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Thursday, July 29,2010

Ramon's revival

Tex-Mex restaurant has had a bumpy ride; now it's back in business

by Joe Torok



Ramon’s lives. Again.


The family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant has regrouped, reequipped, and relocated inside the Cedar Party Store on Cedar Street, just north of Cavanaugh Road in south Lansing.


Ramon’s, a family-run restaurant owned by Margarita and Ramon Fuentes that once had two locations in Lansing, opened in 1976 before shuttering in 2002. Last year, Margarita Rieger, one of the Fuentes’ daughters, attempted to open a new location using the Ramon’s name at a residence-turnedcommercial location on Saginaw Street, but the resurrection lasted only through December.


Now, a reenergized Fuentes family, without madre and padre, have opened a location on one of Lansing’s primary arteries, providing the recognizable Ramon’s brand with new visibility. Rueben Fuentes and Rieger are two of six siblings who manage the new venture.


“Rueben saw this place and he kept saying, ‘Margaret, I know this little spot,’ but I kept ignoring him,” Rieger said.


The family finally decided to reopen, but they needed more than will power.


“When we opened in this location, we were cooking in roasters, electric skillets, crock pots, whatever we could get our hands on,” Rieger said. “Friends donated cooking things, and we just got our oven in over a week ago.”


The location and tools may be new, but the Tex-Mex cuisine has not changed much at all, Rieger says.


The family members still use their mother’s recipes, and Fuentes, spooning ochre colored sauce over an enchilada, says customers appreciate the culinary consistency despite the business’ vicissitudes. Fuentes likes to brag about his enchiladas, which, he says, like nearly all of Ramon’s menu items, are made from scratch.


The enchilada sauce begins with fresh chiles. Guiladalla chiles are softened — through parboiling, cooking in the oven for a couple of minutes or just soaking in water — then pureed in a blender. The resulting paste is thinned, spices are added, and the result is a fresh, mild, flavorful enchilada sauce with a subtle smokiness.


The daily lunch special ($5.25) allows diners to mix or match three of five items — enchilada, taco tostada, chile con carne, or chips and salsa — with rice and beans. Or you can order anything from the three-page menu, from carne guisada — a Mexican take on stroganoff — to giant, wet Texas burritos.


Ramon’s nacho cheese sauce, chile con queso ($2.95, or $5.90 served with chips) is unlike the industrial, glow-in-the-dark stuff you’ll find at a stadium or movie theater. The consistency is similar, to be sure, but at Ramon’s, it’s fancied up: You’ll first notice a gentle hint of cumin; a bit of texture and heat come through next, compliments of Ramon’s spicy salsa verde; and even more flavors mingle together (I thought I detected cinnamon and a bit of something sweet), making the sauce oneof-a-kind.


Fuentes hopes a sit-down, stand-alone location is in the cards, and the family is confident Ramon’s could be franchised as well. Until that day comes, though, local cravers of Tex-Mex will be grateful and delighted to have Fuentes serving up enchiladas, regardless of where he’s located. And it’s because of family that Ramon’s lives again.


“Our whole family has been in the restaurant business and works very hard,” Fuentes says. “We can always count on the family to keep the restaurant running.”


Ramon’s


Inside Cedar Party Store at 4114 S. Cedar St., Lansing (517) 882-7777 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday- Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m.


Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday TO, $

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