I must have passed by Taqueria El Ranchito (414 University Dr, 817-495-1478) hundreds of times. The little taco-truck-turned-tiny-walk-up-window connected to a convenience store is about a two-minute drive from my office. Coworkers familiar with my gas-station taco obsession have even recommended it.
Color me dumbfounded. I’m not suggesting that Ranchito’s tacos are better than (or even as good) as, say, Mariachi’s or La Banqueta, but they are the best authentic tacos within walking distance of, well, the place I usually hang out during weekdays. “But what about nearby Austin City Taco Co.?,” you might ask. I love the newish, hip joint. The food is fantastic, but Ranchito just strikes me as a better bang-for-buck retreat. Every day I see ACT’s dining room full of well-dressed taco fanatics while Ranchito seems to languish when the weather is hot or rainy (read: a lot).
If you, like me, are conflicted as to which University Drive taco eatery to check out, I’ve laid out a handy list of the pros and cons of each. Before I start this insightful, hilarious comparison of two drastically different eateries, let me just say from the onset that this is all in good fun. Relax.
El Ranchito Pros:
• El Ranchito is reasonably priced. Individual tacos are $1.50, and the carnitas are as good as any I’ve had around town. Single corn tortillas are loaded with your choice of the usual taqueria suspects along with diced tomatoes and (sigh) yellow cheese.
• The elote ($3.50) is worth the trip all by themselves.
• This place has a great origin story. The food truck was so darn good and developed such a loyal following, the property owner built a tiny closet-sized addition to the building just for them.
El Ranchito Cons:
• There aren’t any seats unless you count your car.
• The parking is limited to just two spots and a narrow street.
• The pervasive gas fumes don’t exactly complement the bill of fare.
• The operation is cash-only, which adds another $2 to your bill if you have to use the ATM inside the adjacent convenience store.
Austin City Taco Co. Pros:
• Swanky if smallish air-conditioned interior. Also, there’s an interior.
• Chef Juan Rodriguez’ menu is filled with variety, including fresh, plump shrimp, slow-cooked brisket, all-day breakfast, and about a dozen other delicious choices.
• The cheat day! Queso and bottomless fries are the perfect happy hour snack to complement the house margaritas.
• Housemade tortillas are always great.
Austin City Taco Co. Cons:
• I’m not sure what Austin-inspired tacos are. The only thing Austin ever inspired me to do was take a bath.
• That silly “Choose Happiness” IG backdrop outside makes me want to photobomb every twentysomething duckfacing in front of it.
• The place feels like a chain. From the bottled hot sauces to the gimmicky menu names, I feel like I’m dining with a focus group.
• The bill can rise quickly, especially if you’re imbibing.
Truly, there’s room in my heart for both places. Just don’t forget about Taqueria El Ranchito when you’re craving a taco in that part of town – and if you need a photo for your IG, just wait for a sports car to come get gas, splay yourself on the hood, and rack up those comments.