I swore I wasn’t going to touch the chips.
We met some old friends who were back in Roanoke for a visit at Rancho Viejo on Electric Road one recent night, and I’ve got enough self-awareness to know that my typical experience with Mexican cuisine goes something like this: Tortilla chips and salsa show up with the menus, and they’ve usually magically disappeared by the time the second round of drinks arrives. Then when my actual entrée arrives, I just stare at it, imagining how much I’d be enjoying it if I’d just left the chips in the basket.
I mostly did okay this night, but it was late, I was hungry, and once you add a dash of hot sauce, the salsa goes down pretty easy. A little too easy.
And besides, looking over the menu at Rancho Viejo takes a little while – especially when you’re catching up with old friends – so we had a bit of time to kill. There’s an array of 31 “Combination Dinners” consisting of traditional Mexican restaurant staples as enchiladas, burritos, or tacos, and there are several other sections featuring chicken, beef, pork or seafood dishes. And one great thing about the menus at Rancho Viejo is that there are plenty of grilled meat dishes, which came in handy for a member of our party who was bound and determined to stay away from carbs.
For the record, that person was not me. I had the Chile Verde, a dish of savory, juicy pork over a tangy tomatillo sauce, and – like many dishes at the “Old Ranch,” – served with flour tortillas, refried beans and Mexican rice. I also had an a la carte order of Chiles Rellenos, or poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and seasoned beef. Meanwhile, my wife went with the Camarones a la Diabla, being a sucker for both shrimp and things named after the devil, at least when spiciness is what’s being implied. To hear her tell it, the little hot pepper icon on the menu was a bit of an overstatement, but she’s seriously got a spicy food problem. I’ve seen her dare people in Thai restaurants to try to hurt her.
There’s an old saying: “You can never go wrong with fajitas.” OK, that’s not really an old saying, but it ought to be. Our friend opted for the steak version, and had no complaints. Plenty of sliced beef, green peppers, and onions, served on the de rigueur sizzling black cast-iron skillet. Half show and half good, basic food. And carb ban or no carb ban, I’d swear in court I saw her loading up a warm flour tortilla with beans and guacamole. Her husband went with the Fajitas Cancún, which replace the beef with grilled shrimp and scallops. Too late, we noticed the “Sizzling Cadillac Fajitas,” a behemoth serving four, with steak, pork, chicken shrimp, and scallops, with all the trimmings. Next time.
I’m not the most interesting man in the world, but I do enjoy an occasional Dos Equis, especially when it’s on tap. There are several other Mexican beers on the list, but the ladies both opted for jumbo margaritas, and had no complaints. We weren’t sure what the carb situation was there, but I would have felt churlish bringing it up.
Interesting side note about the name of the restaurant: My wife keeps calling me “el Viejo,” but she won’t tell me why.
Naturally, given the aforementioned predictable tortilla chip fiasco, we had plenty to take home at the end of dinner; Rancho Viejo’s portions are hearty, and our server was kind enough to wrap everything up and make sure it all went to the correct owner. By this time, we hated to leave good company, but it was past closing, and we consoled ourselves with the fact that we’d had a fine meal with treasured friends. And the knowledge that next time they’re in town, we’re coming back for the Sizzling Cadillac!