Rincon means “corner” in Spanish, so Rincon Salvadoreño offers us a cozy and transplanted corner of El Salvador in which to rest and to have a bite. Not having been to that country, I could be fooled pretty easily about this, but this colorful little restaurant comes across as far too sincere to be playing tricks on us.
Besides, that wouldn’t work, since its customers are mainly Latin American immigrants from the neighborhood. The pastries in the display case are from the Guatemalan bakery down the street, so we’re talking theme restaurant anyway, rather than slavish adherence to things exclusively Salvadoran. The two countries share more than a border and Mayan ruins; the restaurant is a melting pot. When Johnnie asked whether her main dish was Salvadoran or Guatemalan, our Latina waitress brightly chirped, “Italian.”
When we entered, The Simpsons genially shrieked at us from one side, and a soft Spanish love ballad cooed from the other. In addition to the requisite posters of tourist sites and a stylized map of the home country, festive decorations abounded: not only the usual flowers and foliage, both artificial and actual, but also dangling bunches of plastic bananas and mangoes. We took seats at tables that, in a brilliant example of economical ingenuity, presented placemat-size maps embedded beneath the plastic surface. The menu is as colorful as the surroundings, its cover packed with images of pottery artifacts, a textile design, and a mural of sphere-hurling natives attacking sword-waving Spaniards.
The main reason I wanted to come here is that I knew they had pupusas, a treat I hadn’t enjoyed since the Salvadoran restaurant El Tamarindo folded in Pawtucket. There are similar variations in other Latin American countries, and Rincon’s white cornmeal patties contain a variety of fillings. For $1.50, you have your choice of saucer-sized pupusas, the thin outer layers of well-grilled cornmeal surrounding beans, minced pork, and cheese, or cheese and loroca (the blossom of a native Central American plant). They are served with repollo, the traditional vinegared cabbage slaw accompaniment. Joining them on the table was a squeeze bottle of a watery, yet flavorful sauce that tasted like the juice from fresh salsa. We also started out with a platter of deliciously sweet fried plantains ($4), which came with a thin, creamy dipping sauce.
Johnnie’s main dish was pollo en crema ($9.50), the cream being the “Italian” aspect, as in Alfredo sauce. But this sauce on a large piece of pounded chicken breast had a simpler taste, with not as much butterfat. Short-grain white rice was on the plate, along with shredded iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato under a light dressing.
Since there was a dish called bandeja Salvadorea (Salvadoran platter, $13), I felt obliged to try it. The thin slab of marinated beefsteak had good flavor and wasn’t tough. There were also two pieces of yucca, not the bland version, but fried for additional flavor and texture. The Spanish rice was more elaborate than usual, sprinkled with beans and vegetables. The dish also came with more sweet fried plantains.
The place warranted a second visit, more for enjoyment than for professional thoroughness. We had a lunchtime tapas spread: the fried tamale was unwrapped coarse yellow cornmeal, with a sour cream dipping sauce; the mixta was a tortilla spread with guacamole and garnished with curled halves of a small hot dog-style sausage; and the enchilada had ground beef piled on a fried flour tortilla. And we had more pupusas, of course. Each of these items was $2 or less. There are five shrimp dishes on the menu, and I wasn’t disappointed with the shrimp ceviche ($9), bright with limejuice and cilantro. The centerpiece was a bowl of sopa de mariscos ($12.95). Its rich, flavorful broth came with mussels, squid, and baby shrimp, as well as half of an in-shell crab; an accompanying bowl of rice filled it out nicely.
We sampled three of the four desserts this time. At $2, the flan, a large rectangle of the dense custard, was the most expensive. The rest are $1.50 each. The flan came in a pool of thin caramel sauce, as were three chewy fried nuegados, made from yucca flour. But our favorite of this array was a tall tumbler of atol de elote, described by my luncheon companion as “My first liquid cake.” The traditional Salvadoran beverage was simply sweet corn blended with additional sugar. Like Rincon Salvadoreño itself, it was unexpectedly delightful.
Rincon Salvadoreño, 1019 Chalkstone Ave, Providence | Fri-Sat, 9 am-10 pm, Sun, 12-10 pm | Major Credit Cards | BYOB | Sidewalk-Level Access | 401.274.6266
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Bill Rodriguez: firstname.lastname@example.org