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TLO Restaurant Review: Del Rancho

2:04 PM EDT on August 18, 2014

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One of the most frequent requests I get from TLO sycophants and husky-pants alike is to cave in and review the legendary local chain that is Del Rancho. And who can really blame them? In Oklahoma, this long-established fast food joint is the undisputed king of the chicken fried steak sandwich, something that is actually meant to be worn with a badge of pride in this part of the country where the meat hangs over the bun and the gut over the pants. Present company included.

Sadly, as with most things, time and change has taken its toll on this once mighty giant, with many franchises either closed or in various stages of disrepair and neglect. In fact, the only one I can even think where I had the pleasure to eat their food on a clean table has been that fancy, refurbished restaurant in Moore. And I was uncomfortable the whole time, and not just because there was a handful of Moore’s finest fresh from a shift at the Warren the next booth over.

The Moore location just didn’t feel like a Del Rancho to me. Del Ranchos are supposed to be dirty. The windows cracked, the wood-paneled walls warped and at least half the phones that you order food with broken and covered in some sort of strange substance that ain’t a condiment. Those are the Del Ranchos most of us grew up with, ignoring the filth that surrounds us as we devour that comically large steak sandwich supreme, letting the fear of Hep-C wash away like a chicken-fried Silkwood-shower.

No other Del Rancho in the metro keeps this feeling of spectacularly dangerous dining alive like my fave franchise, the one at SW 29 and Barnes. With its unrepaired, ignored bullet-hole in the door’s safety glass and the MS-13 gang graffiti letting interlopers know this is marked sacred ground, it brings my two favorites together—Southern food and Hispanic employees—in a way that I haven’t seen since dining at this Church’s Chicken in Matamoros while coming down off mescaline that a taxi driver sold me while I was waiting for my braver, hornier friends to get done with their visit to Boy’s Town.

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Entering the old-school, ramshackle establishment is a lot like entering a creepy uncle’s rumpus room, with art and tables and architecture thrown together half-assed, and a trio of waitresses with big smiles and tiny baby-bumps gleefully asking what you’d like to drink before you hit the table, allowing the diner to avoid coming in contact with those worn, browning phones that dial directly to the counter three feet in front of you.

Now, not having been to Del Rancho in about three or four years, I wasn’t in the mood to experiment with anything fancy, perusing the menu for only a second to make sure that the ol’ standby that the Rancho made their mark in this ever-lovin’ industry—the steak sandwich supreme with fries and a drink ($9.99)—was still in existence and, thank the Lord, it was.

For those not from Oklahoma or those from Oklahoma but have led very sheltered lives, presumably in Edmond, Del Rancho’s claim to fame was their ridiculously dated (seriously, did Del Rancho and Braum’s hire the same PR firm?) commercials featuring a gaunt father-type figure taking his presumable-son to a sparkling clean Del Rancho restaurant that exists in some magical soundstage on the Pinewood Studios lot and, sandwich delivered to his table, lifts it to his watering mouth, exclaiming with all the wide-eyed glee of a starving sociopath that “The meat actually hangs over the bun!” To which an animated cowboy gives a thumbs-up and, sadly, the child in the commercial is found in a shallow grave two months later.

O.K. So that last part didn’t happen (on-camera, at least), but the fact of the matter is that, yes indeedy-do, that chicken-fried steak is the size of a Goddamned dinner-plate and the buns are barely equal to a tea-cup saucer. It’s a jarringly filling concept that is the ultimate display of truth in advertising:

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Yes, without fail, the meat still does hang over, under and all around that bun. Topped with all the fresh fixings, this steak sandwich truly is supreme, with that classically crispy breading crunching with every bite into that tenderly pounded-into-submission meat, never chewy and always cooked to absolute perfection. Guys, if you haven’t had a steak sandwich supreme lately, what’s been holding you back?

Sided with some crispy fries and an ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper, this is Oklahoma culinary history at its finest, one that transcends its surrounding atmosphere and dares to dream big in spite of it. It’s almost like famed East L.A. math teacher Jaime Escalante is in the kitchen, frying up these steaks himself, and they’re inspiring me to pass the SATs of total deliciousness, allowing me to graduate and pursue my goal of dying of heart failure at an early age.

The other thing that I love about this particular Del Rancho is that it’s the only one in the city to offer Indian Tacos on the menu. You can find it listed under “salads.”

Del Rancho is a true Oklahoma stand-by that, no matter what location you choose, will always deliver the same top-notch service and delicious food right to your table with a crowd-pleasing tradition that hangs well over the metaphorical bun of their comical steadfastness to stay in business no matter the cost or lack thereof, even if it results in a real life adaptation of the last five minutes of American Me, steak sandwich supreme tightly clutched in my hands, carnal.

Don’t ever change, Del Rancho. Don’t ever change.

Follow Louis Fowler on Twitter at @LouisFowler.

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