Kelly the Culinarian: Food find: Fiesta Ranchera

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Food find: Fiesta Ranchera

I just got back from a fabulous weekend in Peoria with some saucy ladies I went to Bradley University with. It always brings back great memories to see the girls that kept me sane while I was working full-time at the student newspaper and trying to graduate early. Now that my friends have real jobs, are PhD candidates and are starting families, it's hard to get together, so we make the most of our weekends together.

So we spent the weekend eating everything and drinking and chatting and reliving college. One of my favorite places in college was Fiesta Ranchera, which has located in Peoria, East Peoria and Bloomington. When I first started going there, it was a well-kept secret with divine tortilla chips and homemade salsa. I couldn't drink yet and the only time it was ever busy was Cinco de Mayo, like every other Mexican food place in town. My favorite dish was one of the combo platters that came with a taco, an enchilada with tomato-based smokey suiza sauce and their house rice and beans.

Fiesta Ranchera has evolved. Last year, the small chain added a lunch buffet and recently added a separate dinner buffet with expanded selections of steak, seafood medley and desserts. The lunch buffet is reasonable (I believe $7 per person with a soft drink with unlimted refills) and the service is attentive. Because it was a girl's weekend, we started with a pitcher of mixed margaritas, which included raspberry, strawberry and traditional lime layered together. For $17, the five of us got at least two servings of the fruity, pungently alcoholic beverage, complete with salted glass. It could have been presented prettier, but it still tasted fabulous and they didn't skimp of the alcohol.
The chips were as amazing as I remember -- real corn tortillas fried to order and dressed with a little bit of salt. They are best eaten when warm off the frier and have a resounding crunch. The salsa is comfortably hot with spice from both cilantro and chili, I would guess jalapeno or serano.

But we all came for the buffet. The best part of the buffet is that they serve up fully-prepared dishes like burritos suizas or enchiladas, but also all the ingredients for making your favorite taco salad, super nachos or steak and chicken taco. I always grab some of my favorite beans and rice and top it with a little Mexican cheese that's available on their salad bar. I also make up a chicken taco with their moist, marinated chicken chunks, shredded romaine, pico de gallo, sour cream and more Mexican cheese. And who can resist guacamole? They also make delicious dessert empanadas filled with apples and rolled in cinnamon and sugar before being steamed.

If you're ever near a Fiesta Ranchera, pull over! The service is great, the food array is vast and plentiful and the atmosphere is laid back. Get one of the margaritas and enjoy some tasty tacos with your favorite toppings.

16 comments:

East Meets West Kitchen said...

It's always nice to meet saucy friends again, and what's better than over margaritas! Love that colorful margarita although I'm a light-weight and those tacos sure looked tasty!

daphne said...

good food should be shared with friends. That always make the food taste better too. Love those colours and what a spread u had!

Nags said...

the food looks lovely!

Asha said...

It's 8.45am here and you got me drooling!! We as family love Mexican food, often visit the restaurant.We had fried Ice Cream last time.Looks great there!:)

WokandSpoon said...

Mmmmm, love the overflowing tacos!!

Erin said...

I Love Mexican. One of my favorite places here in Chicago is an unknown place with strong margaritas and great chips & salsa. You can never go wrong with Mexcian food!

tigerfish said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I like to go for buffets too. :p

Brilliant Asylum said...

Yum! The good Mexican places in Atlanta are always so crowded that we usually avoid them. It's hard to see what we are missing.

Sirisha Kilambi said...

Hi kelly...Nice Mexican spread.....That was a lovely colored Ice cream dear......:-)
The tacos look yummmmmm :-)

Tanya said...

you never mentioned-- how's DC treating you?
i've lived here a few years and haven't found so many *cheap* restaurants that are worth loving, so i'm listening with both ears open.

Kelly Mahoney said...

Tanya,
I haven't arrived in DC. I'm flying out on Saturday and I'll keep my eyes peeled for an eatery!
-Kelly

Jackson said...

oohh...what a feast!!! I live to try the tortilla coz Malaysia do not hv a good one

Sylvia said...

Is good to meet friend,remains me my back when I was a student.

Cynthia said...

It's always nice to catch up.

Andaliman said...

I can't resist the guacamole.. looking so tempting

Jackie said...

Our little culinarian ;-) Too bad you didn't take photos of the homemade sangria and delicious hummus and pizza from One World!

I made one of Rachael Ray's dinners last night & was going to take pictures (it turned out abnormally good for a. my cooking abilities, and b. the minute size of my kitchenette) & send them to you ... but then I was hungry and wolfed it down instead. I definitely recommend the chicken with apple gravy, rice pilaf & green beans! It was so delicious!

Good luck in D.C.! I miss you!