The opening of El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant just outside the Village of Williamsville in Amherst, helped the area become a little brighter with the opening of its first authentic Mexican restaurant in the Evanstown Plaza.
Cheap Eats recently embarked on a Saturday afternoon expedition to explore the lunch options — priced $5.99 to $8.50 and available until 3 p.m. — and see if they are worth a return.
Our party of four settled comfortably into a spacious corner booth, where a cheerful server greeted us and promptly placed a basket of warm tortilla chips and salsa on the table. (Points immediately won.) We munched happily on the chips and salsa, both of which are housemade, and took in the bright, warm and welcoming interior while perusing the menu.
“These are among the best I’ve ever had,” one member of our party declared of the chips and salsa. Everyone agreed.
The restaurant opened in early August; however its owners have operated a successful family run eatery of the same name in Clarence since 2012.
“We wanted to expand, and we knew our most frequent customers were from Williamsville,” said Jazmin Duarte Angel, head waitress and one of the owner’s daughters. “The customers were taking quite a trip, so we decided to open one on this side of town to be closer to families here.”
The main difference is size. The Clarence location seats about 50; the Amherst one doubles that with more than 100 as well as a much larger bar area.
Both eateries feature the same extensive menu, which includes many vegetarian dishes, options for children and an “All American” section offering burgers and chicken sandwiches. But different cooks means the food tastes slightly different, noted Duarte Angel.
“Our cook does his mother’s touch, so it feels very similar to back home,” said Duarte Angel, whose parents are from Mexico. “We try to make our food homey.”
For Cheap Eats purposes, we focused on the lunch specials. We tried the beef fajita ($8.50), thinly sliced grilled beef with tomatoes, onions and peppers and rice, beans, lettuce and tortillas; Quesadilla Rellena ($7.25), a grilled chicken tortilla topped with melted cheese and served with guacamole salad and beans; a shrimp quesadilla with cheese ($4.80); and chicken tacos (three for $6.85) and beef tacos (three for $6.85).
What we didn't like: The ground beef has an interesting, and not in a good way, aftertaste. We preferred the chicken tacos. Also, we found the guacamole bland, lacking zest.
What we did like: the cheese-to-taco and quesadilla ratio. The fajita shines as the favorite. The strips of beef are tender, well-seasoned and nicely crisped on the grill. Portions are generous, and everything on the menu is available for take-out.
For those interested in spending a little more, Duarte Angel recommended La Bandera (translation: Mexican flag). This includes three enchiladas — one chicken with cheese sauce, one beef with green sauce and one cheese with red sauce — intended to resemble the Mexican flag ($11.75).
Another is the Burrito Villa ($14.99), a deep-fried burrito with ground beef, chicken, rice and beans inside and topped with nacho cheese and pico de gallo.
Although we were full, we capped our meal with churros ($4.50), crispy donuts powdered with cinnamon and sugar. Between bites, we nodded in agreement: we’ll be back.
Diners seeking authentic Mexican at an affordable price will find it in El Ranchito’s newest venture.
408 Evans St., Amherst (906-331, elranchitowny.com )
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Gluten-free options: Everything on the menu can be made gluten free. Ask the server.