I was ready. More than ready, actually. After I’d had a fine pork meal at the restaurant called Guavate, I’d heard through the grapevine that there was a small family owned restaurant in Esperanza named Rancho Choli. I’d also heard that you’d better get there early to stake your claim on the lechón (roasted pig) before it goes. Sometimes the pork only lasts a mere 45 minutes before it’s history, and customers are either greedily eating it at picnic tables or bringing it home or to the beach.
I showed up early, 8:30am to be exact. I was not about to miss the golden opportunity to bring my takeout meal home and gorge myself on delectable pork. That time proved too early, because the pork was still slowly roasting in its makeshift concrete and metal pit.
I could smell it, though, even before I reached Rancho Choli. The roasting pig scent wafted through the entire neighborhood. I laughed as I remembered how in cartoons there would sometimes be a character following a scent on tiptoes, virtually in a trance. That was me, following my sniffer to pig nirvana.
Rancho Choli is located a block north of The Malecón in Esperanza, in a residential area. I found it by walking towards Lazy Jacks with the water on my left. Turn right a Lazy’s and walk to the next intersection. Take a right. You’ll see a park area on your left, and Rancho Choli is just a bit down the road on the right.
Ok, so back to my story. I show up on Rancho Choli’s restaurant doorstep too early in the morning. He’s right there, though, working his culinary magic in the kitchen. Chef Choli (aka Mariano Rivera Corcino) knows a thing or two about roasting pigs. He’s been doing it for 30 years.
I approach the window, giddy and with a smile on my face. “I’m here for the lechón,” I happily declare. “It’s not ready yet,” Choli responds. Say what? I dragged myself out of bed early so as to not miss out. “It will be ready after 11,” he shares, “but I’ll show you the pig out back if you want to see it cooking.” He didn’t have to ask me twice.
Choli led me through his labyrinth in the back and stopped at the pit. He pulled the metal roofing aside and there she was, glistening and succulent. Some areas of the skin had pulled away from the meat and you could see how juicy it was. Choli proceeded to offer me a small piece cut right from the pig, and I knew right then I’d come back at midnight to get some pork if I had to.
Luckily, I didn’t have to. He told me it would be ready after 11am. I said I’d come back. Choli asked me how much I wanted, and he’d save it aside for me. Now that’s service. I asked for a pound (don’t judge, it wasn’t just for one meal) and he said that was no problem.
When I returned late morning, Choli was a man of his word and had a pound of delicious pork wrapped in tinfoil with my name in marker on it. He also filled a to go container filled with rice and beans and yucca, enough for more than one meal. All of this cost me about 10 bucks.
The meal was delicious, and I’d recommend Rancho Choli to anyone who is looking for very reasonably priced, flavorful food. It’s my understanding that the menu changes slightly each day, with items such as roasted chicken, fried fish, whole lobster, tostones, arepas and more on the rotation. I can only imagine how good that stuff tastes. Unfortunately because I found Rancho Choli so late during my stay, I only had the food there that one time.
Chef Choli’s smile is infectious and genuine. You can tell that he loves what he’s been doing all of these years. He also treats you like your his neighbor coming for lunch, not a bothersome tourist or outsider. There’s a reason why the locals love this place, and having been there now, I totally get it!