Restaurant Review: Ranchos Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine

by on February 22, 2013 · 17 comments

in Culture, Ocean Beach, The Widder Curry

ranchos mex restWaiting too long detracted from the good food

 “Ranchos” Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine
1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
Ocean Beach, CA 92107

 A good friend called me today to wish me happy birthday, and said she had been following my restaurant reviews and wondered if I ever stayed home and cooked any more. It does seem like I have been going out a lot – and my increased girth tells me that is true – but I hate to pass by the opportunity of going out and trying new – and old – restaurants, so I  decided to take my two students – Monica and Jeffrey – to Rancho’s for dinner. (And for clarification purposes – both students are adults studying English at ESL schools.)

Remember the old song, “The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used To Be”? Well, turning the words around I have to say that “ . . . the Old Ranchos Ain’t What She Used to Be” either.

And I am so very disappointed. I have eaten there dozens of times. I have several friends that are vegetarians and it is a perfect place for all of us to enjoy a meal – vegetarian or not. The menu is extensive with several HUNDRED items available. Those that are meatless are marked with a “V” so it makes it very easy to distinguish what can be eaten by whom. Without counting, I wager there are close to 100 vegetarian items also.

Besides the Appetizers, Combination Plates and typical Mexican fare, there is an A La Cart section; all day breakfast, an array of beverages, and something for everyone. (Check their menu out)

We arrived Thursday night at 7:15pm. We had a short wait for a table, and I remarked to my students that I have never seen it so busy. After we were seated we were brought the traditional chips, salsa and water. (A word about the salsa – it is some of the best I have had in San Diego. It is not out of a jar and a goodly amount is brought to the table.)

It was not until 7:51pm that I finally flagged down the waiter to take our order. Yes, they were busy, and yes, there appeared to be only 3 waitpersons on the floor, but we had finished our water and the chips and salsa and were no longer hungry. We felt like getting up and leaving but since I was doing a review we decided to stay.

The guitarist was performing, and if we could have heard him it might have made the wait more palatable. But he uses a manual guitar, and no amplification, and unless you were right under his nose you could not hear a word of what he was singing. Even the guitar was indistinguishable from the noise of the room. No one clapped for him; I didn’t see anyone leave a tip; and I felt sorry for him as he plodded on with his music.

Ranchos fishtaco

Ranchos Fish taco

We received our order 21 minutes after placing it: Monica had a fish burrito ($7.95) with a side order of rice; Jeffrey had a chicken burrito ($6.95) with a side order of rice ($1.95); and I had the blue corn avocado enchilada( $3.95). All of our orders were ala carte. Even without drinks, which is something I will discuss in a moment, our bill was $24.57.

Monica’s burrito was good but should have been warmer. Jeffrey’s burrito was also good, but so hot he could not pick it up; my enchilada was lukewarm. I might have sent it back to be reheated, but I could not get the waiter’s attention. In spite of the temperature difference, everything was tasty. But the service was, to put it bluntly, terrible.

Our waiter walked around and refilled the water glasses on 5 tables near us. All of us had finished our water with the chips and salsa but he never came to us to refill our glasses until 6 minutes after he passed our table and Monica managed to get his attention. Those of you that will say I am too nitpicky about this have to realize that after eating spicy salsa a cool sip of water is almost a necessity. Too much time passed without the liquid refreshment.

Not once did our waiter come to us and ask if everything was ok. He never asked if we wanted something else. We would have ordered dessert if he had asked. When we began finishing what was on our plate he never picked up the dirty plate to remove it from the table. In fact, it was a waitress that came by on her way to another table that removed it.

We did not leave the restaurant until 8:40pm – we were there way too long for a local neighborhood restaurant. I also want to mention that I had cut a coupon out of the “Get 1 Free” coupon book that we get monthly in the mail. It was good for one free entrée when another was purchased. The one thing I neglected to see was that we had to also purchase two drinks with the entrée. We chose to have water so when I went to pay the bill the coupon was not honored. That’s fine – it was my error for not seeing that restriction in the first place. (And if the least expensive entrée was removed from the bill it would have been my $3.95 enchilada, and two drinks would have been more than entrée.)

Will I go back again. Probably. I have been there so many times when the food AND service has been good. I hate to think that this is now the norm for this restaurant. I can only hope that it was an off-night and the next time I go things will improve. There are too many other Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, albeit none vegetarian.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

bodysurferbob February 22, 2013 at 11:37 am

wider curry – don’t be too harsh on “the help” – as ultimately it is the owner’s responsibility to have sufficient servers, etc. and when ranchos is swamped – yes, it is difficult to get what you want when you want it. but let’s rattle the door of the owner and say, hey! hire some people at minimum wage! now!

btw, one of the managers has litterally been there since the early 90s- that’s a sign of something good.


Eric February 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

It is also the managers fault. They should not seat the tables if the wait staff can not handle the workload (i.e., in the weeds). They never have enough servers for such a large dining room, which is justifiable since they are not usually full. It would be difficult to have more serving staff, because then the servers would not have enough tables most of the time.

I like Ranchos a lot and can’t count how many times I have eaten there, but when they are busy you need to be patient.


Jon February 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Ahhhhh Ranchos. I went full-on boycott of them once for the service issue. The worst is when you finish eating and they hold you hostage by disappearing with your bill for half an hour. But…the food and atmosphere are so great! And actually the servers are pretty nice once you learn how to navigate Ranchos. We’ve found that its often best to be assertive with them. Flag em down, make sure you ask for your check early, and don’t wait for them to pick it up. Just walk up to the register and close out. It’s pretty informal, and I can never really tell who my actual server is. Takeout I’d always a good option too. I don’t think I could go on living without the existence of their lentil/avocado/cheese burrito.


Seth February 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Ranchos is awesome.


Debbie February 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Thanks for your review and honesty.

Have not been in there for awhile because the last time I was there I felt like the place needed a good cleaning. The plants out back need some attention.

It’s cheap and veggie …but not anything to rave about IMO


Goatskull February 22, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I’ve been going top that location for awhile and I always thought it was hit or miss service wise. Food always good but service can very one visit to the next. If you haven’t already, you may want to give the one in North Park a try. Menu’s the same, food the same quality but it’s a smaller venue and seems to be better staffed and I personally have never had a long wait time there.


judi Curry February 22, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Thanks for the info. Will put it on my list of places to try. Judi


Tyler February 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

I’ve never had a bad meal there. The surf and turf burrito and the chicken Caesar salad are excellent. In fact their Caesar is my go to salad in OB. I always get take out anyway so I don’t worry about the service.


Frank Gormlie February 23, 2013 at 10:37 am

When I lived a block from Ranchos, I used to go there weekly. After several years of this, I grew tired of their sauces taste, and stopped going. I know one of the managers and I used to know the owner before it became Ranchos. It was a little hole in the wall Mexican place, anyone remember that? The owner was my landlady. Then she sold the business to the owner of Ranchos, who kept some of the staff, including the guy I knew. He’s still there.


judi Curry February 23, 2013 at 10:41 am

And then they opened up a Rancho’s on Pt. Loma Ave. where the Sea and Shore Market used to be. It was nice, convenient, and didn’t last. Heard it was because of lack of parking, but am not sure if that was really the case. (For reference – it was where the VFW tried to open their building.)


OB Mercy February 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I have a love/hate relationship with Ranchos. For a few years, it was my go to place for a delicious fish meal with fantastic, flavorful veggies on top in a salsa sort of dish. Nice size fish, thick and filling.

Then, almost 2 yrs ago, I decided on Ranchos for my birthday dinner with 6 other friends. I raved about the fish dinner. Most ordered it and it was thin and terrible…everyone’s was the same. The two other dishes were also not good, but I don’t remember what they were. It was early on a Saturday night, and they were out of flan, two strikes.

But about 6 months ago, I was suffering from a rare cold and needed some chicken soup and decided to try theirs. WHAT a revelation! Filled with veggies, none of them overcooked, in a wonderfully flavorful and lightly spiced chicken tomato broth. Lots of chicken. Lasted me two meals for $6! Just got it again recently, still, some of the most killer soup I’ve had.


OB Jamie February 24, 2013 at 10:21 am

Rancho’s is bomb…service…well, don’t go there if you are in a hurry..

And what Obecian is in a hurry?

I have not sampled a lot of the menu but what I have is GR8!

1- Mole sauce on any enchilada
2- Seafood Chile Relleno – STEAL
3- The fish with the mango cream sauce (Tijuana maybe) AMAZING



Jon February 25, 2013 at 11:03 am

Jamie, sounds like you mean the Acapulco fish plate. That’s my wife’s favorite! I get the lentil avocado cheese burrito and she gets that fish plate. It’s so good we forget Ranchos even has a wait staff !


OB Cindi March 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm

My man OB Jamie–You are right my friend! Since our lovely “outdoorso” disappeared from under the tattoo shop on Newport, Ranchos has come back into “style.” Yes, service is hit or miss. I have a food allergy so have to order carefully and half the time they get it right and half the time I have to switch my order to something quick (like a salad) they can throw together so I can eat with whomever I am at Ranchos with….but the food is always delicious for the price and although others have had a rough time with the portions, realize that fish are sometimes out of season so that is why you get a smaller or “thinner” cut and the same goes with all the other ingredients. They keep everything “farm fresh” and those plants on the patio are not dead….they are dormant. If you are an Obecian, you are NEVER in a hurry. So when you get to Ranchos, Relax. Practice Dalai Lama level patience. Enjoy the delicious FRESH food of Ranchos!


judi Curry March 26, 2013 at 7:01 pm

OB Cindi – check out the new restaurant – Newport Avenue Yacht Club – that has gone in under the tattoo parlor. I think you will find very fresh fish, cooked 4 different ways – your choice – and they will get your order right each time.


obecean February 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Lotta love/hate ‘s here— hmmm. I finally had it with the Rancho’s “slop”. I can’t remember exactly why, but it was cumulative over several years of eating from their menu: frequent price increases, poor service, random “day to day’changes to dishes.

Basically every meal seemed the same just rearranged ingredients-tortillas, beans rice, meat or tofu, etc. Quite unimaginative cooking done by their hashers. But if its a fat , healthy plate of their vegetarian slop you’re after, Rancho’s can’t be beat. It’s their specialty!


Debbie March 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

ok, gave it another try on Thursday night with a few family members. I had a cold and soup was my desire. Two of us ordered the chicken veggie soup. For $5.95 it was a good deal and tasty. My niece had a been and cheese burritto…she rated it “ok”. I also ordered a hot tea…and that brought the oddest experience of the night when my sister was looking at the tea bags they brought me to choose from and the waitress pulled them out of her hand while she was looking at them! I guess she must have thought she was going to steal them all. We are just going to go to Pepe’s next time and get treated with some TLC.


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