Dining out is a time to savor a meal, enjoy being in the moment with family and friends, and escape the madness of the world. So I was taken aback when seated next to a television screen blasting CNN while recently visiting Rancheritos de Boca. The idiot-box chatter was so loud it competed with our soft-spoken server, whom we asked to turn the TV down, and eventually off. It was a far cry from the Latin music I had anticipated and hoped for.
Opened in February, the East Boca location of Rancheritos de Boca is the second outpost for this restaurant specializing in Colombian fare. Married owners Juan Maya and Viviana Molina launched their West Boca spot on Glades Road eight years ago. Maya, who grew up in Medellin, Colombia, learned the ropes from his parents, also restaurateurs. He still uses their recipes.
In addition to native Colombian dishes, you’ll find specialties from other Latin countries, including fajitas mexicanas ($13.99), which offers a choice of chicken, beef or both. The sizzling platter arrives tableside, well seasoned with sautéed peppers, onions and shredded cheese. Traditional accompaniments include lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo and soft, flour tortillas. Despite a generous amount of tomato-based, red-wine sauce with green olives and capers in a classic Cuban rendition of ropa vieja ($10.99), the shredded beef was on the dry side. Included on the side was white rice, sweet plantains and a ho-hum salad of grated carrot and iceberg lettuce.
A pounded-thin grilled chicken breast covered the plate, but took a real beating having spent too much time over the fire for the pollo con champiñones ($11.99). Pale, sliced button mushrooms yearned for a serious sauté to impart flavor, texture and color. Half the amount of sauce, which had the flavor of chicken base and consistency of a canned cream soup, would have been plenty. A starchy duo of white rice, french fries and the same salad are served alongside. The churrasco ($15.99) was another massive portion of New York strip steak. Cooked to the desired temperature, the chewy beef needed more quality over quantity.
The start of our meal proved to be the highlight. Corn-flour pockets stuffed with spiced beef and potato filling made a delicious appetizer of empanadas colombiana ($1.20 each). A spoonful of the fresh-made salsa complements the pastry with just the right amount of peppery kick without overpowering. The chorizo con arepa y limon ($2.50) had a nice, crispy skin and moist center. The sausage comes to life with aromatic fresh herbs and a heady mix of spices served with a disc of white cornbread. A decadent order of chicharron con arepa ($3.50) was hard to resist. Unlike the variety that solely consists of fried pork rinds, their version has a morsel of meat attached. It’s a bacon lover’s euphoria.
White-corn arepas are served with most appetizers and available topped with guacamole, hogao — a Colombian creole sauce, sweet corn, butter and cheese ($2.99-$4.99). Our server suggested the most popular: con queso. The dry, salty cheese tasted like cojita, and a nice, grilled char gave the corn cakes a hint of smokiness. My dining partner dubbed it a Colombian cheese pizza as he grabbed a second wedge. Fried, smashed, green plantains make the perfect vehicle for a tasty guacamole loaded with tomato, onions, peppers and cilantro, otherwise known as patacones con guacamole ($4.99).
At the front of the restaurant, a cashier tends to a steady flow of takeout orders. On either side, display cases are filled with sweet and savory pastries. A row of boxed custard mix with packaging denoting artificial flavors lines the bottom case and left me skeptical of our dessert course ($3.50). We forged ahead with an order of tres leches. Even though it was doused with the typical milk syrup and covered in a nondairy whipped topping, the texture of the cake was dry. A flan de queso was preferred for its less sugary profile, but the artificial caramel flavor reared its head. Nata, a traditional Colombian dessert made from the cream that forms atop boiled milk, is laced with pleasant notes of vanilla.
You’ll have to thumb through a lengthy, laminated menu filled with ads for Metro PCS, Corona and a discount-clothing store to reach the beverage offerings. There are beers, wines, margaritas, sangria and several soft drinks to choose from, including a variety of interesting fruit juices — guava, soursop, lulo and Colombian sodas. But the lemonade ($3) is worth mentioning. Made with fresh squeezed limes and the perfect balance of sugar, it was beyond refreshing. You may want to try other variations, including pineapple, mango and passionfruit, all with mint. A side comment to our server about the deliciousness of the lemonade resulted in a complimentary glass. Amid the meal’s high and lows, and the occasional language barrier, the service here was warm, friendly and eager to please.
Rancheritos de Boca
4251 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
561-465-5170 or RancheritosDeBoca.com
Cuisine: Colombian and Latin
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer, wine, sangria, margaritas
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Kids: Kids’ menu available