6601 Terhune Drive
What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than with a visit to an authentic, family-owned and operated Mexican restaurant? I stopped in to El Rancho Grande in Middletown with my friend Gail, to catch up on things and sample the delicious margaritas while we were at it. The restaurant has grown from a humble beginning inside a former Howard Johnsons to a purpose-built, free standing building just off State Route 122, and the enterprise has grown to encompass seven locations, including Sharonville and West Chester.
I hadn't been to the restaurant since they had moved house, but some things remain constant - there are still friendly servers, a bustling atmosphere and tasty drinks. The restaurant sports several hand-painted murals depicting scenes of Guadalajara, giving the new building an old world ambiance. That I was able to photograph one of them is down to getting there as soon as they opened, because the restaurant does such a roaring trade that normally all the surrounding tables are filled.
Gail and I weren't bothered that it wasn't yet noon. We ordered a round of margaritas anyway. Tequila features heavily in El Rancho Grande's drinks selections, although there are also an impressive number of Mexican beers on hand. Draft beer is limited to Budweiser and Bud Light, with several different sized pitchers available. The restaurant also has the usual Coke-family of soft drinks and non-alcoholic frozen drinks. The restaurant's happy hour runs 3-6 p.m. daily.
There are five vegetarian specials on the menu:
1. Bean burrito and cheese enchilada with rice or beans
2. Burrito with mashed potato, cheese quesadilla and guacamole salad
3. Mushroom quesadilla with rice and beans
4. Bean burrito with melted cheese and mushrooms, rice and beans
5. Vegetarian fajitas - sauteed bell pepper, onion, squash, tomato and mushroom served with lettuce, fried beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
I went with #2, as I wanted to see if it was as good as a similar dish that I make at home on occasion. It was decent, but relied heavily on enchilada sauce to carry the flavor. When I make mine, I add diced onion, sour cream and avocado to the mashed potato so that the reliance on sauce is minimal. El Rancho Grande's mashed potato burrito was simply mashed potato rolled in a flour tortilla, smothered in enchilada sauce and baked. Not bad, but not all that great either. I was also disappointed in the guacamole salad - mainly because it tasted like it had gone off. After one bite I left it untouched.
I hope this visit isn't an indication of what happens when a good family restaurant mutates into a chain. Perhaps I would have enjoyed my meal more had I chosen something else, but that doesn't excuse the restaurant from serving ruined guacamole. That's just wrong.