Restaurant Reviews

Lovely 'Rita

Margarita Ranch serves margaritas in more weird incarnations than congressmen come in. You can have them prepped with any tequila you want from a huge list, or you can try one of the Ranch's special margaritas, which range from the cactus flower (tequila, lime and Tabasco) to the Cuba libre-impersonating charro negro (tequila and coke). There's even a frozen margarita called suicide, composed of layers from up to three of five frozen fruit slushes (peach, mango, strawberry, passion fruit and lime).

We tried suicide, and it tasted more like an attempt than clean follow-through, even though the mango stratum wasn't bad. But what was really weird was the plain, run-of-the-mill margarita, which was served warm, even though there were rocks floating in it. We wondered what kind of bartending trick other than a margarita flambé could get a drink to come out like that.

Margarita Ranch holds lots of limestone, blond woods, ecru upholstery and televisions that seem to stand in for beer signs. Bowls of crispy thin chips are delivered with ramekins of rich warm salsa packed with a burst of moderate spiciness. We had a lot of time to think about those chips. We gnawed through two bowls of them before we realized our server wasn't going to return to our table to take our order. She vaporized. "It's almost like she got whisked up to heaven in the rapture," said my disgusted dining companion. It took lots of waving and animated finger language to get them to give us food.

The ranch is a basic nip-and-tuck assortment of Tex-Mex favorites. All the dishes arrived buttoned down. The soggy fish tacos that held a paucity of whitefish looked sporting on the plate. Carmarones brochette, eight jumbo shrimp impaled and grilled, were juicy and tender with an engaging smoky flavor. This must be because "all of our grilled items are cooked over a wood stoked fire," as the menu explains. Tacos al carbon, marinated chicken in a flour tortilla, was bland as straw, even though the chicken was juicy. Felix's plate had a good cheese enchilada, two marginal chicken enchiladas and a brittle chicken tamale with a lime jolt that proved more masa than meat.

The rice accompanying most of the dishes is fluffy and pleasant, not at all like the pasty mealworm food found in many Tex-Mex huts. The beans, soupy and smoky with traces of tanginess here and there, were good, too: fat and tender with a fiber load you can feel going down.

One of the big surprises at the ranch was the quail, which was butterflied on the plate like a bondage chicken. The meat was chewy, moist and smoky with no livery flavors, but the mango honey glaze was a bit too cloying, swamping the bird in a mawkish viscosity.

Margarita Ranch is neat and clean--almost too clean. It needs to let loose a little with the spices and seasonings to liven up the staid, well-groomed fare. It also needs to take food orders before diners suffer from acute tortilla chip corn bloat.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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