Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 1, 2013

BUSINESS: Two free margaritas can't possibly be wrong

New restaurant emphasizes the 'Mex' in Mexican food

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE —

You're not really doing yourself any favors if you don't "eat in" at the newly-opened Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant at 205 South Jackson. To enjoy this tantalizing tango of the senses, you kind of have to be there to experience the entire dance.

Here's one company secret: The store does not yet have a liquor license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. So they are giving away alcoholic drinks - a total of, for instance, two margaritas per customer.

This particular promotion, combined with the quality of the food, is receiving major approval from new fans.

“So far the best Mexican food around here,” Shylatina Torres wrote on Facebook. “And I got two free margaritas. One happy camper here and I will be back many more times to eat. Going to tell my friends about y'all.”

Others agreed wholeheartedly, waiting patiently for the work clock to hit happy hour …

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

“It's 5 p.m. somewhere,” Facebook poster Norris Carnes said about 4:15 p.m. one day in late February.

In addition to prompt service and a cheery atmosphere, Rancho Grande offers the aforementioned, tantalizing olfactory overload of delicious smells —  sizzling meat and peppers, fresh-baked flour tortillas, and amazing hot salsa.  

It's a whole lot of yum for the buck, customers say. There is, for instance, the restaurant's Molcajete dish. This traditional mix stew comes with beef, chicken or shrimp cooked with onions, tomatoes, jalapeño and Mexican sauce topped with Monterrey Jack cheese.

This zesty dish is served with tortillas in a heated “Molcajete” — which is the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle tool used for grinding various food products.

 (Store officials know their history. The Molcajete was used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztec and Maya.)

The store's fajitas also are a big draw, officials and patrons agree. The way the steak is marinated gives it a specific delicious taste, explained store manager Norma Martinez.

 The restaurant is part of a chain of six under the same name, with sister stores of equal caliber in Joaquin, Timpson, Carthage, Center, and Nacogdoches. The corporate headquarters is in Nacogdoches.

This restaurant only recently opened in town. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting for the eatery, which is open for business Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

All dishes and garnishes are prepared on-premises, the store manager said. Cooks venture in as early as 7 a.m. to start preparing for the day. The flour tortilla dough is prepared about 9 a.m.

The chain, owned by Jose Lara, is popular with customers because it takes chances with its recipes and comes up with delicious dishes well off the beaten path, Martinez said.

“There really isn't another restaurant — at least not in East Texas — that has the kind of food we serve,” she said. “We're more 'Mexican' than 'Tex-Mex.' … Take our 'warm' salsa, for instance. Not a lot of places serve it.”

Martinez estimates the appeal of the food is directly responsible for the Jacksonville store getting over 200 customers each day.

Longtime customers of the restaurant's chain stores swear by it.

One particular review of the Nacogdoches store exclaims it is “the best Mexican restaurant” ever.

“Good food, good service, good price,” the reviewer said. “And the salsa is wonderful!”

The Jacksonville store is receiving almost identical compliments on Facebook.

“Absolutely delicioso,” Jean Osborn Selman enthused.