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Sometimes food exploring backfires. Here was my big idea: Find the next Salsa Limón. Long before the authentic taqueria started its rapid expansion, it was a humble food court restaurant at La Gran Plaza. “Surely,” I thought, “I could be-bop on down to the Plaza and discover what new, exciting culinary experiment was blossoming inside those nurturing environs.”  

As far as I could tell, the Mexican mall’s food court proper consists of just two eateries: the aforementioned Salsa Limón and the 12-year-old Las Ranitas Restaurante Mexicano (4200 S Fwy, Ste 1715, 817-923-4344). On the fly, I conjured a quick-pivot second idea: Eat at Las Ranitas and write stuff. Brilliant!

“Ranitas” translates to “little frog,” and the owners really ran with that theme. Walking up to the ground-floor storefront, you’re greeted by a huge cardboard cutout of an anthropomorphized Mexican frog couple holding a sign that lists the hours of operation. Inside, the host stand is perched atop a frog a la Atlas. On the main wall, there’s a mural depicting a whole community of old-timey-looking Mexican frog people posing for a group portrait. 

 

There are also a dozen or so televisions, two large-screen projectors, and a contiguous cantina, La Emajada Rusa, or, The Russian Embassy. (I’ll go ahead and resist the urge to make a joke about a Russian embassy in a Mexican mall, given our current political climate.) The hostess told me Ranitas was a happening spot for sportsball watching, and apparently there was a rather large soccer tournament that just ended. 

The plastic menus, replete with pictures (for those who need a refresher on what nachos look like), are several pages long. Ranitas lives in the space between authentic Mexican fare and Tex-Mex, and that’s a strange place to dwell. 

Because of my white privilege, I wanted to dismiss the offerings on sight. As a middle-class white person, I am passionately (read: shamelessly) protective of all native cultures and zealously defend “authentic” versions of any cuisine, while deriding any derivations as offensive knockoffs. Then I remembered Ranitas has been in business for more than a decade and that non-white people (in particular those who would never use a borderline offensive term like “food explorer”) seem to really like it. I could sense those frog people from the mural judging me, so I stopped being stupid and ordered. 

A good example of the kitchen’s Mex-Tex-Mex amalgam was the pastorcitos appetizer ($9.95), eight fried gut-rockets filled with a mildly sweet pork pastor and accompanied by a neon green salsa, cilantro, onions, and lime. “OK,” I thought. “We’re off to a good start. Maybe they’re on to something.” They were not. 

My guest’s hamburguesa con queso ($9.95) was exactly what it sounds like: a cheeseburger. The thin sliver of meat was way overcooked, and one of the fries was still frozen. My Combo #9 – El Panzon ($8.95), with an overly salty ground beef crispy taco, one Velveta-level cheese tostada, and a cheese enchilada and tamale topped with chili con queso that tasted just out of the box – were all competently bland. 

I didn’t know how to feel. One thing was certain: This was not the next Salsa Limón. 

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