El Rancho Taqueria is a countertop-conveyorbelt-style setup along one edge of the El Rancho Supermercado across from Trader Joe’s on Redwood Road in Castro Valley. What I mean is that it’s a Subway Sandwiches sort of deal with one long glass-protected counter where you order and watch as the cooks assemble your order in front of you. You then make your way down the length of the counter and pay at the end. When we went the other day, there was a line of a few people in front of us and the service was sloooow.
We visited El Rancho on a recommendation from friends, but we sadly did not have as pleasant of an experience as they did. I thought at first that the service was taking so long because one of the cooks must be new. But after watching both of the men scurrying around behind the counter handle some of the food, I realized otherwise. I think it was actually a large to-go order that was holding up the line, though I feel like they could have dealt with it a bit better than they did (for example, have one cook work on the to-go and the other help the patrons in line). Regardless, we paid at the counter and decided to eat in, which appears to be less common that to go orders.
There is a little section of chairs and tables–nice ones, actually–just near the food counter and we sat down at one of the clean, tidy tables. Since this place is in a supermarket, we were surrounded by the non-refrigerated beverages on one side, and the refrigerated drinks behind us. It did make for a colorful scenery, and we had a variety of refreshments to choose from–I bought a Snapple.
The menu at this place is standard Taqueria: burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and soups, but also has tortas, tostadas, breakfast, dinner packs, dinner combos, and seafood meals. I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the standard choices also listed with a vegetarian option on the menu. All Mexican food can be made veggie–just take out the meat–but not all places list the items on their menu as vegetarian. This always makes me feel more comfortable ordering meat-less dishes, I can be confident that they already know what they’re doing. Veggie choices include burrito, quesadilla, torta, and tostada.
I ordered a veggie torta, which is like a Mexican sandwich, and Boyfriend got a veggie burrito. At the recommendation of our friends, we also tried an a la carte chile relleno. The torta included melted cheese, freshly sliced tomato and avocado, lettuce, mayo, and onions. It was pretty good, I enjoyed it. Boyfriend’s veggie burrito had the standard beans, rice, cheese, and also included tomatoes, lettuce, and guacamole. It was pretty good as well, though we’re somewhat of veggie burrito elitists, so we’re a bit hard to please on this item.
The chile relleno was a different matter. The one described to us by our friends was delicious. Lightly battered, fried but not greasy, and smothered in a delicious tomato sauce. Ours was not similar to this. It was large but flat and floppy, filled with an inordinate amount of cheese, and resting in a pool of grease – no sauce. I’m not sure what went wrong with it, but I deemed it not worth eating and only had a few bites. My friend showed me another chile relleno he bought at a later date that was again what he experienced the first time. Maybe we just hit them on an off day.
Overall, I didn’t find this place particularly special, though Yelp reviewers seem to disagree. The store itself is actually awesome; it’s phenomenally clean and organized and offers a large variety of Mexican food stuffs. Plus, their take away menu is extremely pro. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so if you’re driving by it might not be a bad option. I may not be returning just because there are literally hundreds of other taquerias to try in the area, but it seems like other people really like this place, so I wouldn’t be opposed to trying it again someday.
Also, where else are you going to fill all your tomato and shrimp juice needs?