We were driving back home to the Bay Area, after my sister’s wedding in LA, and we were all starving by the time we hit Buttonwillow. Choices for lunch here are pretty limited. You have a Dennys and a couple of fast food joints, a taco truck or two, an Indian restaurant and Willow Ranch. We had stopped at Willow Ranch once before, for breakfast, and had left unimpressed. However, Yelp reviews promised something better for lunch, and we’re always up to trying some BBQ. Willown Ranch did not disappoint. They probably served the best bbq I’ve had outside E&J’s for a long time.
Willow Ranch is a simply, homey, coffeeshop/family restaurant style place. They have a cool statute of a cow in the front, which the kids loved, and a western motif, but it’s not a place where you come for the decor. The menu is extensive, but it caters to meat eaters (vegetarians should probably head for Taste of India). That was perfectly fine with us.
Mike had a 1/2 rack of baby back ribs ($15). They came with coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob, baked beans and onion rings. We both felt the ribs were excellent. I liked the flavor and the fact that they didn’t taste boiled, they had texture. The BBQ sauce was also excellent, highlighting sour and sweet notes. Those who like a kick on their BBQ would be disappointed, but I don’t. I had the tri-tip sandwich with onion rings ($10). The beef itself was sort of blah, but the sauce was good enough to make it shine. All in all, I was quite happy. The onion rings were very good as well, make sure to ask for ranch sauce to go with them.
My oldest daughter was quite happy with her California Chicken Burger ($8) and the little one was quite happy with her mac & cheese. The kids’ size dish was cheap at $4, but it did leave her hungry (she’s 9). The rest of us had more than enough food together, however.
Drinks were about $2.50 and the whole lunch for the four of us came to about $51 after tax and before tip.
All in all, it was a great lunch and I look forward to stopping there in the future.
Update May 2014
We stopped again at Willow Ranch, again coming back from LA. It was earlier in the day, so two of us had breakfast.
Mike had the Western Style Omelette ($9). He was not too happy with it. It was described as ‘Shredded deep-pit Certified Angus Beef®, diced bell pepper and onions topped with Cheddar cheese and served with your choice of homemade BBQ sauce or salsa”. He had expected that the beef and veggies would have been incorporated into the omelette. Instead, an egg & cheese omelette was just served on top of the beef. I just didn’t work for him.
Camila had some pancake combo from the kids’ menu which met her 9 year-old expectations. The toast, however, was very hard and she did not like it.
Mika once again enjoyed her California chicken burger, sans bacon, and I had the kids’ BBQ ribs & fries ($6). I wasn’t very hungry, and as Mika was ordering from the adult menu I felt justified. The entree came with four spare ribs, which was just the right amount for my hunger then and should satisfy a child’s appetite. Again, they had a nice texture and a good sauce. The fries were crispy and fine, but unremarkable.
In all, a good experience, but I think lunch rather than breakfast is the winner here.
Original Review, Breakfast, July 2009
We were on I-5 again, returning home from LA, the kids were hungry and the next stop was Buttonwillow so we headed there. We hadn’t been to the Willow Ranch restaurant before, and we figured it might be better than the other choices. In reality, it was not – we only had breakfast, but their breakfast left some to be desired. I’m rating it a solid “D” for Dennys-like quality.
I had the French toast (2 bread slices for $6) that came with a side of bacon or sausage. I got the bacon and it was overcooked and tough. The French toast was OK but not exciting, a rather small portion for the price (but I wouldn’t have wanted more). It was served with regular syrup.
Mike had the “hearty” breakfast ($8) which included pancakes, 2 eggs, sausage, and I think bacon. The pancakes were fine, but his eggs over medium were actually runny. Without any potatoes or bread to soak the yolk, they were a waste. The kids had the pancake and egg breakfast ($3) and were both happy, but they are easy to please. With 3 hot chocolates and a glass of milk the bill came to $30 after tax, expensive for a very mediocre breakfast.
The Willow Ranch is a modest, western-style restaurant and I think they specialize in BBQ foods, so their BBQ may be good – but I wouldn’t be rushing back in in any case.
Willow Ranch Restaurant
27770 Lagoon Dr.
(661) 764 – 6605
Marga’s Road Restaurant Reviews
It’d been 6 years since my original visit to (and review of) Taste of India in Buttonwillow and I was a bit surprised to see that things haven’t changed that much. The restaurant seems a bit more run down, the menu has been streamed line and now you order at the counter, but the restaurant still serves mostly North Indian food at relatively high prices (dishes are mostly priced around $11, same for dinner and lunch). The food is pretty good for Indian food in the middle of nowhere, but not outstanding.
We ordered our standards, chicken tikka masala and lamb korma (both $11), with a side of garlic nan and a large rice. The rice was purely white, no hints of saffron or mixed peas for appearance sake, which is fine with me. The nan was a bit thin but passable. The curries were better. The lamb korma was probably the best of the two. The pieces of lamb were tiny, but they still had considerable flavor. The curry was smooth and balanced. I liked it. The tikka masala substituted salt for smokyness, and its sourness was too one-noted, but it was still OK. Mika liked her mango lassi and I my sweet one, which once again was almost too sweet.
In all the meal was pleasant but we spent over $40 and only ordered two entrees, too expensive a lunch.
We’ll probably stop at Taste of India again, but given the prices and the location (a bit too close to LA), it may be a few years.
Taste of India
20687 Tracy Avenue
Update: This restaurant is now closed.
The following is a message I got about a restaurant on the road between SF & LA. I haven’t been there – but after that recommendation, I’ll definitely try it.
My wife and I stop at the Planeta Rojas Café in Button Willow each time we travel to L.A. and return.…it is down the way from the Taste of India…in back of the Shell Gas Station.
While you have to push past that they prepare their food out in front in a portable “Taco Coach” and you order inside the red building…the food is excellent. I am a Mexican Food lover and connoisseur…I grew up in L.A….spend a lot of time in Mexico..and know the best places in the Bay Area. Nobody, not any restaurant from Mexico City to any place in the Bay area….touches their Chile Relleno…it is all made fresh…this is not fast food…but, they serve it quickly. Try the Chicken Tostada if you’re on a diet. The prices are cheap…and a complete lunch for 2 is $13 to $20…including a soda.
One other thing…you might think the owners are just arrived from Mexico…a married couple…they’re not, both hard working & very friendly and proud parents of a new U.S. Marine stationed in San Diego…just joined and doing his boot camp. He joined for 6 years to become an Military Police. You won’t be disappointed.