• Best Vegan Mexican Food in San Diego: Pokez vs. Ranchos

    November 16th, 2011mr meanermore restaurants (not LA), san diego

    Talk to any vegan who visits San Diego regularly, and you’ll immediately get their answer to the all-important question:

    Does Pokez or Ranchos have the best Mexican food?

    While I have a very clear preference, answering the question is a little like answering somebody who asks: “Should I buy a Ford Explorer or a Mini Cooper?” Those cars are designed for entirely different purposes, and the two restaurants are different enough to warrant a similar analysis.

    In this case, rather than write yet another typical review of each, here’s a shoot-out comparison of several categories, with the inevitable “winner” chosen by adding up the wins and losses. Here we go:

    1. Location and ambiance. Winner: Pokez

    Pokez: Situated a 10 minute walk from downtown, Pokez is very easy to get to. There’s ample street parking, and the vibe of the restaurant is quite unique: Part dive-bar (although there’s no bar) and part mexican restaurant the place has funky artwork, and a very grungy presence. As an ex-Seattlite I feel very much at home, and love the casual, diner-style appearance.


    Ranchos: Although there are two locations, we visited the North Park restaurant, situated well north of downtown, which is in a fairly nondescript building, and has an equally nondescript interior. Although pleasant and bright, there really isn’t much to say about the place. It’s just like any other southern-Californian independent Mexican restaurant: comfy sets, wooden tables and the odd booth.


    2. Service. Winner: A draw

    While Pokez waiters appear to delight in curt, indifferent service the food arrives fast and they’re always on-hand to fulfill my endless desire for more salsa. Getting the check usually involves making one’s way to the window at the back of the restaurant, which can be a little foreboding – one feels one is buying drugs in some urban bodega.

    pokez service

    Ranchos, on the other hand, has polite, attentive, family-stye service, just like you’d expect from such a place. It is a good job, as the food took forever to arrive (the place wan’t even that busy). I’d rate their service the same Pokez, purely because they try so hard, and bring the check to your table.

    3. Food (for gringo Vegans). Winner: Ranchos


    If you’re a fake-meat style vegan, you’re going to love Ranchos. They buy a ton of fake meats and cheeses and incorporate them into many of their dishes – from “shrimp” salads to “chicken”, “pork”, and “beef” burritos and tacos. While we didn’t partake of the fake meat dishes, most vegans we know speak very highly of them, and say that this is some of the best food they have eaten.

    Pokez doesn’t have any fake meats or cheeses (nope, not even the ubiquitous Daiyaveeta), so the dishes are prepared with traditional ingredients only. If you are partial to fake shrimp, or really feel you need it in a burrito, then high tail it north to Ranchos.

    4. Food (for lovers of Mexican cuisine). Winner: Pokez

    Frankly, the food in Ranchos tastes very run-of-the-mill. If you strip away the fake meats, the fillings and options are average, to below average. From the food we tried, I felt that I could have made much of it at home: the burrito was limp and soggy and the side salads looked like they came right out of a grocery store pre-packaged bag. Yeah, not that impressive to a Mexican food connoisseur such as I.

    ranchos burrito

    Pokez, on the other hand, takes the basic menu items to a whole new level. The burritos are huge, and stuffed to the brim with all manner of ingredients. The potatoes (in my favorite burrito) are seasoned with Mexican spices (rather than being just fried as they are at Ranchos), and the preparation, presentation and taste are infinitely better. Also, the salad greens are chunky and pickled – on the premises – and are one of the tastiest things on the menu. Oh, and the chips and salsa are about 10 times better at Pokez.

    pokez burrito

    5. Value. Winner: Pokez

    Ranchos is tough competition here, as they charge reasonable prices for their food. At $7.95 for enchiladas, rice and beans, Ranchos is pretty good value. The portions are average-sized so the average price is about right. The sides and additions are priced well, but the smaller portions mean that you’ll be ordering more of them, so expect to pay a little more.

    Combo plate at Ranchos w/ rice and beans: Bean Enchiladas topped with sauce. $7.95

    On the other hand, Pokez charge ridiculously low prices for their food – so much so that I had to question the tab on one occasion. The baseline enchiladas at Pokez are about 60% larger than at Ranchos, and taste (as we’ve already established) much better. On top of all that, the thing costs only $3.75 a full $4 less, and if you add rice and beans you end up with substantially more food and still pay $2.50 less! However you cut it, Pokez is excellent value, and would still be a draw with Ranchos even if they doubled their prices.

    pokez enchiladas with beans $3.75

    plus a side of rice for $1.50

    6. Bonus Point for food presentation: Pokez

    Those HUGE portions dominate your table until you eat the last bite. The way the burritos are wrapped, the preparation of the salad and even the way they bring you a large bowl of salsa if you keep asking for more small bowls make the visual aspect of dining at Pokez much more interesting than Ranchos which is, at best, basically ordinary.

    vegan chimichanga at pokez

    To summarize, we have a clear winner in all but one category, and Pokez wins the SD vegan Mexican medal from us.

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19 responses to “Best Vegan Mexican Food in San Diego: Pokez vs. Ranchos” RSS icon

  • As a long time SD resident and now visitor I completely agree. Pokez is a special place to go and eat whereas Ranchos is ordinary and boring. Not that it’s bad, it’s just nothing special.

    Pokez FTW!

  • POKEZ!!!!

  • That top burrito picture says it all. You don’t even need to write anything. Pokez!

  • How could there even be a question? The answer is POKEZ! The staff is awesome, the art is so cool, the location is perfect and, most importantly, the food is AMAZING! I’ve only eaten at Ranchos once for a reason – it’s bland.

  • Pokez will always be #1. Ranchos has great ideas but their food is inconsistent. On numerous occasions I have order something, thought it was the best thing ever only to go back the following week and have it taste horrible. Go Pokez!

  • I have never been to Ranchos, but would have to vote for them by default. I went to Pokez once and got the worst case of food poisoning ever. I will definitely not be back.

  • What kind of sauce is covering these burritos? For some reason the presentation of burritos from both these establishments looks really similar.

  • Never been to either, but slightly intrigued by the mannequin of the armless man in a red bikini standing in a trash can hehe
    The food pics look great, to be a bit more on-topic:D

  • Liticker’s in Ocean Beach is number one. 🙂

  • POKEZ! FOR.SURE. i used to live in SD and while I liked both places, the food (and the bizarre yet eclectic experience) were way better at ol Pokez. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the greatest mexican place that i’ve ever been too. the vegan chorizo burrito is out of this world.

  • i fucking love pokez.

  • I wouldn’t even wipe my face with a Ranchos burrito. A complete embarrassment compared to Pokez.

  • I haven’t been to either yet (unfortunately), but I must say that Pokez is exponentially better than Ranchos solely based on the facts stated here and in other posts. Honestly, as much as I love fake meat and cheese products, most omnivore restaurants lack creativity when trying to create a vegan menu, so they just end up creating bland meals that could easily be made at home. Simply wrapping prepackaged food in a tortilla and putting sauce on it isn’t enough.

    Pokez looks great because they can make food from scratch with no help from fake meat or cheese and they do it right with the perfect amount of creativity. Large portions are a big plus, too!

    Anyway, I’ve been dying to try Pokez’s chimichanga for the LONGEST time, but I don’t think I’m ever going to go to San Diego. At least not in the foreseeable future. Sad face!

  • Don Carlos Tacos in La Jolla should take on the winner of this slug-fest.

    As an aside: I officially boycotted Rancho’s many moons ago when within rapid succession I experienced two instances of dairy being put into my food and pulled out a whole sausage link from my ‘vegetarian’ soup -for which the excuse was given that it must have ‘fallen from a shelf above and landed in the soup pot.’ These happened on three separate occasions: I gave them the benefit of the first two times, but the sausage incident was inexcusable, inexplicable and brings up serious questions about their food prep arena. Not to mention that no apology was offered.

  • Why should there even be a comparison between these two? We should be grateful that vegans have two choices of great Mexican food in San Diego.

  • You all know pokez fries their chips in the same fryer + oil as all their meat right?

  • That livejournal article is a joke. Parents of autistic kids probably have the hardest jobs in the world (God Bless Them!) but they should warn servers that their kids are off and can’t be reasoned with. Why were they letting the kid order, without telling the staff what was up? Is this some exercise just to make some kid feel normal, while throwing off the normal flow of the restaurant and probably fucking up the waitress’ day? Just because your kid is autistic doesn’t mean the world revolves around you. If someone angrily told me 5 times they didn’t want ranchero sauce, I’d probably make fun of them too. Sure, let the kid order, but pull the waitress aside first and let her know that he’s going to be all irrational and yell at her. Blame the parents.

    I can’t wait to eat at Pokez.

  • I’m with this guy.

    “So wrong of you to takes sides before hearing the other side first. This man is completely exaggerating the situation, and its sad he is exploting his own sons autism for some reward.
    Take it from someone who saw the incident, and no I dont work there…
    -Jaccie Phillips


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