Friday, February 24, 2006

Don't Have A Cow, Dude: Harris Ranch, Coalinga, CA

Everyone who's ever made the trek up Highway 5 from L.A. to Northern California has smelled the smell. You're about 200 miles away from home, sitting behind the steering wheel or comfortably in the passenger seat minding your own business, perhaps singing along to your favorite 80's hair band CD when suddenly your car fills up with the foulest stench ever imaginable to man. You hurriedly reach over to the A/C controls making sure the recycled air setting is on. And to your right, the source of the odor that suddenly hit you and your passengers like a ton of bricks: a literal sea of cattle basking in the hot sun awaiting their demise.

We don't like the smell, no. But we are curious about the restaurant located just up the road, yes. Being that close to a slaughterhouse, the meat must at least be fresh right?

Last weekend, we just happened to be at that 200-miles-past-L.A. mark when we saw the Hanford/Lemoore turnoff, and guess what? It was almost lunchtime, so we turned off...straight to Harris Ranch, home of the steakhouse-just-down-the-road from Fresno County's infamous slaughterhouse. Fortunately for us, the usual stench did not knock us out when we opened the car door; it was a cold morning, so the cow fumes had not baked enough to permeate the air.

We walked into the Spanish hacienda-looking inn and were quite impressed with the well kept grounds. Tons of sunlight spilled through its many windows and bounced off its wood beamed ceiling and ceramic tile floor. People young and old were everywhere, whether shopping for beef souvenirs at the gift shop or waiting for a table. There are actually a few eateries at the inn, some more casual than others, and because we were in our most casual long distance driving duds, the family friendly Ranch Kitchen seemed like the best option for us.

After waiting about 10 minutes, we were led into the large farm themed dining room filled with travelers and families and seated at a booth along a wall dressed with frilly country floral curtains. The usual family restaurant fixings are present--soups, salads, sandwiches, grilled and griddled entrees--so there's nothing much that distinguishes Harris Ranch's menu from say, Marie Callendar's or Cocos' menus except for, well, beef. And that's exactly what we were there for.

What we really would have loved is a steak but it wasn't even noon yet, and we were afraid that that much meat wouldn't be too bowel friendly, especially since we still had a long drive ahead of us if you know what I mean. So no "Harris Ranch Restaurant Reserve Beef" for filet mignon, no New York striploin, no prime rib. A burger, though, would be a much better choice. Not quite as heavy and still some beef.

As opposed to their California Burger which had both bacon and avocado and their Gorgonzola Burger with (duh) gorgonzola and caramelized onions, both Isaac and I ordered the Ranch Burger which was just your basic no-nonsense cheeseburger--cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion and special sauce. Sounds easy enough right? Well you'd think. The "1/3 lb. USDA Choice natural Black Angus Beef" was of good quality and had that nice charred beef taste, but the rest of the burger was crap. The buns were cold and un-toasted, they forgot to put cheese in both burgers, and mine was missing the onions. The steak fries were OK but nothing special--just wedge fries seasoned like curly fries. We complained to our waitress, who was really apologetic and offered to have them remade, but we didn't have time so we just ate it. Literally.

You're not giving beef a good name, you know.

I'll have to admit that despite the poor lunch experience, I'm still a wee bit tempted to come back just to have a real steak and give Harris Ranch another chance to redeem themselves. If I do then surely you'll read about it in the future. If not, no big deal. After all, what good is good beef if the food around it sucks? We had a cow, and it wasn't worth it.

The Ranch Kitchen at Harris Ranch
24505 West Dorris Ave.
Coalinga, CA 93210
(800) 942-2333


Kirk said...

Hi Pam - LOL! Ain't even the Hair Bands for's usually The Romantics or The Fixx(One Thing Leads to Another)...maybe Scandal! And you're right the smell hits you like a wall. But if it wasn't there, you'll miss it. When we lived in Rowland Heights, we used to work out at the "old" LA Fitness, and I remember walking out one day, and wrinkling my nose going "What the **** is that smell". The Missus replied, "it's the cow**** from Ontario, when the wind blows this way you can smell it all the way down here." Holy Christ....but now, after all of the development out in that area off the 15 freeway, all the cows are gone, and so is the smell. I'm sure if we still lived there I would miss it.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Pam, which hair band were you listening to? I actually have a playlist on my iPod called GlamRock and HairRock haha. I looooooove Skid Row.

Anyway, thank you for satiating my curiosity. I remember seeing this on the way to SF and was tempted to drive off the freeway dramatically towards the restaurant. Whenever you see a ranch-name fixated to meat on a menu, you immediately think oooooh interesting. Wouldn't work for chinese food though.... Alhambra-Raised Duck haha.

Kirk, are you talking about that nasty chicken farm that was off the 605/60? I think it's gone now haha.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

By the way, your main shot of the red meat is true food porn. My eyes went big like an owls.

Anonymous said...

Every time the stench hits me as I drive past Harris Ranch, I think of what my friend Eric calls it: "Cowschwitz."

(Offensive, yes, but hilarious.)

meg said...

Don't do it -- go back, I mean. We were seized by the same urge on one of our trips up to the Yay Area, and we waited for the main dining room, for the full-on Steaky Goodness experience.

Boy, were we disappointed. Even the steak wasn't all that great, and the sides were seriously weak.

Passionate Eater said...

Agreement Pam. I've been to Harris Ranch, and the beef ain't all that good. I had the burger too, and it tasted ... Like dried cow patties.

Plus, I went during Coalinga's prom night, so it was crowded with high schoolers decked out in frilly pink prom dresses and hick style tuxedos--you know, the kind with the overalls. Thus, it was good for people watching, but not much else. Eat at the Wendy's in Lost Hills. That way, you won't have to smell anymore cow shit than necessary.

Daily Gluttony said...


Don't trip, we like The Fixx too! LOL! I guess you're right, the Hwy 5 drive ain't the same thng w/o the cows.


Rock on, man. Actually, we listen to everything from Guns n' Roses to the Smiths to Snoop Dogg!


OK, that is sooooo wrong but it's damn funny.


Thanks for the tip; now I won't go back fer sure!


Coalinga prom night??? OK, that's the scariest thing I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

i hope you aren't reincarnated as a cow.