El Granjero rewrites Mexican
When most West Michigan diners think of “Mexican” food, they think of wet burritos at the Beltline Bar or some other Tex-Mex dish. There’s nothing wrong with a gut busting Beltline Bar burrito, but it is not the kind of food you’ll find traveling around Mexico.
For the most part, food in Mexico is light and bright and full of fresh ingredients, a far cry from Taco Bell and its gloopy volcano sauces, neon orange cheese and Mexican pizzas. Nowhere in Mexico would you find a hard shell taco wrapped in a flour tortilla with fake cheese used as a sort of glue to hold the entire thing together.
These Tex-Mex abominations have distorted our view of Mexican food. Top Chef Masters was on the other night, and one of the judges said something quite interesting that related to a recent dining experience: “Sometimes we don’t give Mexican food enough street credit, as compared to Italian or French meals.” So true.
As West Michigan’s Hispanic population grows, so do our choices for authentic Mexican food. While you wouldn’t call most of these restaurants fine dining, many of them do a good job with traditional Mexican food — burritos, tacos, gorditas, tortas and quesadillas.
One of the best Grand Rapids Grub has found is El Granjero Mexican Grill (formerly know as Tacos El Ganadero). Like many of the authentic Mexican restaurants around town, El Granjero isn’t much to look at. It is found at the corner of Bridge Street and Lane Avenue on Grand Rapids’ West Side in a former Church’s Chicken.
As soon as you walk into El Granjero, you are greeted by a colorful, south-of-the-border atmosphere. It’s a bit tatty and dark inside, though it always seems clean. When eating at ethnic restaurants, it is always a good sign to see diners of that ethnicity actually eating there. El Granjero is truly a melting pot of cultures. Couples with children chatting in Spanish sit next to a group of white construction workers on break, who sit next to an African-American businessman who has come for lunch from a downtown office.
To draw a crowd like this, the food has to be good. And it is. A basket of chips and two types of salsas are served when you sit down. The menu is in Spanish and English and pictures accompany most food selections so those who haven’t had a torta (Mexican sandwich) at least might know what one looks like before ordering it.
El Granjero has the typical drink selections — fountain Coca-Cola soft drinks — but it also has a few items diners won’t find at Taco Bell. An horchata is a milky, rice-based drink that is slightly sweet and flavored with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. It is a great drink to tame the spicy fire of El Granjero’s food. And kids absolutely love them.
Going with my gut, I ordered a chicken quesadilla, a long-time favorite. Thinking that my stomach could handle a big meal, I went with the large size. When our meals came, I was shocked by the size of the quesadilla. I was expecting something that could fill me up, not something that I’d have to take home to finish the next night. For about $7, I got a great tasting quesadilla (albeit with avocado, which I had specifically asked to have taken off). It was full of cheese, peppers and loads of chicken. It was fully packed. My dining partner, Grand Rapids Grub co-founder Rob Kirkbride, is a El Granjero veteran. Though he usually goes with one of the restaurant’s huge dry burritos with steak or chicken, he decided on the steak tacos ($1.59 each). Rob reported the meat in the tacos was tender and delicious. Those who don’t know much about traditional Mexican food should know that tacos are served on corn tortillas, not flour, through flour tortillas are an option at El Granjero.
Rob also has tried the restaurant’s excellent tortas, a Mexican sandwich with meat and fresh avacado. He also highly recommends the burritos, which are served with a choice of meat, lettuce, fresh avacado, onion, cheese, sour cream and cilantro. For less than $6, it is large enough to eat for two meals. Gorditas — the equivalent of a Mexican pita — are reported to be excellent as well. Rob recommends the bean and cheese gorditas for kids.
You’ll be surprised at how many different choices there are, especially beyond the standard burrito and taco. All in all, El Granjero gave me a pretty good meal at a very reasonable price. And if you’re a college student, you get 10 percent off with an ID.
As West Michigan Hispanic population blossoms, so does the dining choices for everyone in the area. Next time you want to make a “run for the border,” go with something local and little more exotic. You’ll love what you find.El Granjero ( Rating: out of 5 )
Where: 950 Bridge St NW
Hours: Open Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Ambiance: Authentic Mexican eatery
How much will it cost you: Entrees cost between $5 and $10
Credit cards: All major
Contact: (616) 458-5595