“Now you’re just being uppity.” That’s my Kim putting me in my place the second I begin to crow haughtily about some highbrow or nouveau way to prepare something ordinary. Tandoori salmon pizza…that’s so me. Huitlacoche burgers…bring them on. Kimchi grilled cheese…why didn’t anyone think of this before? Flaming Hot Cheetos pancakes…the best part of waking up. Invariably when we visit a new restaurant, your gallant gastronome scans the menu for the most unique (aka weird, strange, unconventional) item on the menu. If it’s something I’ve never before had, it’s probably what I’ll order. An argument could be made that this is adventurous dining. For my Kim, it’s just more of her highfalutin husband’s “I’ll try anything even if it hurts” approach to life.
As we luxuriated over steamy mugs of freshly ground coffee on lazy Saturday morning, I proposed lunch at a trendy new taqueria offering among other paragons of incongruity, Cajun deep-fried tacos with napolitos and mango salsa. “For once why can’t you take me to a place that serves ordinary food? You know, the places you call “boring, my Kim pleaded. Very much my better, more sensible half, my Kim loves tacos though unlike me, she doesn’t eschew traditional and proven favorites for unknown commodities which may or may not turn out to be good. She knows carnitas tacos are usually quite wonderful. She doesn’t trust that peanut butter rattlesnake satay tacos will be.
Thankfully in my back pocket for just such an occasion was a recommendation from my friend Sarita (whose work-of-art photography occasionally graces this blog) for a mobile kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob) in our hometown of Rio Rancho. Sarita raved about the simple menu and especially the elotes: “Not *quite* as good as El Cotorro, but it sure was good.” She had me at elotes, the classic Mexican street food of corn on the cob charred on a grill then slathered in melted butter and topped with a creamy sauce sprinkled with Cotija cheese. Elotes are as irresistible as a lunch date with Sarita (and we’re overdue).
Sarita’s visit transpired in August shortly after Elotes Del Rancho began prowling the City of Vision’s mean streets. The menu she encountered, though somewhat limited, was a bit different than the menu we found some six months later. Seasonal availability of corn on the cob is one reason. Another is owners’ prerogative to change up the menu based on what’s selling best. One commonality between the menu we both saw was an anthropomorphic drawing of a steaming bowl of menudo chasing away a lizard-like creature called “La Cruda” which New Mexicans recognize as “the hang-over.”
Tacos (carne asada or carnitas), tortas, menudo and of course, elotes garnished the menu. Sadly, elotes were available only in a cup. Corn on the cob apparently can’t be found during winter…and speaking of winter, operating a food truck during winter is a tough proposition. Edgar Padilla, the amicable owner confided that some days very few diners brave winter’s bite to sate their stomachs. Unlike the nomadic mobile kitchens which flit from place to place, Elotes Del Rancho is currently stationed at only two Rio Rancho locations. Tuesday through Friday you can find it at 2101 Southern Blvd. while on Saturdays and Sundays, its home is 2300 Southern Blvd. You’ll want to consult its Facebook page to make absolutely sure.
Sarita prepared me well, apprising me that “there is virtually no seating, so you have the options of eating in your car, taking it home, or having a nice little picnic at one of the nearby parks.” We parked close by, suspecting we’d like the featured fare so much that we might want to order more. Good decision! Elotes Del Rancho might not have a large menu, but what it does offer is top shelf stuff. We were blown away by how much we enjoyed every item we ordered…even me, the culinary explorer who seeks exotic eats at every turn.
16 May 2020: Elotes in a cup are Mexican street food at its finest, what diners order when they don’t want glistening buttered corn faces. In season, kernels of corn are shaved off the cob with a sharp knife, slathered with butter, deposited in a cup and topped with a tangy Mexican crema, crumbled Cotija cheese and chile. That’s pretty much how Elotes Del Rancho serves its elotes in a cup. It’s your call as to how piquant you want your corn concoction, but “medium” should work for most people (unless you’re Texan). At first glance, the corn in a cup looks like a snowfall of Cotija cheese with just a bit of chile sprinkled on. You’ll want to ensure that cheese is distributed throughout your cup so swirl it around to your heart’s content. The results are a sweet, salty, creamy fresh flavored corn that evokes feelings of summer.
16 May 2020: Unlike some of the taco joints I tend to favor which proffer creative combinations which scream “these aren’t your mother’s tacos,” Elotes del Rancho offers only two types of tacos–carnitas and carne asada. These just happen to be my Kim’s favorites. Adorned solely with chopped onion and cilantro, these tacos are of the overstuffed variety. It takes two warm corn tortillas to hold in all the ingredients and that’s before you add salsa, a very piquant blend. These tacos are a wonderful reminder that sometimes going back to basics is best; that there is beauty, deliciousness and tremendous enjoyment in simplicity. I wouldn’t add a thing and for me, that’s saying something.
16 May 2020: The English term barbecue has its genesis in the Caribbean Indian word barbacoa, however, despite commonalities (both involve meat), these two terms do not denote the same thing. Barbecue involves the low and slow preparation of food over a grill while barbacoa is a steaming-baking process. Results from both processes are delicious. Regional variations of barbacoa exist, but what most barbacoa has in common is very rich, very moist, absolutely delicious shredded barbacoa beef. My very favorite torta is one made with barbacoa. Elotes Del Rancho’s version is as wonderful as any you’ll find anywhere (including San Antonio, Texas). A smear of guacamole, just a little bit of lettuce, cilantro and onions cut into the richness of the beef, but you’ll probably want to add some of the salsa picante, too. The salsa is made by Edgar’s loving bride. It’s a superb salsa, one that will leave your lips tingling with delight and because it has some serious bite. The torta de barbacoa is a fabulous sandwich…so good I had it five visits in a row (a rarity for a guy who loves changing things up), so good it made my best sandwich list.
16 May 2020: During our second visit, Edgar changed up the menu, offering an item heretofore unseen at any Mexican restaurant we’ve visited. Chicharrón prensado (pressed pork) is just something you don’t often find save for in Mexican homes or if you’re lucky, your favorite carniceria. If you’re scratching your head as to what chicharrón prensado is, you’re probably not alone. Chicharrón prensado actually get its start as pork carnitas which go through a rather simple process you can duplicate at home…or you can do as we did and let Edgar do the hard work. Tacos stuffed with chicharrón prensado are beyond good; they’re transformative!
8 March 2020: As Edgar predicted, the chicharrones prensado tacos would become an obsession. During our third visit in less than a month, my Kim had two more tacos from this pork carnitas derivative. Edgar assured me the torta de chicharron prensado would be even better, not that it took much persuasion. The telera bread Hector uses in the construction of his overstuffed tortas is absolutely worthy of admiration, if not worship. It is simply outstanding! So is the chicharron prensado, a blend of lean and fatty pork carnitas offering textural contrasts ranging from crispy to tender and everything in between. Then there’s the incendiary salsa, a tongue-tingling blend that will bring sweat to your brow. The generous smear of rich guacamole is a perfect counterbalance to the napalm-heat of the salsa. This is another torta to live in my dreams.
During our inaugural visit, we discerned a familiarity that instantly earned our affections. Edgar confirmed that the corn tortillas he uses for his tacos come from Tortilleria Cuahtemoc on Bridge Blvd. We’ve been buying our corn tortillas by the gross (144 tortillas or 12 bags) at this neighborhood market for years. They’re unfailingly fresh and have that pronounced corn flavor that makes for the best tacos. The cloud-like telera bread used for tortas comes from Marielena’s Panaderia on Coors Blvd. It’s the very best repository for a sandwich I’ve ever had–better even than the French bread used in New Orleans for muffalettas.
28 June 2020: Two-time James Beard Award-winning blog seriouseats.com calls the taco and the torta “the twin pillars of Mexican street food, but where the taco is small and sexy and has long since seduced all of America in its many forms, the torta (with its many Mexican sandwich siblings) is just teetering on the brink of international stardom.” In his terrific tome Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, Roberto Santibañez argued that translating the word torta to “sandwich” is like describing a Rembrandt masterpiece as a portrait—accurate, but not doing justice. See, your humble blogger isn’t the only one crowing about the magnificence of the empyrean torta.
Three days after introducing my friend, the walking Wikipedia and sublime sommelier Tom Molitor, to the life-altering torta de barbacoa, my Kim and I returned. Instead of my usual torta de barbacoa, my Kim challenged me to try something different–the torta de carne asada. The comparison is akin to comparing a McLaren 720S to the Lamborghini Huracan. Both are phenomenal! Both the barbacoa and carne asada showcase beef in rich, delicious manners. While my heart belongs to the torta de barbacoa, it’s nice to know an occasional dalliance elsewhere can still be utterly delicious.
Elotes Del Rancho is so good, I was inspired to create my very first (and so far, only) review on Yelp. In fact, my friend Howie “The Duke of Duke City” Kaibel, the charismatic Albuquerque Community Manager for Yelp and I were supposed to meet at Elotes Del Rancho the week the world went crazy and we were all rendered home-bound. During all the weeks of lockdown, the food item I missed most was the transformative torta de barbacoa, one of the best sandwiches in the world. Elotes Del Rancho’s return gave us hope and sustenance.
Elotes Del Rancho
2101 Southern Blvd
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Facebook Page | Website
LATEST VISIT: 28 June 2020
1st VISIT: 15 February 2020
# OF VISITS: 6
BEST BET: Elote in a Cup, Torta de Barbacoa, Carnitas Taco, Carne Asada Taco, Tacos de Chicharrón Prensado, Torta de Chicharron Prensado, Torta de Carnitas, Torta de Carne Asad