El Rancho Loco
This is terrific, inexpensive Mexican food in a setting and location you might least expect: inside a small storefront along Veterans Blvd., not far from Dollywood. (Even during daylight, however, the neon lights in the windows can be eye-catching.)
As you settle into the comfortable, attractive setting, be sure to start off with the chips and salsa. These arrive not only with a mild but flavorful red salsa, but a generous serving of a warm cheese sauce is also available for order. If you should desire more adventurous offerings to go along with those tortilla chips, there is also a small salsa bar with much more high-octane options. One green salsa was hot but still fairly bearable, while another made with chili de arboles packed such heat that I had to combine it with that cheese salsa just to eat it comfortably. If you weren’t already perspiring like an ox from schlepping around the expansive grounds of Dollywood in the summer heat, then the arboles offering should turn on the faucets above your forehead.
The menu at El Ranchero Loco covers all of the familiar Mexican comestibles and offers some specialties of its own. All of the food we tried was quite good, and your pesos will go pretty far here. A lunchtime Speedy Gonzalez plate (taco, enchilada, Spanish rice) set me back a mere $5.99, for instance.
In addition to the tasty food and pleasant surroundings (TVs were tuned to the NHL playoffs on a recent visit), El Ranchero Loco features friendly, attentive service. This place appears to be a popular option for families with kids, because there’s something for everyone on the menu, and the prices don’t put much of a dent in the wallet.
The only bad news: the alcohol options are limited to a few varieties of bottled beer. Yes, that means no Margaritas. But given the other things this place has going for it, you can live with bottled beer. Just ask for a “cawamba” (a large bottle of Corona) or order one of the massive Micheladas. Que rico!
(2902 Veterans Blvd., Pigeon Forge, (865) 366-2161)
By: Michael Kem-Thomas, our featured guest writer, friend and past buyer