Located at 144 Burt Road, near the intersection of Nicholasville Road and Southland Drive, El Rancho Tapatío is a family-owned restaurant specializing in fresh, homemade Mexican cuisine.
The Rios family, who own and operate the restaurant, hail from Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, which is located in in the state of Jalisco. In Spanish, el Tapatío is an informal term for someone from Guadalajara. The Rios’ have been living in Kentucky for over 20 years, and love Lexington and all it has to offer.
When the family originally came to Lexington, Maria Rios, Luis’ mother-in-law, worked as a housekeeper. According to Luis, she has always been an excellent cook, and has always enjoyed making a variety of traditional dishes from their native Guadalajara.
For the Rios’, the family that does business together stays together. “Family is everything,” said Luis. In the summer of 2009, the family decided to pool their accumulated savings, and opened a small restaurant showcasing Maria Rios’ wonderful cooking.
El Rancho Tapatío started as a tiny taqueria, with only three tables. But like most good restaurants, word of mouth began to spread. People came from all over Lexington to try their food, and the restaurant started to see a steady increase in business. Eventually El Rancho Tapatío graduated from a small taco stand to a mid-size restaurant. About a year after that, the family opened up a grocery store, and divided the business in half, with the restaurant on one side and the grocery store on the other. But as time went on, the restaurant proved to be the more popular of the two businesses, so the Rios’ decided to abandon the grocery store plan. They relocated to their current building on Burt Road and doubled their capacity. What was once a three-table taco stand is now a full-service restaurant with seating for 200 guests, plus a full service sports bar, patio, and a private party room with a separate bar.
When asked what diners can expect at their restaurant, Castillo said, “Our food is different from what (customers) might be used to eating at other local Mexican restaurants. El Rancho Tapatío is not your everyday Mexican cuisine.” While diners will certainly find burritos, quesadillas, nachos and the like, the restaurant specializes in Mexican street favorites and Guadalajara-based cuisine.
One of the most popular dishes on their menu is the Taqueria style tacos. Unlike American style tacos, which are usually made from flour tortillas and contain ground beef or chicken, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomato, and sour cream, Taqueria style tacos are made from soft corn tortillas. The tortillas are filled with customers’ choice of El Rancho Tapatío’s house-made meats: Azada (strips of fresh steak spritzed in lime juice), El Pastor (tangy pork marinated in red sauce and pineapple), Barbacoa (tender marinated beef), Mexican Chorizo sausage, tender chicken, ham, and a few more adventurous choices like Tripa (beef tripe) and Lengua (beef tongue). The tacos are then topped with fresh chopped cilantro and finely diced onion. Limes are served on the side for an additional kick of flavor.
Diners can also find Sopes at El Rancho Tapatío, a traditional Mexican dish that resembles a thick tortilla topped with fresh vegetables and meat. The circular base is made from fried masa (ground corn flour soaked in lime, also used as the basis for tamales and tortillas) with pinched sides. The masa base is then topped with cheese, lettuce, onions and sour cream.
Other Mexican favorites include Gorditas, which are also made with masa flour, but are similar in appearance to an Italian calzone and stuffed with meat, cheese, and vegetables. Empanadas are essentially Gorditas that have been stuffed and then fried to golden brown perfection. The Torta Ahogada (which means “drowned sandwich in Spanish) is another Guadalajara favorite. The sandwich is referred to as "drowned" because it is submerged in a delicious homemade chili pepper sauce.
Carnes en su Jugo translates to “meat in its juices”, which is a perfect way to describe this flavorful, concentrated broth of finely diced beef served with beans and a variety of toppings.
If customers are looking for something light and fresh, Castillo recommends Chiles Rellenos: two poblano peppers coated with egg whites, stuffed with cheese only or ground beef and topped with red sauce. Served with rice, beans and tortillas. And he suggests topping off the meal with another customer favorite – their freshly made margaritas.
When it comes to the cooking, Castillo gives all the credit to his mother-in-law. “She’s the mastermind of the restaurant, and all of the recipes come from her.” In fact, customers often refer to her as “mom” and frequently ask what she’s cooking that day. Depending on what she can get at the market, she will cook a variety of daily or weekly specials such as Chamorro Adobado (pork shanks marinated in a chile salsa, then wrapped in aluminum foil and steamed), or Birria Guadalajara, a Mexican stew made with beef, smoked and dried peppers, and a variety of spices. Everything served at El Rancho Tapatío is fresh and made in-house.
Castillo also mentioned that owning a restaurant together has been a wonderful way to keep the family together. Every Sunday, “mom” cooks a big brunch at her house, and the family gathers together to talk about business, life, and everything in between. “Everyone pitches in and helps out when they’re needed, and we all do whatever we can to make the restaurant a success,” he said.
El Rancho Tapatío is open Monday – Sunday from 10:30 am to 10:00 pm. They can be reached at 859-373-9091 or [email protected]
Q&A with Maria Rios
Tell us about your family: My 5 children are Minerva, Priscila, Rigo, Elvira and Roxana
What was the last thing you cooked for your family at home? Enchiladas
What was your favorite food as a child? Mole Poblano
What kitchen tool can you not live without? My Comal so I can make tortillas and gorditas.
How would you describe working in your kitchen? It is my hobby, I like it and it relieves my stress (I feel relaxed).
Last restaurant in Lexington where you dined? Sushi Blue
If someone wanted to be a chef, what three things would you tell them? Make food like it is for you. Make sure your kitchen is always clean, find your favorite pans.
What does “hospitality” mean to you? I like to treat everyone as family, Mi casa es su casa.
When you're not in the kitchen, what do you like to do? Babysit my grandchildren, I love when they all spend the night at my house.
What would surprise people to learn about you? That I still work as housekeeper, because I like it and I love my bosses Sandy & Glenn.
What is your favorite meat and way to prepare it? Pork, Carne de Puerco con Nopales. Pork with nopales tomato sauce, jalapeno peppers, nopales (cactus), cilantro, garlic, onion and seasoning goya.
What is your favorite dessert? Jericalla, a cross between flan and crème brûlée, this is a rich dessert originating in Jalisco, Mexico.