EL RANCHO GRANDE MEXICAN RESTAURANT

Food: () Excellent and often creative takes on traditional Mexican dishes.

Service: () Family-run restaurant may be a little slow taking orders on busy days.

Atmosphere: () Bull sculptures and mariachi music are trademarks of this spacious cafe.

More Info

Location: 63455 N. U.S. Highway 97 (Cascade Village Shopping Center), Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican

Price range: Lunch $9.50 to $14.99; happy hour snacks $4.99 to $6.99; dinner appetizers $6.99 to $16.50, entrees $8.99 to $26.99.

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Combination platters $6.99.

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Choices include a spinach enchilada and a vegetarian burrito.

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Covered seasonal patio

Reservations: Recommended for large parties

Contact: dinewithdiablo.com, 541-312-2022

For more area restaurant reviews, visit bendbulletin.com/restaurants

El Rancho Grande is a family business. And that makes all the difference.

Owners Rafael and Lorena Robles Rodriguez involve their entire family in every aspect of the restaurant, from the savory cuisine to the fine professional service, and their pride — as symbolized by their two bovine mascots — shows through.

The restaurant’s website, dinewithdiablo.com, gives a tip of the hat to Diablo the Bull, whose statue stands outside the restaurant in the heart of Bend’s Cascade Village Shopping Center, opposite J.C. Penney. But Oscar T., the “Charitabull” Buffalo, may get even more attention. Standing in the middle of the restaurant between dining room and lounge, Oscar collects donations for local nonprofits: Every time a patron successfully tosses a ring around his horn, El Rancho Grande donates $5 to charity.

Recorded mariachi music wafts through the restaurant between the main dining room and the lounge.

An arbor covers a central seating area, separated by a tin divider and surrounded by booths. Framed prints of Diego Rivera paintings hang on the walls. In the bar, four televisions tuned to sporting events are mounted beneath high ceilings.

On recent lunch and dinner visits, despite being greeted and seated promptly, service was inconsistent to start. That may have been understandable during our midday stop on a busy shopping day, when we had to wait about 10 minutes even for ice water to be delivered with a basket of tortilla chips, spicy red salsa and an overly vinegary, cabbage-laden pico de gallo. It should not have been so on a quieter evening.

Memorable meal

But after the initial delays, things coursed much more smoothly. And our meals were excellent.

I ordered an evening dish that I haven’t seen on any other menu in Central Oregon. Enchiladas Zacatecañas ($14.99), a recipe said to have originated in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, were not unlike chiles rellenos wrapped as enchiladas.

Three corn tortillas were stuffed with Anaheim peppers — a mild type of chilies — and shredded chicken (my choice among several meats). A creamy chile poblano sauce, covering the enchiladas, had a greenish tint enhanced by cilantro. Crumbled cotija cheese and thinly sliced red onions finished this dish. This might not be a good meal choice for diners who don’t like cilantro, but I would recommend it to anyone else.

Accompanying were rice and beans. The Spanish-style rice was excellent, blended with minced carrots, celery and Anaheim peppers. The refried beans also were good.

My dining companion also enjoyed her carne asada ($17.99). Choice, sliced skirt steak was grilled over charcoal with spicy jalapeño peppers and whole green onions. Cooked medium rare, the chargrilled beef was tender throughout. It was served with coarsely chopped pico de gallo and handmade guacamole.

Our margaritas were likewise delicious. The restaurant offers a list of 17 top-shelf tequilas, some made with custom syrups such as hibiscus, tamarind and prickly pear.

Gourmet entrees

Returning several days later for lunch, we tempted our palates with two very different entrees.

My friend’s two tacos al carbon ($12.99) were more gourmet than I might have expected. Rather than the more typical chicken or beef, she requested they be made with marinated pork carnitas — charbroiled, dipped in a red sauce and lightly sauteed. The delicious meat was then wrapped in soft corn tortillas and served with guacamole and pico de gallo.

I opted for arroz con camarones ($11.99), offered at a $1 discount on that day. Literally “rice with shrimp,” they were so much more than that.

A half-dozen plump prawns were sauteed in butter, garlic and white wine with button mushrooms, carrots and celery in a rich and savory but mild gravy. Served casserole-style on a bed of rice, the prawns were briefly baked to melt a layer of Monterey Jack cheese on top. There were no beans, but a choice of corn or flour tortillas accompanied.

I recalled a previous midday visit when I enjoyed another of my Mexican favorites, pollo en mole ($15.99 dinner).

Styles of mole sauce vary widely from region to region within Mexico. At El Rancho Grande, boneless strips of chicken breast were simmered in a chile sauce sweeter than many others I’ve sampled. Here, the taste of semisweet chocolate sublimated that of peanut butter and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), two other popular mole ingredients.

Also delicious is the chimichanga Jarocha ($20.99), which combines prawns, Dungeness crab and scallops with sauteed onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and cilantro, deep-fried in a flour tortilla. A sour-cream sauce of diced red peppers and green onions is served on top.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com

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