New to the Hood: Marcus & Katie Avila Open El Ranchito
At this point, most of you know that the Avila’s have come to OTO with their family-owned restaurant El Ranchito. I happened to be getting back from a Hawaiian vacation the day before they opened, so the next morning, with no food in the house, the family and I decided to pay them a visit for lunch. Of course, the universe played a little game on all of us that day and half the power was out in downtown Orange, including at El Ranchito. They were making it work though and still serving up their traditional recipes and margaritas! While this is pretty terrible for opening day, it made for a good memory and we had a great experience that day as well as the chance to meet owner Marcus Avila. We have been back many times since and it seems that each time, they’ve made another small change to what used to be PJs Abbey.
I wanted to have the chance to get to know Marcus and his wife Katie before writing about them and my several visits have given me that opportunity. I also sat down with Marcus most recently and got a little back story on El Ranchito. What you may think about El Ranchito is that it’s a franchise, however that is not true. Each restaurant is owned by one of three generations of Avila’s, Marcus and his brother Michael being the first two in the 3rd generation. The Avila family holds the El Ranchito brand and reputation close to their hearts and they are all very proud of how far they’ve come over the decades. They also have no plans to franchise.
Marcus’ grandparents came from Mexico in the early 1960s. With grandma being an excellent cook, they decided to open a restaurant with only 4 tables in Huntington Park and for the first 10 years, she was the only chef. Today, each and every item on the menu is grandma’s original recipe. I asked Marcus what his favorite thing on the menu was and he said the Shrimp Botano and, of course, the Avila Soup…which if you haven’t tried, is dreamy. Best soup ever to comfort a cold, and many of you can attest to that I’m sure!
I also asked why they chose to open a location in Old Towne Orange. Marcus said that they’d been looking here for a couple of years because OTO’s becoming a dining destination and they wanted to be a part of that. The sale of PJ’s happened at the right time for them and they jumped on it.
If you haven’t been by to check it out, then head on over there. You’ll likely meet either Marcus or Katie, who are both super sweet. They also own the location in Laguna Niguel. A couple of weeks ago, they added some booths into the bar area, so it’s really a great spot to stop for a drink. They’re also creating a more sports friendly atmosphere, so you’ll notice the addition of some big screens which’ll be playing when games are on. And this week, they kicked off Taco Tuesday! Also, it’s important to note that their chips are very yummy so watch out for those. 😉 Last thing on this is that they will be open during Street Fair this weekend, so stop in to cool off!
I do want to add that I’ve heard lots and lots of comments about El Ranchito coming to town, both positive and negative. Many have expressed that this type of restaurant isn’t a right fit for OTO. However, I want to say that I’ve had a great experience there every time I’ve gone. In only a couple of short months, I’ve gotten to know the owners, and they make a point to be friendly and talk to their customers. It most definitely has a family-owned vibe going on and I cannot say the same for my experience at other new one-off restaurants in town. While I really love ALL the new food and variety of places we now have (because I love to dine out and eat good food and enjoy the time with friends/family), I don’t have a connection with the owners of these restaurants, so the overall experience (which is still positive for me) is not the same. I do understand that we are all unique individuals with our own perceptions and experiences and points of view…this is just mine.