TLO Restaurant Review: El Rancho Grande
8:59 AM EDT on April 27, 2021
“I used to watch people go in and out of there from the hospital room,” she told me. “I always thought when I become normal, I’m going to go there one day...”
I was recently in Tulsa helping a friend with a pressing family matter. When we were done, we headed over to Route 66 for something to eat, then maybe some records at Josey. As we passed by Hillcrest Medical Center, my friend told me how, as a teenager, she suffered from a severe eating disorder and was sent to this hospital for treatment as a result.
Fighting emotion, she told me about life there and how separated she was from the world, with El Rancho Grande, 1629 E. 11th, being a sort of edible milestone for her; she never made it there, however. Thirty years is too long to meet a goal, I said, so we mutually agreed to have lunch there, mostly as symbolic triumph of overcoming adversity.
Around since the early fifties, El Rancho Grande is a Tulsa favorite, with their Pork Chile Verde ($12.59) being an imported dish that has made them popular among locals in the know. Ordering that, our server also recommended the Chicken Fajitas ($13.99), served with a mixture of pineapple and garlic on the steaming metal plate, that sounded far too good to pass up.
Before all that though, for an appetizer we had the utterly amazing Queso Flameado ($8.59), featuring a soft bed of broiled jack cheese heavily influenced with chorizo—and a lot of it. As I scooped up a spoonful into my warm tortilla, every bite felt like a minor miracle, as my true companion continued on with her story, telling me about how she finally decided she needed to change her life.
“It was during miniature golf…” she said. “We went for a day outing and, I don’t know, it was at that moment, watching the golf-balls as they went in and out of the small-scale windmills, that I decided I needed to change...”
As she talked about her realization, our food was quietly brought to our table, with my Chicken Fajitas looking like a small fireworks show, as the aromatic stream puffing all around us, automatically setting my saliva free to run down my chin as it was placed in front of me. I lifted a fork to the poultry, still sizzling with pineapple chinks and garlic slices jumping in between.
I brought the fork of steaming plenty to my mouth, breathing in the fajita goodness; it was a remarkable mixture, one that I have never had and one, I hoped, would again after the perfect mixture melded in my waiting mouth, creating edible artistry at best, the pineapple being a true revelation.
Pausing to try her eats, the Pork Chile Verde, a Colorado favorite, proudly showed its mixture of trimmed pork shoulder, brown and braised with peppers, onions, garlic and tomatillos. As she shared a bite with me, we both closed our eyes, absorbing every taste that the beautifully cooked pork had to offer, falling in love once again with this meal.
“When I was leaving the hospital, my dad asked if I wanted to go to lunch here…I said no,” she told me. “To come here now, to come here so many years later…it feels like a victory in many ways.”
“¡Felicidades!” I proudly said, raising my glass of water to her; as good as the food was—and it truly was—I was celebrating my friend’s triumph over this eating disorder that almost did her in. For someone to go back and recount that time in their life was startlingly brave and refreshingly honest…I’m so glad she was here to share it with me. Cómpralo ya!
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