We’ve been fans of El Rancho Grande since they opened eight years ago. Maria Meza came to the United States from Puebla, Mexico over 40 years ago. Along with her son Joaquin, co-owner of the restaurant, she welcomes customers like family, cooking authentic plates like Menudo and Tamales Oaxaquenos without taking shortcuts.
Though El Rancho Grande initially was a word-of-mouth neighborhood spot, the calm didn’t last long – it’s now packed for dinner on most nights, with patient diners waiting in the entryway. So when the restaurant quietly started serving brunch recently, it was a relief to see that the Sunday morning hordes hadn’t yet discovered the wonderful news.
Breakfast has been on the menu for all eight years of their operation, but Sunday brunch adds another dimension with a dedicated cocktail list and some fancier dishes. Served from 10am until 2pm, this brunch menu is still less expensive than many others in the area.
On this visit, we arrived around noon with friends to find no wait. I started by ordering a Bloody Maria with Mezcal ($8) and everyone followed suit, despite the temptation of the rest of the cocktail menu. On my previous visit, I had a Tyler Wallbanger ($8), a Mezcal and Galliano knockout that may make the remainder of your Sunday a tad relaxed. Since El Rancho Grande received its hard liquor license a few years ago, Joaquin has come to focus on the cocktail menu, especially making sure to keep the shelves stocked with a variety of quality Mezcal.
If you’re in the mood, order a Chorizo Taco ($2.50) while you peruse the rest of the menu. I would say it’s a good choice for light appetites, but you might find yourself with a growing hunger after the first flavorful bite. This and the other brunch taco, the carne asada, are wrapped in a thick flour tortilla and are full of flavor, filled with eggs and meat.
We each chose a different brunch dish. The Huevos Rancheros ($8) feature two over easy eggs, each on a thick homemade corn tortilla. The eggs are topped with a fresh salsa of diced tomatoes, onions and jalapeno, a more traditional touch than the enchilada sauce used at other restaurants. Black beans, Oaxaca cheese and slices of avocado garnish this classic dish.
Chilaquiles ($8), my choice on this visit, is another classic Mexican breakfast. House-made tortilla chips are doused in your choice of sauce, roja (red) or verde (green). The saucy chips are then decorated with crumbled cotija cheese and crema, similar to sour cream, and served alongside scrambled eggs. The chips were at the perfect state – not too crisp to pierce with a fork, but not yet soggy.
My husband had the Enchiladas ($8), a breakfast version filled with cheese and served with scrambled eggs and refried beans.
These all were delicious, but the star brunch dish, which I’d ordered myself in the past, was El Azteca ($9). Two thick handmade tortillas provide a base for black beans and poached eggs topped with ample strips of poblano peppers and cactus. The thick, homemade tortillas in this and other brunch dishes are a special treat; I haven’t seen them make an appearance later in the day. Potatoes and slices of avocado are served on the side. A drizzle of a fresh hot sauce gives this dish a special finish. The combination of the tangy cactus, spicy sauce and rich egg yolk will add some brightness to your Sunday morning.
The Abuelita Pancakes were already sold out for the day, but our sweet tooth called for some dessert. We all ordered a Flan and a piece of Tres Leches cake to share, both specials on the chalkboard. Tres Leches Cake, as its name suggests, features three milks: heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. These are poured over a light, fluffy cake that absorbs the liquid like a sponge, and then the cake is iced. If you haven’t had this dessert it may sound like a bit much, but it’s less rich than a slice of cheesecake. The small round portion of flan was also pleasing. Unrepentant consumers of sugar, we accompanied these desserts with a round of Mexican Hot Chocolate, a thin-spiced version that would also pair nicely with savory brunch dishes.
Next Sunday, consider giving this favorite a try instead of waiting in an endless brunch line... at least, until the secret gets out.
El Rancho Grande
311 Plainfield Street