The Vegetarian Possibility: El Ranchero Taqueria

The Vegetarian Possibility: El Ranchero Taqueria

The cactus tacos with cheese and cilantro from Taqueria Downtown (236 Grove St.) are reliably good. Tacoria (24-26 Erie St.) could be inconsistent, however their fried avocado and brussels sprout tacos are artistic and attractive.  Unpretentious, welcoming Sol Azteca (328 Montgomery St.) cooks up some satisfying grilled veggie tacos. Then there’s Taco Drive (195 Newark Ave.) on one of many metropolis’s most trafficked corners. Their vegan mushroom tacos with candy peppers and black beans are scrumptious. Certainly the Downtown doesn’t want any extra vegetarian taco choices than that, proper?

Properly, in fact we do. We’re a rising metropolis, however we nonetheless haven’t achieved taco saturation — particularly for many who love Mexican meals however need vegetation for dinner. El Ranchero Taqueria (382 2nd St.) within the Italian Village opened in 2021 with a large wallful of choices for hungry diners. But as is the case at almost each Mexican restaurant in each metropolis, most of these dishes are designed for meat eaters. Birria, al pastor, carnitas, fajitas, campechana, chorizo: so many fashionable strategies of consuming animals. Is there a path to Mexican deliciousness someplace on that large green-white-and-red menu?

Why we’re : I don’t put an excessive amount of inventory in on-line scores and numerical scales, however some numbers are exhausting to disregard. After 251 Google opinions, El Ranchero has a mean score of 4.9 stars out of 5. On-line dominance like that’s virtually unimaginable to keep up: even Michelin-starred eating places not often common increased than 4 and a half stars. Diners like to nitpick and puncture hyperbole. Individuals get cranky and drop Web stinkbombs on the best eating places and drag down the rating.

Nearer inspection of El Ranchero’s on-line opinions (that are additionally ecstatic on Yelp, that den of digital vipers) reveal that no person ever complains concerning the meals. Those that aren’t pleased with the place have an axe to grind, or they felt the service was too gradual, or they’re simply saboteurs. Critics who’ve visited concur with the consensus. Jeremy Schneider of NJ dot com acknowledged Taqueria Downtown as the town’s best-loved taco spot, however wrote that El Ranchero was coming for the crown. He listed the Taqueria among the many finest eating places on the town, alongside fancier locations the place a dinner will value you two or thrice as a lot. In a later article, Schneider and critic Lauren Musni declared the El Ranchero burrito the supreme bomb within the state.

Is it vegetarian pleasant?: In fact, the burrito they liked finest was full of lamb birria. Schneider additionally referred to as the al pastor chilaquiles his favourite Jersey Metropolis breakfast.  These on-line opinions raved concerning the carnitas and hen enchiladas.  Of the sixteen(!) taco choices on the large menu, fourteen will ship meat to your mouth. El Ranchero will fortunately make bean-centric variations of their carnivorous choices.  However they’re anticipating most guests to decide on beef, pork, poultry, or fish. Your vegetarian order is likely to be accompanied by a nagging feeling that you just’re lacking the purpose of this restaurant — and backstreet taquerias usually.

There’s all the time that purgatorial alternative that has been filling up non-meat-eaters at nook Mexican eating places from time immemorial: guacamole and chips. If you happen to’re like me, although, you’ll decide one thing else.  Mashing up an avocado could be good; nicer nonetheless are slices of contemporary avocado which you can spritz your personal lime on.  Likewise, tortilla chips are the least attention-grabbing method to encounter masa.  The fragrant, delicate, earthy taste of corn dough — one of many world’s most refined and scrumptious tastes — will get sizzled into oblivion.  For what it’s price, the guacamole and chips at El Ranchero evaluate nicely to these at another taqueria on the town.  However you don’t need to refill on that stuff.  You’re going to overlook out on what you actually need.


As an illustration, there’s this feature, which has gotten extra fashionable within the States since eaters right here found that it’s principally a Mexican analogue for disco fries. When completed correctly, chilaquiles put nachos to disgrace: the items of tortilla are held in a tough kind of stability with the rajas, the cotija, the tomatoes, the beans, and the cream.  These are actually the very best chilaquiles I’ve had in Hudson County, however the mattress of totopos continues to be almost overwhelmed by the toppings. I can not think about the good thing about including meat to this dish, although add it you’re actually inspired by the menu to do.

Vegetable Tacos

These 4 miracles on a plate are, paradoxically, proof that vegetarians are an afterthought at El Ranchero — although any resentment is prone to soften away as soon as you’re taking a chew. This is without doubt one of the few selections on the huge menu designed particularly for vegetable eaters, and so they’re improbable of their simplicity and stability. The cooks don’t really feel the necessity to add cheese or beans or turbo-charge it with something notably sizzling: it’s simply squash, pepper, herbs, a bit chopped onion, and a slice of avocado. Every little thing is contemporary and impeccably cooked, and it’s organized in a double-tortilla as pliable and yielding as a wonton wrapper.  It takes a practiced hand to make a vegetable taco that hangs collectively as you chew into it. However they’ve weighted the whole lot judiciously and steamed the tortillas simply sufficient to liven them up and convey forth the candy taste of the dough. These tacos show that the cooks at El Ranchero perceive calabaza in addition to they perceive carnitas.  The Taco Drive mushroom tacos are flashier and extra pungent, however the El Ranchero vegetable tacos are, nonetheless, my favourite in New Jersey, and so they vie with the bitter cherry-kale tacos at ABC Cocina and the fungi-epazote amalgamation at Claro in Brooklyn for my favourite within the metropolitan space.  And ABC Cocina and Claro are far dearer.


You may get these with bistec, chorizo, hen, or carne asada, or you are able to do as I do and ask them for no meat in any respect. That alternative gained’t be on the menu, however it’s very a lot obtainable, and also you’re unlikely to expertise any FOMO while you begin consuming these.  They arrive loaded with seasoned black beans, shaved iceberg lettuce and onion, a half moon slice of tomato and a few slivers of avocado, and a really beneficiant dusting of cotija.  You’ll have the salsas rojo y verde at your disposal if it’s worthwhile to douse them with further taste; each sauces are yummy, however they aren’t strictly mandatory.  Sopes could be troublesome to seek out at space Mexican spots as a result of cooks, not unreasonably, contemplate them superfluous if tostadas are additionally on the menu.  However the sopes shells are created from a thicker, softer layer of masa and so they’re curved on the edges to create a bit life raft for the toppings.  This offers each chew a chewy texture that tostadas, with their shiny snappiness, can’t approximate.  It additionally ensures the eater extra masa taste, and extra masa taste is all the time welcome.


Two generously stuffed pouches of cheese, cream, and lettuce, cooked to an amber gloss and accompanied by a dipping sauce.  Completely nothing to not like.


El Ranchero doesn’t skimp on cheese.  The vegetarian flautas wrap 4 rectangular bars of queso — not all that dissimilar to mozzarella sticks — in crunchy tortilla cylinders.  These cheese tubes are topped by shaved lettuce, tomato slices, and wedges of avocado and introduced alongside achiote-orange rice and black beans. Mixing all of it up is rewarding to do however tough to handle due to the completely different textures: crumbly tortilla, feathery rice, juicy tomato, and cheese that holds its type higher than you’d suppose it might in a dish served sizzling.  It’s right here that I ought to point out that the kitchen’s alternative of components is impressively sharp-eyed. They’ll by no means slip you a lackluster tomato or a mushy, browned avocado, or overdo the rice, or stick you with a stale tortilla. The execution at this restaurant surpasses that of a lot of this city’s high quality eating institutions. One in every of my company at El Ranchero Taqueria tried the seafood tacos and was shocked that a spot so reasonably priced and unpretentious would serve fish so contemporary. I’d already been a couple of instances.  I used to be not shocked.

Cheese Enchilada

These are introduced simply because the flautas are: on a flat plate, smothered in cotija, cream, and shaved greens, and kissing as much as beans and rice.  The distinction is the sauce, which is liberally utilized, and which is able to douse the perimeters even when you don’t need it to (you’ll need it to). You’ll have your decide of inexperienced or pink sauce; the pink is advanced and smoky and has overtones of a standard molé, however the acidity of the tart inexperienced one matches the cheese filling completely.  Flip a coin.  I desire this to the flautas platter due to the pliability of the components, however when you’re extra inclined to maintain your flavors discrete, the flautas are the best way to go.

Rajas Tamale

Do you have to order the chile and queso tamal, you gained’t discover any animal matter inside that packet of masa. Don’t be fooled: this isn’t a vegetarian dish.  El Ranchero Taqueria retains with Mexican custom by mixing lard into the corn dough.  I point out this for 2 causes.  First, this tamale is superb — a fluffy, savory union of corn and steam.  If you happen to’re at El Ranchero and also you’re okay with slicing a nook, you would possibly need to do it like this.  Second, it’s very powerful to discover a vegetarian tamale within the metropolitan space.  La Brujeria (590 Grand St.) makes one, and that’s about it.  Vegetarian tamales would possibly run in opposition to customized, however they’re lighter and sweeter than their lard-made cousins, and they’re, I imagine, a more true expression of the flavour of corn.  And sure, I’m attempting to goad El Ranchero into making one, as a result of I’m assured they’d do it superbly.  A well-turned tamal is one among earth’s nice culinary treats.  Vegetarians need to unwrap that banana leaf with confidence.

The vibe: Tables are set with funky-looking placemats. The sodas are in a cooler behind the service station. Mexican flags grasp from the ceiling. The emblem contains a mustachioed man on a burro; he holds a knife and fork and idles by a cactus.  Of all of the taquerias in Downtown Jersey Metropolis, that is the one that appears and feels prefer it might be within the Mission or in Austin’s Bouldin Creek — proper all the way down to the neighborhood children who pop in for fast bites and takeout orders.  The cooking is critical, however the whole lot else is relaxed.  There are milkshakes on the menu (although I’ve by no means seen anybody get one), three types of churros for dessert, and a plantain that I’ve all the time been too full to get.  At some point. Oh, and it’s price noting that El Ranchero Taqueria units the scene with loud regional Mexican and norteño-sax music.  On visits, I’ve heard Mon Laferte, Peso Pluma, Los Angeles Azules, and different masters of South of the Border pop.  That is the kind of factor that delights me, however when you’re extra within the temper for a quiet night out, you would possibly attempt to get a desk within the again.

The decision: El Ranchero is an area legend within the making.  They’ve whipped up a tasty mixture of affordability, character, and culinary talent, and that’s a recipe for sustained recognition and success. They deserve the accolades they’ve gotten, and I’ve acquired a sense there are a lot of extra to come back. Whether or not it’s choice for vegetarians is a separate query.  Herbivores ought to know that they’ll be surrounded by people who find themselves having ecstatic experiences with birria, carnitas, and al pastor.  If you happen to’re the type of diner who has a tough time seeing others have fun the consumption of meat, that is in all probability not the place for you.  Much less squeamish vegetarians would possibly specific frustration {that a} kitchen able to a dish as elemental because the El Ranchero vegetable taco must be reluctant to aggressively foreground vegetation in its different dishes.  What can we are saying?; even when it’s uncommonly good and more and more hyped, it’s a standard taqueria at coronary heart.  Regulate your expectations accordingly.

(El Rancho Taqueria is open from 8 a.m. till 8:45 p.m. on day by day besides Monday.  Count on to pay between ten and 13 {dollars} for many menu objects. 4 wonderful veggie tacos value eleven bucks.  Tamales are three {dollars} every.)

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