Eating away environmental problems at green restaurants

Had any green Mexican food lately?

by Michael Oshman

am writing this monthly column for very selfish reasons. I have always loved eating in restaurants. I love sitting and relaxing with a friend or by myself to enjoy wonderful food, where I can focus just on my friend and my food: no worries of dishes, cleanup, or phone calls. I expect and value excellent service and excellent food when I go out and pay my hard-earned money. I want cleanliness and an ambiance that is either relaxing or creative. I want to know that the meal I eat has a low impact upon the environment. That's why I only dine at Green Restaurants - so that I can have a full experience which satisfies my body, taste buds, and conscience.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Ranchos Cocina Restaurant in Ocean Beach was the warm, alive atmosphere. Mexican tapestries hang from the window, clay vases dangle from the walls, and a comforting polyphony of conversations from the many customers.

Brown napkins, made from 100-percent non-chlorine-bleached post-consumer waste sit on the tables, fitting perfectly with the earthy, warm Mexican decor.

Ranchos became a Green Restaurant in October of 1996. Marcus, the proprietor, felt it was important for the planet and his customers to have the safest packaging for take-out and leftovers. So, he completely eliminated all use of Styrofoam containers and cups. Ranchos is now in the process of adding metals, glass and plastic recycling, in addition to cardboard. Marcus, adorned in a sombrero, is also investigating using the new recycled, non-bleached, 100-percent post-consumer waste take-out boxes.

How many Mexican restaurants offer fresh juices, smoothies, soy cheese and many vegetarian items? Not many. I grew up on Mexican food, so I hoped that it was delicious and authentic. I told the waiter that I was a vegetarian and wanted the most delicious dish prepared in the kitchen. He recommended the veggie fajitas.

When my veggie fajitas arrived, the presentation's simplicity was well compensated for by the rich, creamy beans. The 100th chip and salsa entered my mouth, causing a fire. Sweet Orchata, a Mexican rice drink, cooled my burning mouth, as the waiter graciously brought a milder salsa, prepared fresh for me. The fajitas tasted fresh, filled with many organic and non-organic vegetables. There was an abundance of delicious food: whole wheat tortillas, grilled vegetables, beans, fresh salsa.

I had hoped I would have room for the fried ice cream. (I'm not a Vegan yet.) But ... oh, I was very full. The ice cream will have to wait for next time.

Marcus commented that 75 percent of his dishes can be made vegetarian, and there are many entrees which are 100 percent Vegan (i.e., no animal products, no milk, no eggs). Much of their food is organic, including zucchini, green beans, yellow squash, and sprouts. Ranchos is one of a few restaurants in San Diego which use organic produce and offer so many vegan options.

My stomach tells you, "Eat there simply because the food is good." My wallet ­ pleaseantly surprised ­ exclaims, "You can eat authentic vegetarian Mexican food, much of which is organic, for about $5." My soul says, "You will feel warm there. You will feel at home with Marcus, his family, the workers and the loving environment they create."

My conscience is clear: organic food; recycled napkins; Styrofoam-free; enhanced recycling program; and use of recycled materials. I want you and me to have safe water, clean air and a healthy environment. We can create that by buying products and patronizing businesses like Ranchos, which have a lower negative environmental impact than their competitors. I feel very good about recommending Ranchos, open 8am to 10pm every day. Ranchos is located at 1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. in Ocean Beach, phone 226-7619. Ranchos is certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

Michael Oshman is president of the Green Restaurant Association, 287-4261. To find the Green Restaurants near you, call the Green Restaurant Referral Service at 490-9695 ext 2.