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Jan 1, 2010 09:59 PM

Pupusas at El Rinconcito Cafe (1326 Park Rd., Colombia Heights, DC)

How do the pupusas and tamales compare to those at other restaurants in the DC area?

I really enjoyed mine, there. By NYC area standards, the pupusas were quite brilliant. My bean and cheese pupusa had a fragrant, tender crust, and a good, balanced ratio of beans to cheese.

Also loved the salsa served with complimentary chips prior to the meals (though chips were very stale), the flavorful beans and rice, and the curtido. I liked the strong plantain leaf scent of the tamales and the very creamy texture -- far creamier than the Mexican tamales I am more familiar with. The ones I had were filled with garbanzo beans and potatoes.

Did not enjoy the enchiladas, which were made with wheat tortillas, filled with oversalted ground beef (or the slightly better shredded chicken) and then topped with copious amounts of oily cheese.

A lot of folks were eating soups and stews, which looked and smelled incredibly good. If I hadn't had a bowl of pho earlier in the day and come hungrier I would've tried one of those, too.

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  1. The carne deshilada at El Rinconcito is a great dish. Order it with egg. The tamales and the papusas are very good, hard to find better. Most of their other stuff is only ok. Nothing special about the salsa and chips.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      Oh, I think I read another post of yours expounding on the deliciousness of the carne deshilada with egg (though only after the fact). Your description was quite compelling! I absolutely must try that next time -- that and a bowl of the seafood stew.

      Y'know, I found the salsa absolutely fantastic. I wanted a bowl of it to eat with a spoon and I don't think I can chalk it up entirely to hunger. It was almost creamy and was wonderfully complex. You're a lucky man to have even better salsas nearby.

      Thanks for the big picture DC pupusa view. I very much appreciate it.

      1. re: cimui

        I did try the carne deshilada with egg after reading Steve's post. I don't get it. I didn't think there was anything special about it and never ordered it again. What did I miss??

        1. re: colhghts

          It's been a while since I've had it, so there is a possibility that it has changed. But it is a simple dry-fried torn meat dish (like vaca frita). The egg finishes it and makes it even crispier. There is not much to 'get,' so maybe it isn't to your taste.

          1. re: Steve

            It's been a good 3 1/2 years since I had it. I'm not saying it wasn't tasty, it was, it was just nothing memorable. it's just that you had described it as something like "the single best dish in DC". I guess that raised my expectations.

    2. Since you seem to be using NYC as your baseline for judging DC chow, be aware that El Rinconcito and most other "Mexican" places in the area are usually actually Salvadoreño places that have Mexican dishes like enchiladas because that's what people expect. So while El R. C. has pretty mediocre enchiladas even for this area, you really don't get great exemplars of that dish here at all in my experience. El R. C. does have pretty good Salvadoreño tamales, though, and good pupusas (though there are many other hole-in-the-wall places in the area that are at least as good).

      13 Replies
      1. re: sweth

        Very good point, Sweth.

        At first I mis-read about the garbanzo beans and potato being in the tamale. that is typical of certain areas of Central America (maybe not Panama, helenahimm!) that serve moist tamales with ingredients mixed into the dough and wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks. I don't like that style of tamale, and I've had only the Mexican-style at El Rinconcito. So maybe they've changed.

        But I look forward to hearing a report from cimui about the carne deshilada! Also, I always order papusas de loroco, if available.

        1. re: sweth

          Nah. I'm not using NYC as a baseline; I'm trying to establish a baseline for DC, actually. Thus all the questions about how ___ compares to other ___s in the DC area. Thanks for playing.

          Yes re: non-Salvadoran food. I read that the (Mexican- or Tex Mex-style) tacos were pretty poor, too, somewhere, and that some of the menu was explicitly Tex Mex (which I recognize as a legit style, but don't personally like very much). Good idea to stick to Salvadoran.

          Steve, the garbanzo beans and potato were in the tamale and the tamale was definitely made in the Salvadoran style (with plantain leaves, the creamier masa filling, garbanzo bean, etc...). I didn't see the Mexican style of tamale on the menu, but it's possible I just missed it. I have to admit that the first time I tried the Salvadoran style, I was a bit disconcerted by the creaminess and different (from Mexican tamale) scent, but once you get over that initial surprise, they'e pretty fabulous in their own right. It's a shame you haven't liked them in the past. Maybe they'll grow on you.

          1. re: cimui

            If Mt Pleasant is not too far for you to wander, then maybe you could give Ercilia's a try. Some very serious, pillowy papusas. Also the stuffed squash (I forget what they call this) is very good.

            1. re: Steve

              Thanks for the rec, Steve. Is Ercilia's your area favorite?

              1. re: cimui

                I haven't been there in a while. But I would imagine it's still a pretty serious place. My favorite Mexican (but they also have very good papusas de loroco) is Taqueria El Charrito Caminante in Arlington for the goat tacos.

                  1. re: Steve

                    I promise once I get my Grain Mill Attachment I will make them Panamanian Tamales and will bring them over to you =P

                    On the other hand Charrito Caminante, it can't get better than that.. price wise and it is good indeed. I wish they would have good Tamarindo (you will always read me complaining on Tamarindo juice, Hibiscus juice, Tamales and Empanadas =P)

                    Now, I will check to see if anyone has posted anything on "El Paso Cafe" I've heard it was supposed to be amazing.. I've been there 5 times (last year) it's a no no no.

                    1. re: helenahimm

                      For the hibiscus, you will almost surely have to go to a Jamaican place, and not much choice in NoVa for that. Jamaica, Jamaica in Herndon is good, though I don't remember what they have to drink. Good tamales at La Union Market in Arlington on Le Hwy near Taylor (I think) a few blocks east of Pastries by Randolph. Ask for the ensalada to drink, completely delightful. Their best dish is the vegetarian enchilada.

                      For empanadas in NoVa, you won't have much luck. Good ones to be had at the Adams Morgan outdoor food market on Sundays from the Argentine woman, but that could be seasonal. If you want to satisfy your empanada craving, you may have to 'substitute' and get a saltena from Luzmilla's in Falls Church. Overall excellent food and one of the few places in the DC area where it's hard to go wrong.

                      1. re: Steve

                        Thanks Steve, this weeked will try La Union Market. I ordered something from them the last time and liked it, I can't remember.

                        Have you seen any place selling empanadas like this one

                        The only place I've seen them is in Pupusería Doña Azucena and they call them Pasteles around and it never mentions the corn that's why it is hard for me to do research to see if any place sells them.

                        1. re: helenahimm

                          I'm pretty sure I haven't seen anything like that. What is that on the outside? And what is it filled with?

                          1. re: Steve

                            I can speak of Panamanian Corn Empanadas, they could be either baked or fried (this one is fried).

                            Stuffed with Ground Beef and Onions, or Spicy Chicken and peas, or Sautee Tuna w/ vegs, and/or stuffed with Queso Fresco.

                            They are made of a Fresh Corn Dough, so it is not the same as using this flour people call "Masa". Though I will give it a try just to see what the results are.

                            With left over of the dough you can flatten it and create a Tortilla (those are the tortillas in Panama), corn, like this. (the one on the top right) the other 2 things are, fried sausage and Fried Hojaldre. I know Panamanian cuisine could be ver unhealthy.. that's why I call it Holidays food or Sunday's breakfast.

                            With leftover you could also make "Almojabanos" and serve it with a dipping sauce or just fried eggs =


                            We just love corn! lol

                            1. re: helenahimm

                              Thanks for the info and pictures. There are a lot of things we are missing in the DC area.

                              Seems like they are a kind of corn bread like a yellow arepa?

                              1. re: Steve

                                Well it's more on the side of the texture of the Arepa... but it is a different corn they use for it that's why theirs (S. Amer.) torillas are almost white color. Plus it is savory.. and I believe corn bread has like baking soda or some sort of leavening ingredient while Empanadas would be prepared as tamales except for the "Guiso" in the dough and it is fried or baked instead of boiled.

                                I would love to start like Charrito Caminante in a truck, but it is scary the whole thing with the Economy and I am not sure if DC people would like Panamanian Food, I know everyone embraces Hispanic and Caribbean but fusions I have heard comments on locals that it confuses them...

                                But I can only dream =)

          2. I had El Rinconcito on my list to try, but I just read on another thread that this restaurant has a second location - 5 minutes from where I work. So I did the only reasonable thing and ran over there immediately! I read some comments about what a hole-in-the-wall it was, so I arrived not knowing what to expect. It is quite small, true, but clean, sunny and charming. And crowded, which is a good sign. They were out of tamal de elote, so I was unable to try that. I got 3 pupusas, which is really too much food, but I wanted to try several kinds. I got cheese, pork, and bean/cheese. I liked the cheese the best, but they were all good. I thought their curtido was particularly fresh, crunchy and tasty, and the warm, watery tomato salsa was flavorful as well. I got a horchata, which was good, but a bit too sweet for my taste. These pupusas don't beat Irene's on Georgia Ave. in Wheaton, but they were good, and I was thrilled this place was so near my workplace. I thought the service there was fantastic -- the young woman running the cash register was incredibly fast, efficient and pleasant. She told me that if you call in an order, it will be ready for pick-up 15 minutes later. Next time I want to try the carne deshilada with egg.

            El Rinconcito Cafe
            1129 11th St. NW (at M St.)

            Rinconcito Cafe
            1129 11th St NW Ste Lowr, Washington, DC 20001

            4 Replies
            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              It's a good place to know about to get good food downtown without spending a lot of money. Three papusas! That is too much to eat, you're right. I'm not crazy about some of their other selections, except for the tamale and the carne deshilada with egg - which is their best dish.

              1. re: Steve

                I went back yesterday to try the carne deshilada with egg. I called in my order and sure enough, it was waiting for me when I arrived 15 minutes later. When I got it back to the office it was still piping hot; the two thick corn tortillas were too hot to pick up.

                This dish costs about $14.00, but it's a LOT of food - plenty for two people to share. In addition to the pile of shredded beef with egg, you get a piece of salty cheese, a sliced avocado half and black beans and rice. The beans were too salty, but the rice was undersalted, so the combination worked perfectly. I thought the beef with flecks of egg mixed throughout was delicious and very flavorful. It was a bit on the dry side though - some salsa would have improved it. I loved eating a bit of the beef with a piece of tortilla. I really enjoyed this and will get it again.

                This is a great lunch find in this neighborhood, which is underserved -- especially for those with minimal time for lunch.

                1. re: woodleyparkhound

                  Yeah, as this is a dry-fried dish; I imagine that it dries up as carry out. Glad you liked it.

              2. re: woodleyparkhound

                Thanks for the tip! I'm glad to learn about some more options around there.