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El Rinconcito Cafe, Inexpensive Salvadoran-Mexican in Columbia Heights and 11th and M Streets NW

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I've eaten at several Salvadoran-Mexican places in DC, but El Rinconcito is the best, and I had to give it some props after a great meal there recently. (I'm surprised it's not already on this board.) Located on Park Road off 14th Street, across from the new Giant/Tivoli Theater complex, El Rinconcito is a neighborhood gem. It's got the usual Mexican fare (tacos, nachos, quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas and fajitas), and even a selection of hamburgers and subs, but the real draw is the Salvadoran food.

The pupusas can be had a la carte for $1.75 each or as a combo meal (Choice of pupusas with a choice of Tamal with rice and beans ($5.95-$7.25)). The pupusas are large, and a couple of these served with cabbage salad can make a great cheap meal. The Tamales de Elote (made with fresh corn) is excellent. My favorite beef dishes are the Carne Deshilada (shredded beef with an egg on top with Salvadoran cheese, avocado, rice and black beans for $10.50) and the Milanesa de Carne (thin breaded beef cutlet with black beans and rice, plantain and fresh pico de gallo for $10.50). There are a wide selection of beef, chicken and seafood choices (ceviche, whole rock fish, shrimp). The specialties of the house are 12 oz. steaks prepared in a couple different ways with rice, salad and tortillas for under $18 (the most expensive items on the menu). Everything tastes freshly made, and they serve real crema instead of sour cream. The fried yucca and plantains are cooked just right, over-fried, soggy or overly oily or mushy like I've had it at other places. Entree portions are generous. I'm still eating my way through their menu, but for next time: Sopa de Mondongo (beef tripe soup), Carne de Salpicon (round eye mixed with cilantro, oregano, red onion, relish, mint leaf), and the plaintain empanadas with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I had a bottle of Dos Equis with my meal for $3.60 (same price for other Mexican beers). They also serve horchata and tamarind juice. Complimentary homemade tortilla chips are served with a peppery, mild pureed salsa.

The restaurant is entered from the ground floor, and has seating on this floor and upstairs. The upstairs has a larger bar and a nicer dining room, so head upstairs for better ambience and a view of Park Road from the window. Service is friendly, and we didn't have to wait long for our food. I'm not Salvadoran, so I can't vouch for authenticity, but judging from the largely Hispanic clientele, I believe it's the real deal. Finding places like El Rinconcito is one of the best things about living in this diverse, immigrant-populated city.

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El Rinconcito is great. The Carne Deshilada is my favorite too. It's easily enough for a second meal. Despite this I always order a couple of pupusas too, and end up with enough food to last for at least 2 lunches. The ceviches are suprisingly good as well. I don't really like how they do the plaintains, but the yucca is tasty. They do carry out as well, but for this I usually head to the new Salvadoran place on 11th (Acuario), simply because its closer to the house. Not quite as good, but cheaper and closer.

However it is VERY important not to confuse this Rinconcito with El Rinconcito Deportivo on 11th just north of Kenyon. While the owner is a complete sweetheart, the drunk patrons are not, and the food isn't nearly good enough to put up with the machismo oozing out of the place. I do not need to be serenaded in slurred Spanglish while I eat my pupusas.

And as for this:

I'm frightened of Park Road and 14th Street.

There's now a Ruby Tuesday's a block away, so, I guess there is even more reason to be frightened. :)

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Is this El Rinconcito related to the one at 11th and M? The Carne Deshilada is very good there as well.

Yes, same owners. The Park Road location is their second.

The tamales are very good. Wrapped in corn husks, good-size, moist but not overly. You can get them as appetizers or with pupusas in a combo meal.

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Boca de Chicharron ($9.95) - fantastic crispy pork, useless lettuce, tomato, and underripe avocado.

The 11th street location is tiny, but full of friendly folks. Convenience factor is high...I'll be back...the soups looked awesome.

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I have been remiss in not writing about the 11th Street location (other than my brief 2006 Carne Deshilada comment above).

I absolutely love this place. I couldn't possibly count the number of times that I have been here, either to eat in or more frequently to pick up. I am so lucky to have it so close. It is amazing to have a place that works so well for so many occasions. Not only is it perfect for those nights when we just give up, but even still I crave it sometimes and just must relent. Moreover, it is so good that I have no hesitation in picking some up for unexpected guests. I don't think a week has gone by in years in which someone (usually unexpected drop-ins, which I love, by the way, and I am so happy they can be accommodated even when there is no way I could pull together a meal) has not had Rinconcito take-out at my house.

There is not a single thing that I have gotten that I haven't liked (other than the margaritas; go for beer or straight tequila if you need a drink while waiting for your food (or just stop by my place and Jeff will whip you up a perfect cocktail)). I go through phases with the menu. As noted above, back in 2006, I was in a big Carne Deshilada phase. Then I went through a big seafood soup phase. Now my go to is the spicy, balanced, and bright camarones yucatecas. But I always steal some of the kid's pupusas, tamales, and platanos. Jeff generally gets the very serviceable enchiladas, although we recently learned when a non-Spanish speaking neighbor attempted to place our order, their ensaladas de pollo are almost as good as their enchiladas. It's hard to write about this place because it is more like a second kitchen to us. But, basically, I love it.

As much as I would like to have a good neighborhood pizza or burger place, I really can have no complaints about neighborhood food when El Rinconcito is so close and wonderful.

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I have been remiss in not writing about the 11th Street location (other than my brief 2006 Carne Deshilada comment above).

Danielle, I've been here, but not in a long, long time. As our "mayor" :), what would be your guidance to a first-time diner? Let's say someone was to go in solo, or with maybe one other person - how would you advise them?

In some ways, this reminds me of El Tamarindo.

And as for this:
I'm frightened of Park Road and 14th Street.
There's now a Ruby Tuesday's a block away, so, I guess there is even more reason to be frightened. smile.gif

I love this response.

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Is this El Rinconcito related to the one at 11th and M? The Carne Deshilada is very good there as well.

Yes, same owners. The Park Road location is their second.

I'm not entirely convinced this is correct. The website elrinconcitocaferestaurant.com (now broken)  implies their two locations are 1129 11th St. NW and 9423 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, and makes no mention of a second DC location. There are also several variations of "El Rinconcito" (El Rinconcito Chapin, El Rinconcito II, El Rinconcito Latino, El Rinconcito del Sabor) in Virginia, so I don't know who owns what.

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