by Eric Ginsburg
Winston-Salem may have a burgeoning food scene, but the knock against the dining culture in this city, voiced by locals and visitors alike, is the dearth of quality international cuisine.
Friends in the Camel City are dismayed that they feel the need to drive to Greensboro for authentic Thai, Mexican or Indian food. You should hear their excitement about driving east for Ethiopian food or a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich — it’s kind of embarrassing.
The thing is, their indictment of a lack of dining options in Winston-Salem isn’t entirely accurate. At least when it comes to Taqueria el Rancho.
On the brief drive south of downtown near the intersection of Highway 52 and Interstate 40, business signs begin switching to Spanish around the taqueria. Known either as Taqueria el Rancho (on the sign out front) or El Rancho Taqueria (online), this Mexican restaurant is only unknown to a certain segment of the city’s population.
Sure, it only has 50 Facebook likes even though the page is almost 3 years old, but el Rancho appears to do lunch business hand over fist. Dine-in customers during the lunch rush were seated at tables with strangers, though many patrons ordered take out. Even so, there weren’t enough seats for everyone.
The busy, yellow room filled with men wearing gear from manual labor jobs, like competing painting crews and a concrete company. Another man wore a five-gallon cowboy hat, reminiscent of the drawings on the sign in front of the restaurant, and the clientele mostly was Spanish-speaking.
A four-man team in the kitchen cranked out flights of tacos — try an order four with a drink for $7 — in less than five minutes. The tacos are big, served with lime wedges and a large pepper. A shredded chicken quesadilla wasn’t as prompt but still arrived quickly, and it alone was enough to thwart complaints of a lack of international options in Winston-Salem.
The quesadilla — plated with rice, beans topped with cheese, salsa, lettuce and sour cream — was sublime, easily matching any I’ve consumed in the Gate City or Mexico itself. Most menu items are slightly pricier than other small Triad taqueria spots, but the portions are enough to satiate even larger appetites, helping to make the cost more than worth it.
The usual suspects crop up on the menu: a $6 “traditional” fork-and-knife Rancho burrito, tortas, tostadas — you know the drill. There are five salsas on the table — five — and that’s not counting a bottle of hot sauce. Signs are in English and Spanish, and the staff is bilingual, too. Order at a table, pay at the counter.
Sunlight poured into the establishment through wide windows on two walls beneath a painted map of the states of Mexico and a typical cathedral found in Mexican town squares. Two TVs remained off, and a sign behind the counter highlighted a $2 flan.
It makes sense that this city has at least one loved, quality Mexican restaurant, given a Latino population approaching 15 percent according to the 2012 census. And it’s certainly possible there are more. But at the very least, more residents can start relying on El Rancho as a dependable dining option.
Taqueria El Rancho: 613 E. Sprague St., Winston-Salem. Call 336-785-9112 (bilingual) or visit elranchotacos.com (Spanish only).