According to Wikipedia, ranchera is the Spanish term for a genre of Mexican music. If so, then diners are hearing a sweet song indeed when they try La Ranchera in Sherman.
The restaurant is in an unprepossessing little building at the corner of King and South Travis. Over the years, a number of businesses have occupied the space including several restaurants, but La Ranchera is the longest lived and easily the most successful. It has a good lunch crowd, and on the weekends the parking lot is full.
It is not Tex-Mex, although it does have a few items, enchiladas, tacos, rice and beans that are Mexican food staples, and of course the mandatory chips and salsa. I have been there before, and usually order the quasedilla, a huge flour tortilla stuffed with a variety of fillings and topped with sour cream, Mexican white cheese and lettuce. I eat half and take the rest home for tomorrow. I am also a sucker for their stuffed peppers. This time around, when I met a friend at the restaurant for a late lunch, I was determined to expand my Mexican culinary horizons.
I started with a shrimp cocktail, and my friend had caldo de res, a bowl of Mexican beef stew. The stew is made with pieces of beef shank simmered slowly until the meat is fork tender and the marrow in the bones has melted and enriched the broth. The beef is augmented by potatoes, carrots and green beans. Sprinkle some of the diced onion that served alongside, add a squeeze or two of the always present limes, and you are ready to go. It is a meal in itself. The caldo de res was not on the menu, but on the Special of the Day board, and when asked for recommendations, the waitress suggested it, adding that it was the last serving in the pot.
Meanwhile, back at the shrimp cocktail. Perhaps it be better to describe the dish as a cold shrimp soup. It came in heavy goblet, was packed with shrimp swimming in what was essentially red salsa. Diced onion and avocado bolstered the mix and with a sprinkling of parsley and slice of lime, it was attractive as it was tasty.
For the next course, I asked for suggestions and getting one, ordered a Chilanga Chicken Mega-Torta La Ranchera. It is an oversized sandwich filled with breaded chicken, mayonnaise, chipolata sauce, cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion. It is served on soft Mexican bun, and came with a big helping of french fries. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. The problem lay with the outside not the inside. The soft texture of the bun made it difficult to handle the torta, even though it was cut in half. I worked my way through one half and turned to helping my friend with his choice, Alambre a La Ranchera.
It was outstanding. Al pastor (marinated pork) and grilled beef were prepared with onions, bell peppers, pineapple, pico de gallo, chile toreado and covered with cheese. You could eat the dish straight or add it to a tortilla like a fajita. Either way, it was a treat with the multiple flavors and textures of the various ingredients coming together as one. It came on a heated platter with more tortillas, and separate plate of rice and refried beans. By now, we were running out of room on the table and had to do some shifting of this and that to make space. My friend and I both agreed the Alambre a La Ranchera, was a dish to take to the bank.
By now, we were stuffed, but true to our creedo “Leave room for dessert” and recognizing our responsibility to our readers to do just that, we soldiered on with a slice of tres leches, and big mug of horchata.
You would think that a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk — condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream — would be on the heavy side, but that was not the case. It was soft and airy, and artfully presented with a drizzle of chocolate. It was a perfect finish to the meal — well, almost.
Horchata is a traditional drink served in most Spanish speaking countries, and the recipes vary from place to place. The Mexican version is made of rice milk with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon added. It is served cold in a tall mug with ice. I had seen the drink served at La Ranchera before, but had never tried it. The taste was not quite like anything I had tried before, but now I am a fan, one of those who wants everyone to give it a try.
On Saturday and Sunday, La Ranchera adds fried fish and menudo to the menu, and often have off menu drinks or desserts. They also have a kids menu.
Overall, dining in this family-owned restaurant is a real treat, both for the food and the friendly service. It will open your eyes and taste buds to Mexican cuisine beyond Tex-Mex.
Complaints, suggestions, general comments — email: sparkes@heralddemocrat.