Rincon Criollo -- Havana in Queens
- Brian S
If you'd been on the jet set beaches just outside Havana in 1955, from what I hear you would probably have stopped by a trendy little beachside restaurant named Rincon Criollo. It was run by three young brothers. I've seen their photos. They look barely out of their teens. He has a haunted, outsider look in his eyes. He must be pleasant to these rich vacationers, but he is not one of them. Or maybe that look is of someone observing everything that goes on in the restaurant. If a waiter gets an order wrong on the other side of the restaurant, the owner will know before the customer does.
Then the Communists arrived and threw the brothers out. Now, 50 years later, two very old brothers run a restaurant in Corona, Queens, the heart of the Latin section, called Rincon Criollo. If you look hard at the photos, you will recognize them. Visiting Cubans have said that the restaurant looks like a shrine to pre-Castro Cuba. And it does, with all those mementoes on the walls. The food is a shrine to Cuban cuisine.
I've been going there for years, and I've been there three times over the past few months. Here are my journal entries for each time.
There is a different rice and beans every day of the week. Today, it was green beans -- not the green beans I was expecting, but green kidney beans -- stewed with rich smoky ham and sausage in a garlicky broth reminiscent of a Caldo Gallego. I ordered oxtail -- fatty, impossibly rich meat cooked for hours in wine and bay leaves -- the best slow-cooked meat ever. I finished, said goodbye to Cuba, and stepped out into the sultry Queens night.
A nice walk along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, thronged with people, an alien world where most people feel closer to Bogota or Buenos Aires than they do to Manhattan. Then back to Rincon Criollo. They have a Tuesday special of ropa vieja I wanted to try. It means old clothes, but it is not. It is shredded beef, looks like chopped barbecue, cooked for hours in a tomato sauce. Alongside was the bean of the day, white beans in a thick stew with potatoes and ham. On the way back I got off the train in the Indian neighborhood and had a malai ice cream perfumed with rosewater as I watched people in Indian costume buy vegetables at the sidewalk stalls
I went back to Rincon Criollo, that Cuban restaurant in Queens, where I had Picadillo, chopped beef stewed with diced olives, capers and peppers. The bean of the day was garbanzo, cooked with sausage in a thin but flavorful broth
Rincon Criollo 40-09 Junction Boulevard (twenty feet from Roosevelt Av, and Junction Blvd station of #7 train) (718) 639-8158
I should add.... I always order the daily specials, and the bean of the day as a side dish. I'd never order, say, a pork chop or a grilled steak. The specials are long simmered in capers, olives, tomatoes, bay leaf, etc. Yum! They are (from memory)
Tue Ropa Vieja
Wed Oxtail stewed
Thu Stewed steak
Sun Lechon or stewed chicken
I dont remember Sat and I'm guessing on Thu and Fri I like the Picadillo least, but its still good enough that I'd want to take the chefs from all the Colombian places that serve it (as carne molida) and say, See? This is how it should be done!!
re: Brian S
Great posts, Brian. I'll have to go back to Rincon Criollo soon. My wife loves their smoked chicken. It's too smoky, if that's possible, for me though.
For a real restaurant, you can't go wrong with Rincon, but if you're just looking for excellent food without the ambiance, The Broadway Sandwich Shop #6 is another option for authentic Cuban food. My favorites are the Lechon Asada and the Bistec a Lo Broadway. The lechon is always moist and garlicky. The steak is pounded thin and grilled with plenty of onions. The tostones are the best I've had in New York. They also do an outstanding flan. If you want something quick or to go, they make a great Cuban sandwich.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of the old Jackson Diner. This used to be an old fashioned diner/coffee shop, complete with counter and stools, a couple of booths, and formica tables. It does have its charm, but it's not where I'd take a date or my parents.
Broadway Sandwich Shop, 96-01 Roosevelt Ave at the corner of Juction Blvd.
Good report, Brian. All the great chefs and recipes are out of Cuba these days. It seems communism does not encourage good chow.
there used to be more places like this but they are fading away - now I need to find a reason to be in Queens.
Thanks so much for this report Brian. Walked over to Rincon Criollo last night, and had a great meal. I waited for Tuesday, as it's ropa vieja night, and I'm a huge fan of the dish. It didn't disappoint... studded with peppers and onions, it was extremely juicy and flavourful. My wife tried the chicken Rincon Criollo, which turned out to be pounded chicken breast, cooked with onions and garlic. Simple, tasty, and perfectly prepared. Also tried the sweet plantains, plus terrific black beans and rice. Sangria was nice... not as sweet as many I've tried before, it was essentially cold, slightly sweetened red wine with an orange slice and a cherry. A cafe con leche and really nice, perfectly carmelized flan rounded out the meal. Yum... I'll be back regularly. Total with tip was $50 (w/ small carafe of sangria).