Past the pretty wooden façade and row of split rail fencing at Ranch Market sits the Valley's most exciting selection of Mexican staples, desserts, produce, meats, cheeses, seafood and more. The quality is supreme, even if sometimes shocking (a whole beef head, eyes still in, stares at us from the meat case, its open mouth stuffed with an ear of corn). Anything we could ever want is available in beautiful form: fresh coconut, mango, papaya, peppers of all kinds, fresh herbs, tamale husks, guava gel, carne seca, whole buffalo fish, beef lips, pork feet, and on and on.
But since cooking isn't our favorite thing, we're thrilled with the skills of the cooks at the take-away food court. The bakery churns out rainbows of pan dulce, postres, cakes, bread, rolls and cookies. The "Oasis" sells salads, fruit waters and salsas (wonderful shrimp cocktail, ceviche, pico de gallo, tropical frescas). And the busy restaurant next to it swarms with people scrambling for Styrofoam containers of first-class Mexican favorite dishes, immensely cheap at just $2 to $5 for a full meal.
You can take your pick at a long, enticing buffet line set up in front of the flaming gas grills where quick chefs cook everything from scratch: chile Colorado tacos, toothsome tortas, fat sandwiches and enormous burritos.
And for the ultimate, the Ranch prepares family and party packages serving six to 18. There's a choice of roasted chicken or carnitas, paired with rice, beans, salsas, macarron, tortillas, chips, ceballos, cilantro and Coca-Cola. Just know that this isn't gringo Mexican -- meats are drier, spices are hotter, every part of an animal often is used.
There's no question -- this takeout takes us away.