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Tienda el Ranchito
30 Apr 2014
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Fairmont City, Illinois stands as a bastion of Latino culture in a primarily white and African American region; over 71% of Fairmont City’s population is of Hispanic descent, compared to only 2.19% and 1.52% Hispanic citizens in St. Clair and Madison Counties, where Fairmont City is located. The influx of Hispanic citizens to Fairmont City has taken place primarily within the past 25 years; Fairmont City’s Hispanic population more than doubled between 1990 and 2001 as a result of immigrant families settling in the town. As a town with a population of under 3,000, it initially seems odd that so many immigrants would move directly to Fairmont City. However, this pattern actually follows the trend of border-to-suburb immigration taking place on a national scale; more than a third of 2010’s 13.3 million new suburbanites were Hispanic, and over 40% of new immigrants in Illinois first locate in smaller communities rather than urban neighborhoods. Employment in Fairmont City is fairly consistent for recent immigrants; most work in orchards or agricultural processing companies, as is the case for many immigrants in rural communities across the country.  

In addition to its primarily Hispanic population, Fairmont City boasts a variety of ethnic establishments, which serve as cultural touchstones for the community. Tienda El Ranchito, a local family-owned restaurant and grocery, draws in customers with their authentic Mexican fare. Posole, a weekend special, draws rave reviews, and tacos made with organ meat (tripas, lengua, and cabeza) are consistent crowd pleasers. Although Tienda El Ranchito’s menu does include a Tex-Mex menu, presumably to satisfy consumers who aren’t as familiar with Mexican cuisine, customers warn to stick to the truly authentic Mexican dishes, the restaurant’s specialty. For customers who prefer to dine at home, the front of Tienda El Ranchito is a grocery store selling specialty Mexican and Latino food staples such as sugar cane and chayote, and traditional cuts of meat such as pig’s feet and beef tongue. Due to its popularity, the owners are currently expanding the grocery section to provide more ethnic food options.

Although Tienda El Ranchito is one of many Mexican restaurants in Fairmont City, it has been praised as the best by local St. Louis magazines such as Sauce and the Riverfront Times. A 2012 profile on the restaurant states, “this Metro East grocery store and restaurant doesn’t get as much attention as the taquerias on Cherokee Street or by the airport. It’s time to change that.” Despite Tienda El Ranchito’s location off the beaten path, tucked away in the shadow of the Cahokia mounds, in the past few years, the restaurant has managed to achieve cult status among Mexican food enthusiasts in the St. Louis region. Customers describe Tienda El Ranchito as “the gold standard in authentic Mexican food anywhere near St. Louis,” and recall trekking almost 30 miles for cabeza tacos and carne en su jugo. The Mississippi River serves as a psychological barrier for many West St. Louisans, so the fact that Tienda El Ranchito has been effective in drawing people across the river is significant. The restaurant has become visible and valued in a different way than many of the other sites in the American Bottom by garnering attention from an audience that typically does not have a vested interest in the region. Tienda El Ranchito not only serves an essential function within Fairmont City’s community by providing authentic Mexican fare and hard to come by grocery supplies, but brings an influx of customers from West St. Louis and elsewhere in the Metro East, stimulating the community’s economy and placing Fairmont City on the map.

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