Ranchero Kitchen morphs from market stall to stand-alone destination.
In every sense, Julio and Aleyda Rodriguez have come a long way. As a U.S. resident of 18 years, Julio paid his dues in kitchens across Central Ohio as a dishwasher, line cook and various other positions within the kitchen hierarchy. In one of those kitchens he met his wife, Aleyda, and soon after the couple made plans to open a restaurant of their own.
Upon seeing a stall for rent in Saraga International Grocery in the Northland area, the pair opened Ranchero Kitchen to serve their native Salvadoran cuisine. It worked. Now, after three years of customers straining the limits of Ranchero's humble market dining space, the restaurant moved earlier this year to a much larger, stand-alone location just down the street at 984 Morse Road.
Any discussion of Salvadoran food begins with pupusas. Deemed the national dish of El Salvador by its government, the pupusa is a Central American tradition that goes back centuries and inspires reverence and pride in all who grew up with it. Frequently described as a stuffed tortilla, it's a labor-intensive dish that starts by forming a ball of masa (cornmeal) dough and filling it with ingredients such as beans, pork, cheese and loroco (pickled flower buds). The dough is then hand-formed into a pancake shape and grilled until the exterior becomes crisp. A tangy Salvadoran cabbage slaw, called curtido, usually accompanies pupusas, as does a mild tomato sauce. Ranchero's version ($2 per pupusa) is exceptional and, as Aleyda asserts, “cooked with a lot of love.”
So is Ranchero's Yuca Frita con Chicharrón ($7.99), or yuca fries with pork belly. It's a simple dish beautifully garnished with sliced and pickled vegetables and watercress, and it makes for a satisfyingly salty and crunchy accompaniment to one of Ranchero's other popular dishes, Pan con Pollo.
Pan con Pollo ($7.99) starts with a toasted hoagie roll that comes stuffed full with coleslaw, baked chicken, sliced peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and pickled cauliflower. It's served with a mild, chicken broth-like recado dipping sauce. The sandwich exhibits a nice balance of freshness and richness—a worthwhile two-napkin affair.
Ranchero Kitchen tops the list of Salvadoran options in town, but if you want to do some exploring: Pupuseria Villeda is a solid Salvadoran food truck located on Dublin-Granville Road, and El Burrito Loco y Pupuseria is a popular Central American option in the Reynoldsburg area.