El Rancho Spices Little Egg Harbor With Mexican Flavor

By MARIA SCANDALE | Dec 20, 2017
Photo by: Maria Scandale El Rancho in Mystic Island

It was a Friday evening at El Rancho Mexican Restaurant and snow was coming, but the inside was warm with smiles delivered along with steaming-hot plates to the table.

One family was celebrating a birthday – they needed some time to study the menu’s nearly five dozen choices, plus sides. At a smaller table, a regular to the restaurant knew exactly what she wanted – she has returned with friends and family every week for two years.

El Rancho is tucked into a nice L-shaped strip mall at 240 Mathistown Road in Mystic Island. It is an oasis of authentic Mexican food in the neighborhood – the owners hail from Oaxaca.

“Cantina-style” is how one new patron approvingly described the decor – murals on the walls depict South of the Border scenes. Cozy café tables of wrought iron topped with patterned tiles are spaced along the walls around the larger tables in the center.

The owners are David Quezada and Gina Gonzalez. Gina greets customers at the front desk, or it may be family member Candy Valazquez, whose smile also lights the room.

Gina first worked locally in restaurants cooking Italian and American food. She worked for the original owner of El Rancho for a year, then the owner offered her the chance to buy the business. She and David did that in 2013, and it has been growing ever since.

They describe the overall cuisine as the Tex-Mex style, which is defined as using a lot of cheese, along with meat, beans, peppers and spices.

The menu is so loaded, it’s impossible to try everything enticing on the first visit – unless you’re that large family at the long table and everyone tries a taste of the others’.

On the menu, you’ll find all the expected traditional nachos, burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, tostadas, tacos and much more, such as marinated pork with chopped pineapple, chiles rellenos, and seafood dishes, all in generous portions.

The El Rancho Combo is steak, grilled cactus, green enchilada and Spanish sausage – the meal is a conversation starter here.

Another of many authentic dishes is sopes, a round cornmeal cake topped with green sauce, cheese, onions, cilantro, lightened cream sauce and avocado with a choice of chicken or steak.

Customers who love the food are easy to find. Sheila Mathis drives from Warren Grove regularly.

“This is the only place that we come out to, and we’re usually here once a week. Sometimes I wind up getting lunch and taking it home with me if I’m here,” she said.

“The quality of the food is incredible. We’ve never had a bad meal in almost two years, and the amounts that they give you are humongous,” Mathis added.

She loves the fajitas, the cheese enchiladas with onions, “and I get the green sauce on it instead of the red sauce; that’s my favorite.”

With ancestors as the namesake of the very road in the restaurant’s address, Mathis was raised in New Gretna, where there was no Mexican restaurant. Her mom wasn’t sure what to order, so Sheila steered her toward the shrimp, with pleasing results.

“We never had Mexican food in this area for the longest time, so my mom had no idea. I brought her here, and she gets the fried shrimp and thinks it’s the best fried shrimp she ever had, and every time we come here, that’s what she gets.”

There are soups, salads, sandwiches, homemade fries, Mexican drinks, homemade desserts and a children’s menu.

Upstairs, the Lenape Party Hall is available for private parties up to 100 people. This particular cold Friday night, the phone was ringing with requests for the deliveries that the restaurant makes.

Call 609-812-1700 or stop in seven days a week. See the Facebook page for more details.

— Maria Scandale


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