It’s only been about six months since Carlos and his wife Elsa transformed the former Marie Callender’s into a combination Mexican bakery, meat market, grocery store and eatery. The result is a spacious and inviting business that is attracting a lot of customers on the north end of Lancaster Drive.

When you go there you will see why. The open hours are great. El Ranchero is one of the few places in town were you can get an authentic Mexican breakfast at eight in the morning. Traditional breakfast choices would be chilaquiles ($6.50) — tortillas cooked in a ranchera sauce served with scrambled eggs — or huevos con chorizo ($6.89), which are eggs scrambled with Mexican sausage that they make in-house.

We came for lunch and had a hard time choosing from the many selections. Elsa recommended the huarache (6.99), a popular lunchtime choice. Huaraches are named after the Mexican sandal because the masa base has the same shape. Topping the base is a spicy green chili sauce, queso fresco, and your choice of meat toppings. We tried the carnitas — very fresh and delicious roast pork that is a specialty here. There are eight choices of meat for the huaraches, sopes (a smaller version of the huarache), tacos and tortas. Be adventurous and try cabeza (beef head) or lengua (beef tongue). There is a bar on the side of the counter where you can help yourself to a good variety of salsas and garnishes.

Also at Elsa’s suggestion we tried a special plate called alambre Ranchero ($9.89). ‘Alambre’ literally means ‘wire,’ and generally denotes meat grilled (as on a skewer) with onions and peppers. We got a big tasty grilled mix of the house-made chorizo, pastor (marinated pork), onions, and red and green bell peppers with Monterrey cheese melted on top and a generous stack of house-made tortillas. This could easily feed two.

Most taquerias in Salem have an assortment of  house-made aguas frescas. These are flavored sweet drinks in big glass barrels. On the day we were at El Ranchero, they had three choices. Two were common, but one was uncommon — a delicious agua de fresa ($1.69), made with fresh strawberries. Outstanding.

If you have room for dessert, have a piece of pay de queso ($0.75), a kind of Mexican cheese cake. Or for something really special, try a piece of milhojas cake ($2.99). This is an elaborate “thousand layer” cake, the Mexican version of the French mille-feuille, that is typically only eaten on special occasions. But you can have one with your meal at El Ranchero.

Carlos is from Michoacan, but his food is from all over Mexico. He wants to add even more menu items in the future drawing on more regions of Mexico. He mentioned introducing a specialty of the Yucatan, cochinita pibil, which is pork marinated in citrus and achiote and slow roasted. Bring it on, Carlos! We’ll be back for sure to sample more of the made-from-scratch authentic Mexican food at El Ranchero Market.

2615 Lancaster Dr. NE
Salem, Oregon 97305
Monday – Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m