Ranas Mexico City Cuisine
9683 Campo Road Spring Valley
I'm very susceptible to the power of food suggestion. The smell of bacon wafting from my neighbor's house at breakfast assures that I'll be eating a BLT for lunch; reading a passage in a novel about noodles pretty much guarantees that I'll be sitting down to a bowl of them later that day. So when I got an e-mail from a CityBeat cohort raving about a meal he'd had at Ranas Mexico City Cuisine, I knew where I'd be eating dinner.
A friend and I had already planned to eat at another Mexican restaurant, but he was amenable to a venue change. It would be only my second trip out to Ranas, but I promised him that if I remembered correctly, the food would be just as good, if not better.
Ranas, a small, 5-year-old restaurant decorated, naturally, with frogs of all kinds, is owned by Oscar, who's often out front while his wife Dulce runs the kitchen. They moved here from Mexico City with restaurant dreams and took a gamble on Spring Valley that seems to have paid off. On this weeknight, there was just one young man helping diners, and the place filled up so quickly that he had to call out for backup in the middle of service.
Before he got too busy, he managed to bring me a sample of the night's special, a mole; one spoonful of the dark, red sauce, so deeply flavored, was all it took to seal my order. I ate up a basket of corn tortillas, dousing each in the complex sauce, the best I've had in town. My friend had chicken in a peanut sauce that we thought might be sweet but wasn't, just nutty and mild.
I'd tried the entomatado pork, a spicy stew with cactus in a roasted tomatillo and chile sauce, during a previous meal, and I'd have to give the edge, at least on pork guisados, to University Avenue's Super Cocina, whose casera comida, or home cooking, using pork, tilts decidedly toward the more decadently rich than the lean.
I love Ranas' blue corn quesadillas, filled with huitlacoche or even better, summer-season squash blossoms. Two tortillas, bound together by a little cheese, are stuffed with the sweet flowers and served with sautéed strips of cactus, green bean-like in texture and flavor.
Two fried masa-dough-based snacks, oblong huaraches and round sopes, can be topped with carne asada, pollo asado or chorizo / potato. Ranas is also known for its tortas, including pambazos, sandwiches whose bun is dipped in a red chile sauce and then grilled until crisp.
On my first trip, I saw pulque on the menu, but it wasn't until my most recent visit that I actually ventured to try it. Pulque is derived from natural nectar harvested from the Maguey agave, whose fibrous cores are used to make mezcal. The juice is then fermented, giving pulque the alcohol content and flavor of wine, although with a milky appearance. I chose the natural flavor and my friend asked for mango purée to be added to his. I liked mine better, but we both switched to beer.
A few days later, I returned to Ranas for breakfast, starting with a steaming cup of homebrewed Mexican coffee, fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg and Mexican chocolate and sweetened with pilloncillo, a golden raw sugar. I followed it with a great plate of chilaquiles, the tortilla sections still nice and chewy, topped with green and red salsa and two sunny-side-up eggs.
For those of you who get a bit itchy about leaving your comfort zone, Spring Valley is only 15 minutes from North Park. I'm sure you've driven farther and longer for much less delicious food. But, if you insist, Oscar has plans for a second location in National City and hopes to open another in Hillcrest, Downtown or even, yes, North Park.