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El Rinconcito is a “little corner” of El Salvador in Lexington
by Betty Sayers, Pam Soreide, Phil Soreide
We were the only Gringos in the place. Certainly the only people speaking English – except for our bright-eyed, vivacious waitress, a girl of about fourteen.
We had come to El Rinconcito – the “little corner” of El Salvador in Lexington. Recommended by one of our readers, we were warned it wouldn’t be fancy, but we were promised a food experience that would be interesting, unique and delicious.
We weren’t disappointed.
El Rinconcito is just off Highway 30 in Lexington, and it isn’t fancy – just a small stucco storefront across from the tracks with, among other enigmatic things, “Pupusaria” painted on the outside. But the light from the windows spilled onto the sidewalk as the shadows deepened, giving the place a cozy look, and as we pushed open the door, the smell told us we’d come to the right place.
A challenging order
El Rinconcito consists of a counter with a large grill behind it, a couple of booths and a few plain tables, some advertising posters in Spanish, and a menu board with pictures of dishes for the uninitiated such as ourselves. The owner, Bertha Delgado and another woman worked behind the counter, preparing meals, while her daughter Lindsey helped us with our order.
A lively and self-confident teenager, Lindsey launched into the challenge of taking our order, advising us to be sure to try the pupsas and the fried bananas – two Salvadoran specialties – and trying earnestly to answer all our questions while we rattled off the dishes we wanted to try.
“We have to try the pupsas,” we said. “Cheese and pork?”
“The tacos look great. Let’s get some of those.”
“Ooooh, tamales. I love tamales. I wonder if Salvadoran tamales are different? Could we have chicken and cheese?”
“Michele said definitely not to miss the camarones a la plancha.”
“What else do people like here? The soup? Fine, we’ll try that, too.
“What about drinks. What is ‘atol de elote’? Or what’s this ‘horchata’?”
Somehow, she got it all down, and after we’d taken seats at a table, she came back to tell us about the family business. She told us the Delgado family had immigrated to the United States from San Salvador and opened El Rinconcito on Valentine’s Day in 1999. Her mother, Bertha, has run it ever since. Bertha was friendly, but too busy working to spend much time with us. One got the impression Bertha was well accustomed to hard work – the restaurant is open seven days from 9:00 until 10:00 or 11:00 at night, except on Saturday, when it’s open until 2:00 a.m.
And it’s busy. There was a lull when we first came in, but as we stayed, it filled with families and couples and groups, in addition to a steady trade in take-out. By the time we left, we understood fully why it’s a local favorite.
We discover pupusas
El Rinconcito’s pupusas are a thick, hand-made corn flat bread stuffed with cheese, fried pork, beans or loroco (a vine flower bud from Central America) and baked on the grill. They are served with condiments such as curtido, a marinated cabbage, onion, and shredded carrot slaw with a sweet, mild lemon-fresh dressing or pico de gallo. And they’re fabulous – warm and savory and filling – and surprisingly affordable: $1.50 for an order of two. One could have a nice light supper of pupusas and friend banana for about three bucks.
But, lest we get too wrapped up in the pupusas, a word about the tamales. We almost didn’t recognize them on the plate because when we opened them, we found Salvadoran tamales to be not the layer or masa wrapped around a juicy filling that we were accustomed too, but more of a light, fluffy, steaming cornmeal mixture almost like a delicate corn bread infused with chicken or pork. They would have been worth the trip on their own.
The tacos, likewise, were a far cry from what you may be used to. El Rinconcito’s fresh, handmade tortillas are thick and delicious, and the meat that has been marinating is fresh-fried on the grill for each one.
The camarones a la plancha, spicy grilled shrimp, was the only “dinner” we got, but it was enough for all of us to taste the beans and rice and pronounce them more than acceptable. The sopa de res was an oxtail soup, with a rich, cilantro-tinged broth and generous portions of flavorful vegetables and meat.
Be not afraid
I think we must have been amusing to the regulars, passing plates around the table with abandon, unmindful of one another’s germs, and chattering on about our discoveries. As we ate, we also sipped traditional El Salvadoran drinks.
Horchata is a sweetened, spiced, rice-milk that tastes a bit like rice-pudding-through-a-straw. It’s very pleasant, with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon and vanilla. The atol de elote turned out to be a thick drink, almost a sweet soup with distinct corn and cinnamon undertones and a wonderfully fresh flavor. Both were new experiences for us. But, for that matter, so was the El Salvadoran way of doing fried bananas – cut lengthwise and fried crisp and served with a enchanting white dipping sauce that none of us was quite able to identify. A delightful end to an interesting meal.
The lesson of El Rinconcito for any Foodie worth the name is you can’t be afraid. You can’t be afraid to go to a part of town you’re not used to. You can’t be afraid to be among people who don’t look or sound like you. And you can’t be afraid to taste something just because you’ve never heard of it.
There’s a risk, yes.
But the rewards can be sublime.
Who to Contact
El Rinconcito Restaurant
105 W Pacific St
Lexington, NE 68850
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 9:00 a.m.-11 p.m.