When you see an old Cadillac perched above a restaurant entry plus the words “ranch” and “barbecue,” the appeal is too much to ignore. That’s Cadillac Ranch restaurant in National Harbor, a block from the waterfront and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. You may not have Potomac River views, but you can pick out a bar, an alfresco, or a dining-area seat and settle in for a convivial meal.
By the way, if you sit near the back in what looks like a corral shortly after 9 p.m. you can take a ride on the mechanical bull — yes, it really does exist — while your group watches one of many overhead TVs. It’s a roll-up-the-sleeves kind of place where posh clothes don’t really fit in. After all, among other country and ranchy trappings, you’ll spot a second flashy vintage Cadillac propped overhead with tailfins, looking ready to take off at warp speed.
Should the weather cooperate, choose to eat alfresco. The restaurant has a front porch encircled by an iron grating and offering people-watching up close and personal. You can also opt to cozy up in one of the several outdoor loungers for pre- or post-dinner libations.
As the website declares, the food here is an all-American mix of just about anything you might wish, though oddly enough, not as many steak or cowboy-type eats (franks and beans, chuckwagon-style steaks, and loads of barbecue choices are not featured). True, you’ll find a small selection of Tex-Mex offerings — from Cowboy Bites (mini hamburgers) and Texas wings to mini-taco appetizers. But if you yearn for a Western cowboy experience, tamper your whims and settle for mini-tacos and a platter of barbecue ribs. Or perhaps select one of the hefty burgers ranging from Angus beef steak with cheese, chiles, or mushrooms.
Of the mini-tacos, choices include spicy shrimp, chicken, fish, barbacoa and carnitas. The last are savory bites of shredded pork sparked with diced jalapeños and red onions, adding just the right snap for a Tex-Mex mouthful. A small portion of salsa comes alongside, but the meat has enough flavor on its own.
The baby back ribs are tender, but if you are the type who likes to pick up the ribs and gnaw on the bones, you will find these a bit messy. Yes, the flavor is there, but the kitchen overloads each portion with a swabbing of barbecue sauce, which may leave you wishing for a hot bath after you eat. Accompaniments include coleslaw and fries, sort of typical rib-affiliated eats.
Assorted flatbread pizzas, salads, pasta and seafood dishes and several steak entrées fill out the menu. You may also want something sweet for dessert, but the offerings are limited to a cheesecake or a brownie, unless you opt for their mini-desserts, which include crème brûlée, sorbet and seasonal cobblers. Note that Cadillac Ranch beers are on tap at this location.