There was a time in the Miami Valley when the only South American fare was Taco Dell. Now we have an abundance of Mexican eateries that add spice to the culinary mix, almost as many as Chinese restaurants. Some even deliver to your door.
El Riacho Mexican Restaurant stands quietly apart from the standard franchises. Located in Fairborn, the restaurant is consistently packed, especially in Lunchtime. The little building in the middle of a parking lot, next to a gas station and across from Ace Hardware, couldn't be more inconspicuous. It is barely noticeable and the tendency to drive right past it is overhelming. So why is it always packed?
This is a family owned and operated Mexican diner - and diner is the best word. Picture the Mom and Pop diners of the 1950s and then add an extensive Mexican menu. The only thing missing is the counter and chairs, but there is plenty of homespun Latino decor. This is casual dining with people you might want to get to know for sure, there are regulars who come to El Riacho time and time again. They are the backbone of the crowded lunches I've witnessed.
The Barreto Family came to the US about eight years ago settling in Fairborn and opening the restaurant two years ago. They feature the generational recipes of San Jose, Mexico making their own chili rellenos, salsas, sauces and desserts on the premises from scratch. They also make their own chorizo - Mexican pork sausage. Bravo! Anyone who would make their own chorizo has my respect. Local favorites are the Steak Burritos ($12.25), Fajitas (starting at $11.75 for one, $22.00 for two) and Enchiladas ($9.75) or the Enchiladas Super Rancheras ($9.95) along with freshly prepared desserts like Flan, the perennial favorite Mexican cream and Sopapillas with sugar cinnamon and honey.
I've been to El Riacho several times. Each time I think I want more spice and seasoning in my food. When I spoke to the Barreto family, I now understand why I feel that way. In Mexico, the palette is different of course than the U.S. The management admits they have toned down the flavors to suit milder American tastes, a concious decision many ethnic restaurants make. They admittedly are right because even in a recession, El Riacho is doing better than most family owned restaurants. Their family know Mexican food, but they also know their customer base is 90 percent American.
As a food critic, I would like the patronage to encourage a weekly special that is truly traditional Mexican cuisine with the full rich spicy flavors and unusual ingredients, if El Riacho can find them. I would even suggest importing the required ingredients directly from Mexico as many restaurants in larger cities have done. our tastes need to be educated by people who know the gastronomy of their heritage. The more authentic, the better. I would love to see a legitimate Mexican take on Liver and Onions. Okay, some of you don't like liver, but I do and always have, even as a child. The Barreto Family could probably knock it out of the park, but only for those who dare such a regional delicacy. Another possible special authentic entree would be Carnitas - Mexican pork - prepared as close to the original recipe as possible. It is not what you find here in the U.S. You have to go to Mexico for the real thing, cook it yourself or find someone willing to prepare it for you.
El Riacho's menu is large and reconizable. Try the Cazuellad Mexicana ($14.74 for one, $24 for two) for something a little different featuring the homemade chorizo sausage, but if you're sticking with what you know I suggest the Guadelajara ($10.25). A full bar featuring specialty drinks including El Riacho Margaritas and a selection of Mexican beers round out the offerings.
Lunch and the daily specials are a good bet. The Barreto's like to keep their prices reasonable offering good value to their customers for generous portions.
El Riacho Mexican Restaurant is located at 143 East Dayton Yellow Springs Rd. Fairborn Hours of operations are Mon-Thur 11a.m. to 10p.m., Fri 11a.m. to 10:30p.m., Sat 11:30a.m. to 10:30p.m. and Sun 11:30a.m. to 9p.m. Lunch starts at $5.25 and specials range from $4.75. For more information, call (937) 878-0500.