Jane Stern: Mi Ranchito III, a Peruvian treasure
Updated 11:22 am, Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Mi Ranchito III is a Peruvian restaurant in Norwalk that has two other locations in Stamford.
If you could see me right now I am saying Peruvian with hand quotes. The reason for this is pretty much every south-of-the-border restaurant in our area sees no reason to stay within its geographical boundaries. The foods of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador all seem to find their way onto the menus. Unless you feel the need to be transported to a particular country (for the price of lunch), I say the more the merrier.
Mi Ranchito has been popular in Stamford for quite a while. There are two reasons: the food is very good and inexpensive. This is not a fancy-dining experience, rather a very hearty square meal in a comfortable, folksy atmosphere. I am delighted to say Norwalk, with its kaleidoscope of nationalities, has had a restaurant rebirth.
When I dine here, as I often do, I look to see what is on the tables of the people around me. I also look to see if the people who ordered the dishes are familiar with the cuisine. Often the waitstaff at this type of place is not fluent in English (and heaven knows, I sadly speak not one word of any language but my own). So pointing to what someone else is eating makes life easy. The menu at Mi Ranchito has numbers for the various dishes, and color pictures, so again, simply pointing at something is an option.
My favorite menu item is the seafood paella. I don’t know what the deal with paella is in Peru. I always thought of it as Spanish, but whatever its roots are at Mi Ranchito it is masterfully cooked with lots of long-grain white rice saturated with the juices of high-quality seafood. The shrimp, in particular, is first-rate — big pink crescents that are plentiful and snappingly fresh. On that note I ordered the shrimp soup, which was as luscious as the paella. Same great shrimp, hunks of potato and creamy broth that tasted of the ocean.
At the restaurant I saw quite a few men who looked like workmen on their lunch break. If I had a physically demanding outdoor job, I would also eat here regularly. The food tastes like Mama is in the kitchen, everything is affordable and the portions so gigantic that, unless you are doing hard labor, you will have plenty to take home.
Another of my favorite menu items are the black beans, yellow rice and fried plantains. I ordered a large plate of this triumvirate, which came with soft tortillas on the side. Again, huge portions and utterly delicious. If you want an all-starch meal, you can order fried yucca and fried potatoes. At Mi Ranchito, there is a choice of Peruvian cerviche or cerviche Guatemalan style. Both feature seafood marinated until “cooked” in a spicy lemon brine.
While the hearty chicken soup is exactly the comfort food you would expect, there are more exotic items on the menu for the adventurous. Cow Foot Soup, Tongue Tacos and Beef Heart Fried Rice are a few.
Wildly popular in Central America are pupusas, although they are rarely served in American restaurants. If you have never had a pupusa, you are in for an addictive treat. Papusas (the national dish of El Salvador) are a griddle-cooked dough made from masa (corn) flour that is filled with everything from cabbage to potatoes, shredded pork to cheese. Papusa aficionados request a cup of Mi Ranchitos Aji, a Peruvian hot sauce poured into the center of the warm papusa. Personally, I love a plain, unfilled pupusa served on the side with a hearty bowl of soup. If you like to dip things, papusas work well.
Mi Ranchito III
21 N. Main St., Norwalk
Waiting for my meal at Mi Ranchito, I picked up a magazine on a table by the entrance. It was glossy and beautifully photographed and I could not understand one word as I do not speak Spanish. I was, however, able to figure out an interesting article about papusas. They are El Salvadorian and are one of the earliest foods of the indigenous people of this region. While they are primitive in nature, they are not as easy to make as one would think. Even celebrity chef Nigella Lawson hesitated to print a recipe for papusas on her blog because they are so tricky.
Every November El Salvador throws a Papusa Festival, where chefs and home cooks from all over vie for the blue ribbon. From the color photos to the festive native costumes, this is one festival I want to attend. In the meantime, I will indulge at Mi Ranchito III, which is a much closer drive from my house in Ridgefield.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.