First, let me say that there are two El Rancho restaurants in Northern Virginia: One in Backlick Plaza in Springfield, and a second on Columbia Pike in South Arlington. They used to be under the same umbrella, but as you can see, that is no longer the case:
The website for the South Arlington restaurant is here, and the website for the Springfield restaurant is here. To put into perspective just how similar the two restaurants are, the South Arlington restaurant still uses a menu that refers to Springfield’s website – the ownership change must be fairly recent. Anyway, this thread is about the South Arlington El Rancho on Columbia Pike.
I’ve been here several times, and it is definitely a working-man’s restaurant (and I say “man” with a purpose, because you do see a lot of Latino workers here, refueling after a long day on the job).
The Pollo a la Brasa is decent, but on my most recent visit, I got Carne Asada ($11.69), a grilled steak platter with choice of two sides – I ordered Yuca Fries and Black Beans and Rice, and it came with a tiny plastic tub of pico de gallo and some of the pink dipping sauce for the yuca.
If you’ve been to area Salvadoran-owned restaurants (*), you can probably picture pretty much exactly how this food was, except that the portion sizes are more modest than you’ll often see (a lot of times when you order Carne Asada, you have leftovers for the next day; not so in this case). The steak is invariably cooked to well-done, the yuca is often somewhat mushy in the center, and the black beans and rice are always good. And so it was.
I’m really straining to come up with something interesting to say about this meal, but this was food that you eat; not food that you dine on. It’s tasty, satisfying, filling, and (fried yuca aside) not at all unhealthy. The problem, of course, being that other than beans and rice, most other sides at these restaurants are either “fried” or “saucy” or both, so you’d have to double up on the rice and beans in order to make this a healthy meal, and even then the beef was pretty darned salty.
Well, I managed to write a few paragraphs about not a whole lot. El Rancho is a perfectly decent Pan-Latino restaurant that’s clean (not always the case, mainly due to age), and has very polite employees who don’t speak a lot of English. For me, if I’m hungry, and in the area, and don’t feel like analyzing what I’m eating, it’s a repeat.
(*) I believe the owners here are from Ecuador.