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The question continues to be asked: Does Little Rock need another “authentic Mexican restaurant”? That answer is still uncertain, because they keep coming.
Actually, the newest Mexican eatery has taken over for a statewide chain popular in smaller towns that tried the big city and left. El Acapulco, which apparently is popular in Searcy, Conway and other places, gave way recently to Mi Ranchito in the Market Street Shopping Center.
Mi Ranchito is also a mini-chain in smaller cities, we learned — there are Mi Ranchitos in Searcy (of course), Bryant, Batesville and Kennett, Mo.
The chain is owned by Alex Jasso, whom we met when we visited his new endeavor in West Little Rock. He’s friendly, as is his entire young wait staff.
Mi Ranchito is a step up in quality from El Acapulco’s offerings, too. It just may be my favorite little new Mexican eating joint, at least if we’re in search of “authentic” Mex/Tex Mex.
Yes, it has just about everything every one of these restaurants is offering. First, a massive menu of so many choices, you could eat there every day for a year, eat something different, and still not cover the entire selection.
They have white cheese dip. It has a potent kick, and is not just bland, gooey, glue-like. Good.
They have guacamole that’s creamy but doesn’t appear to be pumped up with sour cream. We’ve begun to favor the newer trend around here of chunkier, mashed up guac like you find at the taquerias, but for a creamy style this one is fine.
Despite that massive menu, they manage to get out what you order, even to a large table, quickly. Good.
They seem to know how to get some nice flavor in their carnitas (roast pork). Get them with tortillas and all the sides and eat to your heart’s content. They’re great.
Mi Ranchito’s massive menu has, believe it or not, a section of “especialidades” and another for “nuevas (new) especialidades.” We’re not sure how long Mi Ranchito has been around in those other towns, but we’re kind of impressed they’ve already added 16 new specials to the 17 they already had. Then, there are even seven “especialidades de la casa.” Things are so “special” here, Razorback football coach Houston Nutt should feel at home (he likes to say “special” a lot, in case you wondered).
The Steak Mi Ranchito was one of the new selections, and it comes with tortillas and a plate of a lot of other fresh fixings. But the steak is served like any other restaurant would serve a steak: as in whole, and if you’re going to put this on tortillas, you’re going to work at it. One of our group did, and loved it. The steak was tender enough, he said, to suffice as a good steak anywhere.
Of the house specials, we went with camarones a la diabla — six large shrimp in a garlic and red sauce, also with all the sides for fixing up fajita-like. And, it was just $8. We felt like we were stealing.
The basic combination plate of one taco and two enchiladas ($6.25 for any of 15 combos) passed muster with this diner, who based her grade on the crispiness of the taco. So many times, she said, the tacos on these plates come out soggy. This one was perfect.
Beef fajitas were enough to take home and enjoy twice — all the plates were large portions.
A traditional flan is baked daily, while Mi Ranchito also has sopapillas and a creamy cheesecake that they wrap in a pastry tortilla and fry, then top it with whipped cream, chocolate, cinnamon and ice cream. All that, and they charge you $3.50. Go ahead and get a to-go box on your entrée and have any of those muy delicioso desserts.
The last test of Mi Ranchito was, of course, the margarita, and the restaurant passed with flying colors. We were almost seeing colors, as the potent concoction — not too tart, and definitely containing a fair amount of tequila — was addictive.
The place seems to have a lot of leftovers from El Acapulco in terms of chairs, tables and ornaments on the walls. It’s a bright, happy place, with happy music coming out of the speakers. You’ll be happy too after a night at Mi Ranchito.
Mi Ranchito Restaurante Mexicano
1520 Market Street, Suite 100
The cheese dip has a little more kick than most, and for entrees, anything with shrimp and the carnitas seem to be the best bets. Lunch prices are great, too.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. All credit cards accepted. Full bar.