El Ranchito del Agave Proves My Buffet Standards Are Higher Than I Thought
Knowing how much I love the all-you-can-eat buffet, Serious Eats grand poobah Ed Levine IM’d pretty soon after he and the SENY crew discovered El Ranchito del Agave- the brand new Mexican restaurant on 9th Ave. btw. 36+37th that features a lunch buffet. He knew I’d be excited (I’m very serious about my all you can eat buffets), but cautioned that he might have finally found an all you can eat buffet that even I couldn’t get behind 100%. Ed found the taquitos to be dry, and the mole too sweet- but the rest of the crew seemed to like it enough in their review… and it’s only $8! How could it be bad!? (After all you are talking to a guy who has willingly eaten at an all you can eat Chinese buffet in the back woods of Tennessee.)
What I’m trying to say is my standards for all you can eat buffets are far lower than Ed’s, so I rushed out 9th to check this one out.
9th Ave is admittedly out of bounds for Midtown Lunch’ing purposes, but for an all you can eat buffet I will break my $10 price barrier, and travel pretty much anywhere. Luckily El Ranchito del Agave is only $8 and just one avenue out of the way. Plus, aside from El Rey del Sabor and the tamale lady outside the Mexican Embassy- there isn’t really much in they way of authentic and cheap Mexican food in Midtown. (Sorry Sombrero Cart, nacho cheese and hard taco shells are not real Mexican food.)
$8 is about as cheap an all you can eat buffet as you are going to find anywhere, and El Ranchito del Agave has got plenty of options. They’ve got chicken or pork in green sauce, chicken in red sauce, a mole dish, a couple of fish dishes, tamales, enchiladas with green or red sauce, chiles rellenos, and rice and beans. Plus an assortment of salsas, and something they called guacamole- but was really just a watery avocado sauce. I can’t blame them though… if you’re only going to charge $8, all you can eat real guacamole would put you out of business pretty quickly.
There were no taquitos the day I went, but I agree with Ed that there was something about the mole that made it tough to finish. Too rich? Too sweet? Something. The green sauce was far better (as the SENY review pointed out), but most of the stuff on the buffet suffered a ton by being out in those steam tables. Maybe the chiles rellenos were good at some point during the day, but by the time I got to them they weren’t. The enchiladas and tamales as well.
It’s pretty tough to get an all you can eat buffet up and running, since the quality is going to suffer in those early days while you wait to attract business that can provide the turnover you need. Especially Mexican food, which suffers tremendously as the minutes tick away between the time it comes off griddle or out of the steamer and the time it goes into your belly. The best thing I had came fresh out of the kitchen between plate number one and plate number two… this very thinly pounded steak, with a little bit of lime. Mixed with the rice and the beans, it was pretty tasty- and made the lunch well worth the $8.
But if I’m going to go well out of my way for Mexican food, I’ll probably end up at Tehuitzingo, Tulcingo del Valle, or La Rosita since at this moment their food is just better- and it’s cheap enough that you can get a variety of different things for under $10- which in the end is the biggest reason you choose a buffet over ordering ala carte.
Oh who am I kidding… the biggest reason you eat at a buffet is to stuff your face, and the call of El Ranchito del Agave’s buffet will eventually be too much for this fat man’s stomach to deny (DID I MENTION IT’S ONLY $8!!!) By then I’m guessing the the crowds will have gotten a bit bigger, and the food will be that much fresher and better.
- Uh… all you can eat Mexican? Hello! What’s better than that?
- Pork and chicken in green sauce = good
- Did I mention it’s all you can eat for $8?!?!
- Good variety of options
- Mexican food is not entirely well suited for the buffet format… the tamales, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos suffer a lot in those steam tables
- The guacamole had the consistency of watery soup
- Needs some better turnover of the food on the buffet
El Ranchito del Agave, 476 9th Ave. (btw. 36+37th), 212-904-1198