Continuing with our cheaper eats around Seattle theme from last week, we now pay a visit to one of the many fine taco trucks which grace our fair city. These precious mobile kitchens provide an invaluable service to any citizen who originally hails from a land south of the Siskiyous but has since expatriated to the Great Northwest (*guilty*). The taste of home, or at least a closer approximation than anything you will ever, ever, EVER find at Azteca (for the love of all that is good, stay away). Specifically, let us pay a visit to the beloved Rancho Bravo Tacos truck, which can be found stationed in the Winchell’s Donuts parking lot on 45th in Wallingford (on the corner of Thackeray, just down from Dick’s). It’s actually more of a shiny, silver trailer than a truck. Just look for the canopy and the picnic table and the freaky Bullwinkle mascot.
And let’s get this out of the way first: Rancho Bravo is not Skillet. Nothing is Skillet. Skillet is the godhead. But this city has an astonishing lack of street food vendors, so we have a duty to spread the love around as much as possible. And of course, TWO TACOS FOR $2 PEOPLE. The tacos are served in warm, soft, double-layered corn tortillas with lovely bright purple pickled radish, diced white onions, a touch of lime and a surprising assortment of meats to choose from. These range from the usual carne asada or basic pollo to tongue or tripe (if you’re feeling particularly brave). The fish tacos are undoubtedly my favorite though, and some of the best around period. The taste of the smoky, grilled tilapia conjures happy memories of barbeques on the beach in Mexico.
And that’s the primary thing that Rancho Bravo has going for it, unique and genuine flavors. Honestly, I can’t even figure out half of what’s going on in the vibrant array of homemade hot sauces on offer. The bright orange sauce has a deep smoky flavor, the mustard-colored sauce has a thick consistency and a slow, steady burn. My favorite is the bright green cilantro-based sauce, which is fresh and herbal and wonderful on those fish tacos.
But the main event at Rancho Bravo is the burritos. For $4.25, the Rancho burrito is stuffed with either black or pinto beans, rice, diced tomato and onions, cilantro, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Can I just say, hooray for black beans? For 50 cents more, you can upgrade to the Bravo, which has sour cream and grilled onions. I actually find simpler to be better in this case, especially when you’re dealing with incredibly rich and complex flavors like the pulled pork carnitas or the mole chicken (which is easily the best thing on the menu). This is probably an appropriate time to mention that despite repeated attempts to talk myself into liking the al pastor at Rancho Bravo, I always wind up being disappointed. It’s just too bland and greasy. Al pastor is truly an endangered species in Seattle, and so I will take this opportunity to give another shout-out to La Carta de Oaxaca (spicy pork is spicy).
Rancho Bravo also serves gigantic torta sandwiches in hoagie rolls, and they have rice and bean bowls and quesadillas and homemade horchata. The tamales are also made from scratch and sell out quickly and often (although they can be special ordered in large batches). More importantly, Rancho Bravo recently opened a permanent drop-in kitchen in the old KFC on Capitol Hill across from Oddfellows on 10th Ave. They just draped a banner over the front window and called it Open. It’s utterly surreal, but perfect for a late night bite after the bars close (open until 2:30 AM on weekends)! Additionally, owner Freddy Rivas and everybody in his crew are welcoming and kind and multilingual.
Once upon a time, I thought the burrito was the perfect food. Rancho Bravo reminds me why.