So I guess I should have posted this on Tuesday because, like, Taco Tuesday. Well, Wednesday will have to be good enough. Wait, it’s already so late I probably won’t get it finished and posted until tomorrow, so…Taco Thursday? Oh screw it, is it ever a bad day for tacos? Where was I going with this? Oh yes, La Ranchera Market. They have a Taco Tuesday special, but I was there on a Saturday. I was trying to surprise Ms. Golden Rule’s teenage daughter with some tacos al pastor (her favorite), which their Facebook page had featured a picture of a few days earlier.
La Ranchera is, first and foremost, a market. Think Campos on Orchard, but a little newer and therefore not as skeevy seeming. That is not an insult to Campos, I think their place has better atmosphere. Anyway, all the usual grocery and other sundry items are available, and of course there’s a fresh meat counter. Unlike Campos, the meat counter is tucked around the corner from the counter where you order ready-to-eat stuff, which is apparently important to some people who aren’t me.
There was a definite language barrier. We muddled through, but unless you speak Spanish you can expect at least a little awkwardness. I was able to ascertain that al pastor was not on the menu for the day, which left me with a nonplussed dining companion.
I talked her into ordering carnitas for her tacos, and I chose the same for my torta. The proteins are in a steamer compartment next to the counter where you order your food, and the cook scooped some pork out for a quick crisping-up in a frying pan.
A little word of warning here: if you dig bottles of cold Mexican Coca-Cola with your hot Mexican food as I do, beware the coolers at La Ranchera. I picked the smallest of the three available sizes, and pretty much by accident discovered it was the familiar American HFCS version (luckily I hadn’t paid for it or opened it yet).
Now I don’t claim to be an expert and I certainly haven’t devoted myself to the same extent as some others, but I did a fair amount of eating and writing about street (and street style) tacos on my old site. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a carnitas taco that really surprised me. These did. Mostly because they were naked. The street taco is a symphony of simplicity. A small corn tortilla or two, a little pile of protein, a sprinkle each of chopped onion and cilantro, and a little splash of salsa. These had only 20% of that, the meat and the starch.
Luckily it didn’t take long for us to spot the little self-service toppings bar which provided us with three salsa options, cilantro, onion, pico de gallo, and lime wedges. My teenage taco fiend friend loaded up on fixings and dove in. Her verdict? Carnitas ain’t no substitute for al pastor. She still demolished pretty much all of the four tacos on her plate.
As for my torta, I have to subtract points for the lack of jalapeño. There were none, neither pickled nor fresh, on my sandwich. Or elsewhere in the basket. Or on the toppings bar. I’ve never been served a torta without jalapeño before, and it just seemed kind of lacking. I should probably also subtract a point or two for the bay leaf that was mixed in with the pork, because it’s never fun getting one of those in your mouth. On the other hand, they get points for toasting the inside of the bun, adding cheese, fresh veggies, very nicely cooked meat, and for being the first place who put beans on their torta without putting me off. Seriously, I’m not usually a fan but the beans in this case were very thin and lightly applied, more of an condiment than an ingredient.
When all is said and done, La Ranchera isn’t going to end up on my go-to list for a taco fix, but I wouldn’t refuse a return if someone I was with suggested it or if I happen to be in the area when a craving strikes.