Our Gourmet: Out-of-the-ordinary Mexican at El Rincon
May 23. 2017 8:48PM
The colorful — even festive — décor inside also surprises compared to El Rincon’s façade. Situated in the low, squat, beige building that also houses Pho Golden Bowl and the now vacant Queen’s Pub, El Rincon, which translates from Spanish as “The Corner,” offers a simple sign above two big, south-facing windows whose shades are usually pulled against the sun, hiding the fun going on inside.
The dining room is small, seating about 30 diners at a time at tables that can be moved around to accommodate different-sized groups. Red walls hold pictures of Mexico, and brightly colored banners hang from the ceiling. A small, four-seat, well-stocked bar is at the back of the room. The noise level was fairly high, perhaps affected by the brown tile floors.
Our Gourmet (OG), the Dining Companion (DC) and the FussBudget (FB) snuck in for a later-than-usual dinner on a recent Friday night and were seated immediately even though the restaurant was still crowded. A couple of groups behind us had to wait a few minutes. We started with the obligatory chips and salsa ($4.50) and an order of guacamole ($4.50). The chips were fresh and crisp and lightly salted and were full of corn flavor. The salsa tasted of tomato and cilantro and onion, and while fresh, was more of a puree than the chunky style we prefer. The guacamole, on the other hand, was spectacular. Chunks of soft avocado and bits of tomato and onion swam in a base of avocados that had been smashed to a wonderful cream. In the mouth, it felt like a good egg salad. It was delicious, and everything guacamole should be.
Turning our attention to our main courses, we skipped over the standards of tacos, fajitas and quesadillas, and eyed the list of entrees that offers dishes you might not find everywhere, including traditional Mexican dishes and several seafood options.
OG decided upon the Guisado ($11), which we’d never had nor heard of, and being a fan of the spicy, we ordered it with the salsa roja. Tender, bite-sized pieces of braised pork were served swimming in a thickish red gravy that made no effort to hide its heat. It featured chile de Arbol, a slender Mexican pepper that looks a bit like a Szechuan pepper and also is known as a bird’s beak or rat’s tail chili. It’s a serious pepper you notice in the back of the throat, and added quite a kick to this rich, filling dish.
A fairly standard mound of Mexican rice and some of the creamiest refried beans we’ve ever had came as sides. OG mixed the rice with the guisado to try and cut the heat a little, and used the beans to give our mouth a rest.
A tall glass of horchata ($2.50), a wonderful concoction made by soaking rice in water, and spiced with vanilla and cinnamon, provided another respite from the spicy guisado.
The DC had her heart set on the chili relleno ($11), but alas, given the late hour on a Friday night, El Rincon was out of the dish when we visited. Instead, she tried the flautas ($11). Offered with beef, chicken or cheese filling, she opted for the cheese variety. Three corn tortillas were rolled and fried, filled with mild, creamy cotija cheese. The flautas were topped with sour cream and sliced avocado, with another mound of rice and the refried beans as sides. The OG thought the tortillas were quite corny and tasty, but the DC isn’t a fan of the corn variety. The cheese was nicely melted, with just the right touch of salt.
As always, the FB was hard to please. El Rincon offers several selections on a children’s menu. Hoping to expand the kid’s ethnic culinary horizons, we chose the Rincon-Into ($5) for him, a simple plate of the mild Mexican rice and refried beans, served with shredded chicken topped with melted mozzarella. Though as mild as mild could be, “Too spicy” he declared. An even more plain cheese quesadilla ($8) was our next option. A plain tortilla filled with melted, mild cheese and served with french fries, this choice finally met his approval and he ate most of it, washing it down with a very bright orange Jarritos soda ($2), chosen from the rainbow of flavors (pineapple, mango, tamarind, to name a few) offered at El Rincon.
With just two waitresses (and one of them also handling the bar), service was a bit on the slow side, at times, but the restaurant was filled and busy during our visit.
All in all, we found El Rincon to offer some tasty, less standard fare at very reasonable prices. It just might become our local go-to when we’re craving something from south of the border.