Monday, May 7, 2012

El Rinconcito Cafe

We're on a mission to try every restaurant within a couple block radius of our house.  Our biggest fear is that there is a hole-in-the-wall gem right next door that we're overlooking.  With that mission in mind, we checked out El Rinconcito Cafe, a tiny Salvadorean-Mexican restaurant on 11th St NW.

The reviews I read online encouraged us to stick to the Salvadorean part of the menu and skip the Mexican food.  When we think Salvadorean food, we think pupusas, so we ordered a couple (one pork, one cheese).  They were served piping hot with a side of tangy cabbage slaw and we destroyed them in about 4 seconds.  A great ratio of tortilla to filling, these were among the best pupusas we've tried.

B ordered a Salvadorean shrimp and tomato dish that was approximately as hot as the surface of the sun.  I love spicy food and I was dying after one bite of this dish.  He embraced the heat (and gulped down the water) and loved every bite.  Somehow, the searing heat didn't overwhelm the flavor.  Our waitress warned him that it was spicy, and she was right!  If you're not a heat seeker, you can ask them to tone it way down on the spice level.

Yelpers raved about the carne deshilada with egg and they were spot on.  This classic Salvadorean comfort food dish features shredded flank steak tossed with a fried egg.  It was paired with a generous side of avocado, rice, beans, and cheese.  Nothing fancy, just simple ingredients done really well.

If you want to get your Salvadorean fix without leaving Downtown, head over to El Rinconcito.  Be warned that the restaurant is tiny (maybe 20 seats total) and the food is cooked to order (which is a nice way of saying it takes forever).

Second Thoughts from B

You know the old Warner Bros. cartoons that go for the cheap laugh by torturing their antagonists?  Anvils falling on toes, characters flattened by speeding trains, and of course, spicy food that makes tongues and eyes shoot out of heads, you know the drill.

That's how hot my shrimp was.  The spice grew in intensity as beads of sweet immediately formed on my forehead.  Handmade tortillas and buttery rice provided only mild relief.  It was painful....

But... painful in a good way.  I am not a fan of burning my face off for the satisfaction of saying I was able to endure it.  Rather, spice should add another element to a dish to provide balance. I appreciated the pain because it married well with the familiar flavors of Central America. It made me mindful of the creaminess of the rice, the sweetness of the tomatoes and shrimp, and the tart acidity of the slaw, not to mention the warmth of our waitress who seemed genuinely entertained/pleased that someone was enjoying this dish.

So while I might have looked like Wile E. Coyote after Bugs had swapped a hot dog for a stick of dynamite, I was grinning from ear to ear with every bite.
El Rinconcito Cafe on Urbanspoon

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