For today’s review we paid a little visit to El Ranchito, a hole in the wall favorite of many of Jacksonville’s chefs and prominent food writers. ElRanchito is an 8 table restaurant located in a large shopping center at the corner of Beach blvd. and San Pablo rd. El Ranchito offers authentic Colombian and Cuban food along with a bit of Mexican thrown in for good measure. With all the praise we’d heard for this place from the foodie community we were really excited to give it a try.
Address: 14333 Beach Blvd.
Menu (The only one we could find was on their Facebook page): https://m.facebook.com/144948302220057/menu/?p_ref=pa&refid=9&refsrc=https%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2Felranchitojax&_rdr#_=_
We started things off with a couple of beef empanadas. The empanadas were excellent. These fit clearly in the top tier of Jacksonville empanadas. The crust was nice and flaky and the picadillo style ground beef in the middle was full of flavor. If you like empanadas you’ll likely be very happy with these.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Spanish restaurants in South Florida is the selection of natural juices they all have. These aren’t so common in Jax restaurants. El Ranchito offers 9 different natural juices to choose from. You can enjoy Mango, Passion Fruit, or even guanabana or lulo. After a quick primer from the waitress on what the less familiar juices tasted like we went with lulo. Lulo tastes a bit like kiwi but sweeter. We really enjoyed it. If you like kiwi give it a try.
We ordered two entrees, the ropa vieja and lechon. Ropa vieja, Spanish for “old clothes” is a dish consisting of shredded brisket, flank steak, or skirt steak, typically served in a tomato-based sauce. In our experience the sauce really helps to make Ropa Vieja something special. We were served shredded beef with no sauce of any kind and very little flavor. It was even kind of dry. It came with yellow rice, choice of red or black beans, and sweet plantains or tostones. We chose yellow rice, black beans, and plantains. The rice was moist. The black beans were pretty good. The plantains were nice and sweet. But, they were also really small. They were probably 1/3rd of the size of the plantains that are usually served with Spanish dishes.
Lechon (roast pork) is a traditional dish served in many regions of the world chiefly Spain, its former colonies and the Philippines. The Lechon we were served at El Ranchito was decent. It didn’t blow us away but it was enjoyable.
The service at El Ranchito was average or maybe a little below average. We were there on a Friday night at dinner time and there was one waitress taking care of 6 tables. She seemed a little overwhelmed. She was very friendly and also very knowledgeable about the menu. The food came out in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t expect amazing service from a little place like this so this was acceptable.
One other thing to note is they were out of a few menu items. We tried to order cheese dip. They were out. I was really excited to eat Arepas since I haven’t had them in quite a while……Out again. That was a bit disappointing.
Overall I’d say our trip to El Ranchito was a bit disappointing. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t that great either. After all the glowing recommendations chefs and food writers had given us for this place I expected a lot more. We’ll definitely have to make a trip back some time on week day when things are a bit slower and see if we have a better experience.