A risky endeavor

When I think about eating out in Ventura, usually the question is not where, but which: Which Mexican restaurant will I eat at today? This is not necessarily a bad situation for me. As a child, while my friends clamored for more rice krispie treats, I begged my mom to nuke me a quesadilla. I was a strange child who preferred cheese and tortillas to marshmallows any day, and I still do.

So, when the question arises, I quickly run down my list of options: Casa de Soria, Joannafina’s, Yolie’s, Yolanda’s, Corrales, Jim and Rob’s, Baja Fresh, Johnny’s, Sharky’s, Snapper Jack’s and, most recently, Ruby’s Mexican Grill & Cantina.

Running a Mexican restaurant in Ventura is a competitive endeavor, and opening a new one amidst all the tried-and-true favorites in town takes guts. When I dropped by Ruby’s with some friends on a recent Saturday night, I was curious to see what the new restaurant would have to offer that the other places up the street didn’t.

That evening the restaurant was relatively packed — families and young couples filled the booths and tables in the dinning area (Ruby’s also has a large bar and outdoor seating).

The first thing that struck me about Ruby’s was its décor, which can best be described as a Mexican restaurant with heavy Disneyland influences. The colors were bright, the paintings on the walls were bright; the lights were bright; and the knick knacks here and there seemed to shout “this is an authentic Mexican restaurant!”

If the ambience felt somewhat hokey after a quick round of margaritas we were ready to forgive almost anything. Everyone at the table ordered the standard on the rocks, with salt. They were cold and strong and just a little too sweet, but for the most part, we were happy to be sipping while we talked and snacked on the complimentary chips and salsa.

When the food came (fish tacos, a vegetarian burrito, a side of beans and a chile relleno/cheese enchilada combination plate), we put the conversation on hold. The chile relleno was rather small in size, but the chile was spicy and the lightly fried egg batter was sufficiently fluffy. The cheese enchilada was forgettable.

As I gathered from reports across the table, the fish tacos were wonderful, but the vegetarian burrito was filled with unlikely and unwelcome additions (read: broccoli).

We were all relatively happy with our meals, although the fish tacos seemed to be the clear winner. We were full, but in the interest of a quality review, decided to order dessert. We chose a piece of pastrel tres leches (Mexican cake) for the table. It turned out to be a strange and wonderful treat.

I probably won’t be back to Ruby’s — it wasn’t bad, but to make it as a Mexican restaurant in this town, you’ve got to be great.