come doubled on the tacos, and they make their own flour tortillas. Taco meat choices include: beef and chicken fajita, carne guisada, picadillo, chicharrón, brisket, barbacoa, pork al pastor, carnitas, chorizo with nopalitos, suadero (beef rib meat), and deshebrada (shredded beef, akin to ropa vieja). The taqueria recently added a gringa taco ($2.25, any meat topped with onions and cilantro and lots of gooey white cheese) and a taco suiza ($2.25, topped with cheesy béchamel).

The tortas are amazing: huge, golden-brown, buttered, and grilled bolillos with your choice of meat, plus refried beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, all with a side of thin, crispy fries for $6. The burgers are made with half-pound hand-formed patties topped with chorizo – order one with cheese (it holds on the chorizo), and then douse it with the spicy green sauce. It's a burger-fry combo that's hard to beat. This place also offers a monstrous burger with jack cheese, bacon, ham, and avocado ($7; don't tell your cardiologist).

All the plates range in price from $6 to $8, and all come with lush refried or bacony charro beans, richly seasoned rice, a small salad topped with avocado slices, and your choice of tortillas. I got stuck on the pork with green sauce ($7) for weeks simply because it is so good: melt-in-your-mouth pork cubes swimming in a spicy green chile sauce; it's just as good with the red sauce. The enchiladas are full of moist chick­en or savory picadillo: a trio of them, plumply filled and topped with mixed cheeses and sauce, is only $8. The chile relleno ($8) is a huge, thick, stuffed poblano chile in a light egg batter, topped with cheese and red sauce. It is fantastic – one of the best I've eaten lately.

Mi Ranchito has menudo ($7) every day, and friends tell me it is great (I avoid organs and filters), and the caldo de res ($7) keeps tempting me (it looks delicious in its big steaming bowl, brimming with vegetables and beef chunks). The flautas (five for $8) are crunchy and plump, topped with green sauce and cheese, and the carne asada with nopalitos ($8) is excellent: strips of tender grilled steak mixed with strips of almost-crunchy cactus paddle. If there's a complaint at all against anything, it might be that we think the chile con queso ($3) is a little too thin.

The gem of the entire restaurant is the serve-yourself salsa bar, where you'll find limes, pico de gallo, and four salsas. The very spicy bright-green salsa, my favorite, is made from avocado and jalapeños, and next to it is a tamer, less spicy version of the same sauce. The favorite red salsa is the roasted one; it's a little darker than the casera/house salsa, with bits of charred chile, onion, and garlic floating around.

Mi Ranchito is a wonderful addition to the Austin Mexican food scene, and the Najera family is very welcome indeed. Prices are reasonable, the portions are large, everyone is smiling (staff and customers), most of the menu bases are covered, the food comes out quickly, and, most important of all, the flavors are complex and delicious. Nos gusta Mi Ranchito!

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