Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Just Like Abuela Used to Make: El Rancho brings family favorites from Central America to Harrisburg.

El Salvadoran pupusas.

A glass mug the size of my head filled with a cool Guatemalan horchata sat in front of me as Mexican music brought life to the already vivid orange room.

A waitress asked me if I had tasted the sweet, milky drink before. I told her that this was my first time, though a quarter of the mug already sat empty. I kept sipping until owners Manuel Ambrocio and Maria Ramirez greeted me.

Little did I know I should’ve saved room for the food to come.

The husband and wife duo opened El Rancho Restaurante y Pupuseria in August on N. 3rd Street in downtown Harrisburg. The couple has compiled a menu with dishes hailing from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala.

While there are other Mexican restaurants in the area, none fit the authenticity that Ambrocio and Ramirez were looking for. Even fewer incorporated food from multiple Central American countries.

“We wanted something real home-style,” Ramirez said. “Now, we won’t have to go to Maryland to get the food we like.”

Most popular on the menu are the El Salvadoran pupusas—corn dough stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and fried until golden.

If you’re stopping in for lunch or a light dinner, tostadas, tamales, burritos and tortas are a few of El Rancho’s other offerings. The less adventurous have options like burgers and salads.

When dinner comes around, there is a full list of entrees featuring fajitas and chicken, steak and rice plates.

How will you decide what to order? Well, maybe you’re better off doing what one customer did and ordering one of each. Even the owners find it hard to pick a favorite.

“Everything we put in here is something we like,” Ambrocio said.

Both Ambrocio and Ramirez have always loved to cook.

When Ambrocio moved to the United States from Guatemala, he embedded himself in the food service industry, working at different restaurants and grills. Ramirez, having learned her way around the kitchen from her grandmother, loved to bake and even started making cakes for friends and family.

They both had a dream of opening their own restaurant where they could make and sell food that did more than satisfy appetites, but spark memories.

“We want to give them the experience of going back to your grandma’s house,” Ramirez said. “Obviously, it won’t compare to what your grandma makes, but we try to make it as comparable as we can.”

Ambrocio remembers eating pupusas prepared by his mom. During recess at school, he would go to the store with $2 in hand to buy tostadas for a midday snack.

Now, he’s selling them, and so far, people can’t get enough.

“This is my first time trying them,” said customer Champa Dulal. “I don’t even know the name of it, but it’s good.”

Harrisburg resident Cachet Adams hadn’t even finished her pupusas before describing them as “bangin’” and “slappin’.” It was her first time trying them, as well.

Besides enjoying the food, Ambrocio and Ramirez hope to create a culture where everyone feels welcome and at home whether they’re a newcomer or not.

“We want everybody to smile in here,” Ramirez said. “I don’t want to look at it as a business, but as a family. We treat people that come as family.” 

El Rancho Restaurante y Pupuseria is located at 210 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit

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