Ranchos Real

The Ranchos Plaza Grill is a Taos tradition of food and family

By David Lerner

Consistency, simplicity, flavor. According to Adam Medina, chef and owner of Ranchos Plaza Grill, these are the intangible qualities that set his restaurant apart from other New Mexican eateries. 

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The community agrees. Year after year, tourists, skiers and locals alike return to Ranchos Plaza Grill to savor the Medina family’s homestyle culinary traditions. “We don’t put fifteen ingredients in our chile,” Adam says. “Instead, our dishes are still prepared exactly like my father and his mother made them.” 

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Medina’s authentic Northern New Mexico soul food is served in a historic adobe building filled with folk art and located adjacent to the nationally landmarked San Francisco de Asís Mission Church. On weekends, be sure to arrive early — it’s not unusual for customers to wait, especially on Sundays after church.

Despite his family background in the culinary arts, Medina did not always want to be a chef. After graduating from high school in Taos where he was born and raised, he began studying at UNM–Albuquerque to become a doctor. Adam admits he wasn’t feeling the pre-med path, so he returned to Taos to help with the family catering business. He also became associated with the American Culinary Federation’s local chapter.

Ranchos Plaza Grill, Nathan Burton/Taos News

These experiences inspired a move to Los Angeles to attend the L.A. Culinary Institute. Adam absorbed the basics, such as how to make stock and classic French mother sauces. In his required business courses, Adam learned culinary math, or how to price out a recipe for quantity. “The restaurant business has a slim profit margin, so this skill is essential,” Adam notes.

After culinary school, Adam and his wife Raelynn returned to Taos to start their family. In 2000, Adam helped his father, who passed away two years ago, achieve his dream of opening a restaurant. The Medinas found the space that the restaurant occupies today and outfitted it with kitchen equipment bought at auction. A few staffers from the early days still work at the restaurant alongside Adam’s sons Adam Jr. and Alejandro, and his daughter Alyssa, a licensed clinical psychologist. A true family affair, Ranchos Plaza Grill even has an on-site apartment where Adam’s two young granddaughters, Aleena and Eliana can hang out. “I never knew having grandchildren would change my life so much, but it has,” Adam gushes.

Nathan Burton/Taos News

Backstory aside, Ranchos Plaza Grill’s main attraction is the food. Customers rave about the Carne Adovada, charred to perfection on a flat-top grill. Red and green chiles are simmered in a rich, homemade pork stock (vegetarian green chile is also available). Word of Adam’s delicious stuffed sopaipillas caught the ear of celebrity chef Guy Fieri. The restaurant was featured on his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. For lent, Adam offers specials such as fish tacos and torta de huevo, a traditional New Mexican easter dish. Although the restaurant does not serve alcohol, Medina points out that “you can drink a Corona anywhere in the world, but you can only get our food here.”    

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Like almost all restaurants nationwide, Ranchos Plaza Grill was adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adam had to shutter the dining room and temporarily move to a carry-out only model. Returning to pre-pandemic levels of staffing and daily operations has presented additional challenges. During some high-volume times, the restaurant is too busy to offer carry-out — customers are advised to call ahead to see if they can accommodate take-out orders. Nonetheless, Adam remains upbeat about the restaurant’s future, which someday may be in the hands of his kids and grandchildren. 

Above all, he expresses gratitude to his loyal customers: “Without our true local community support since day one, we wouldn’t be here today.”   

Ranchos Plaza Grill
8 Ranchos Plaza, Ranchos de Taos