The pocket-size El Ranchito Mexican Grill pulls off a feat that eludes many bigger, splashier Mexican restaurants: catering to both American and Latin American palates. While chef Jose Ramirez skillfully turns out such "gringo" classics as fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, even chimigangas, he also does an admirable tongue soft-corn taco - a signature of Mexican authenticity.
Warm taco chips are accompanied by a potent cilantro-laced salsa that makes my mouth ring; even so, I keep on dipping. What resonates greatly is the house chicken soup, an electric brew crimson in color, laced with cilantro and fired with hot red chiles. Black bean soup is decidedly more soothing - and a bit less exciting.
A chicken tamale delivers much comfort for a mere $2.25. There's a very generous shrimp quesadilla that's virtually bursting with plump shellfish.
Shrimp bathed in garlic sauce (camarones al ajillo) packs a subtle chile kick; it's paired with rice and green beans. Chicken, done in the same fashion, is equally good. I'm especially taken with the pollo al chipotle, tender boneless breasts in a sauce laced with smoked jalapeños. A standout is the chicken mole poblano, its piquant yet nuanced sauce enriched with unsweetened chocolate.
While a friend's steak fajitas (with mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes and onions) may be a cliche, it's one that's executed with élan, boosted by superior guacamole.
And then, there are the soft-corn tacos - the juicy beef tongue, the smoky crisp carnitas (pork) and the fish taco made with lightly breaded red snapper topped with cabbage and pico de gallo.
Flan is all it should be - wobbly and delicate.
The tomatoes in the pico de gallo are not always ripe and red; sometimes, they're pale and a bit hard.
In the space that years ago housed L'il Caboose, one of Long Island's most endearing Mexican restaurants, at last comes a worthy successor.
El Ranchito Mexican Grill is located at 66 Larkfield Rd., East Northport,631-262-9704.