Situated in the same spot it’s been since the 1950s is one of the nation’s most longest-lasting Mexican restaurants, El Rancho Grande. While Mexican restaurants in Tulsa are now as common as Quiktrips, El Rancho Grande is one that has endured the test of time. In fact, this iconic restaurant offered many folks who traveled down Route 66 in the ’50s and ’60s their first taste of Tex Mex! (I know, trying to imagine a life without Mexican food is difficult, but thanks to El Rancho Grande, we don’t have to!).
The restaurant, located on 11th st. near Utica, was recently recognized for its historical contribution to great Mexican food in American. The restaurant’s Night Hawk Special (two cheese and onion enchiladas covered with chili con carne and cheddar and one soft cheddar cheese taco topped with chili con queso) has been named one of the five greatest Mexican meals in the U.S. by the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. If that’s not a whopping grande honor for El Rancho Grande, I don’t know what is.
Though the restaurant opened in the ’50s, the original owners decided to close it in 1984. However, the landlords, the Walden family, saw an opportunity to keep a Tulsa original alive. The family worked side-by-side with the restaurant staff to learn the recipes and to create the right ambiance. And I’m sure glad they did. After first experiencing El Rancho Grande for the first time I couple years ago, I have become a regular customer.
Every time my husband and I visit, we enjoy the spicy salsa, chips, and of course, an order of Chili Con Queso. One thing I appreciate about El Rancho Grande’s menu is the variety. There are so many choices, and I feel that everything is very reasonably priced. On our most recent visit, my husband tried the El Rancho Chimichanga (left below), a flour tortilla filled with cheese and shredded chicken or beef, quick fried, covered with queso, and served with guacamole and sour cream. He loved it, and kept commenting about how tasty the guacamole was.
I tried the Vaquero Special, one cheese and onion enchilada, one beef tamale with chili con carne, and one toasted beef taco with lettuce, tomato, and cheddar. Let me just say that the biggest surprise in this meal was the taco, of all things. This was perhaps the best taco I’ve ever had; I kid you not. The taco was so perfectly toasted into an impeccable crisp! The cheese was exquisitely melted over high-quality beef! If you can’t tell, I was truly impressed! And it was so much food that it lasted me for dinner Friday night and lunch on Saturday!
And while we didn’t order margaritas on this occasion, we have tried their ‘ritas in the past and have been truly impressed by them.
The only slightly distressing thing about El Rancho Grande is that while the quality of its food and service has certainly not changed over the years, the quality of its surroundings on 11th street most certainly has. The neighborhood surrounding the restaurant (Hillcrest Hospital area) is frequented by plenty of interesting pedestrians. The parking lot for the restaurant is very small, and there have been several times when we’ve tried to eat at El Rancho Grande but have been unable to because the parking lot has been packed.
The restaurant has installed bars on its windows, sadly. If you were to judge a book by its cover, many people would probably be too frightened to try El Rancho Grande. But once you step inside, you will greeted by a friendly staff, a lovely atmosphere filled with star-shaped, Mexican lanterns and brightly colored tables, and most importantly, delicious food.
Don’t let the exterior surroundings keep you from experiencing this fantastic Mexican restaurant that started the tradition of excellent Tex-Mex food in Tulsa 60 years ago.