As well-documented in my prior entries, I enjoy my travels around the state of the Texas and all the excellent food I find. One of the things that inspired my desire to start this food blog was a trial I attended in Zapata, TX and the restaurants I ate at during my imprisonment. Zapata is the home of El Paraiso, a well-known roadside cafe that has been serving food for a couple of generations now. As I understand it Hortencia Medina started El Paraiso and is the matriarch of all things cuisine in Zapata, TX. Upon her passing the family that ran El Paraiso splintered and the singular greatness of El Paraiso was diluted into a plurality of dining establishments scattered across the metropolis alongside the shores of Falcon Lake. Of these restaurants, the best in my humble opinion is El Rincon de Los Angeles.
My first impression of El Rincon was that of a dodgy hole in the wall with questionable cleanliness and constituency. However, this impression was entirely composed of preconceived notions and the restaurant’s shabby appearance. Fortunately, I am not stubborn in my prejudices and quickly learned to appreciate the cordial staff and uniquely appealing Zapata menu. During my first visit, language was a bit of a barrier, but easily overcome with patience and an apt “pointy” finger. The interior had definitely seen better days with wore out laminate tables and threadbare indoor/outdoor carpet for flooring. El Rincon also had a curious architectural feature with outdoor “his and her “bathrooms, but indoor wash basins. So every person, whether customer or staff, is compelled upon exiting the facilities to wash their hands in the full view of the restaurant. It encourages a level of hygiene that I am sure we all find encouraging.
The centerpiece of the El Rincon menu is Chicken Fried Steak covered with white cream gravy and queso served with rice and beans. This is no petit Chicken Fried Steak, but fills the plate from end to end. Hand battered like all truly great Chicken Fried Steak, I never found a bit of gristle in any of the many Steaks I devoured over those two weeks. I discovered El Rincon on my second day and refused to eat any other place afterwards. At the time I was on one of my many diets, but it quickly died on the horns of the El Rincon Special. The cream gravy and queso was bountiful and unbound by the limits of the steak it graced. As a result, the rice enjoyed a healthy dowsing in the unlikely pairing of gravy and queso. The food was so enticing I quickly out grew the suits I brought for trial. Thankfully, local prejudice and cautious spirits prevailed and the case settled before my arteries clogged.
I recently got to renew my romance with El Rincon while returning to Zapata for an inspection. For the inspection I was accompanied by an expert from California and a client from Mississippi. I derived immense pleasure watching their looks of surprise at the quality of food and hospitality found in that supposed culinary wasteland of South Texas. I persuaded my client to tackle the El Rincon Special. He knocked it out with gusto. My California expert disappointed with a foo-foo salad, which demonstrated the versatility of the El Rincon menu. It was a makeshift salad of sorts, but seemed to possess all the necessary elements and was assembled with purpose.
My willpower in place, I passed on the steak and opted for the Parillada. It was meat on top of meat with sausage, beef, chicken and some breaded protein, most likely beef. I had to pick those breaded beauties out, but I may have let one slip by the goalie so I could comment. It was like all things El Rincon, more than you would ever expect. The batter and meat were married blissfully with a slight peppery taste. The peppers were crisp, but the onions were sufficiently caramelized.
El Rincon never disappoints but often surprises. This time the surprise was that the interior had been remodeled and substantially updated. The shabby interior was gone, replaced with a modern open space that would impress even the most skeptical urban hipster. Of course the wash basins were still inside, but were updated with new fixtures that were stylishly chic….much more fashionable than the word “chic”.
The only mark against El Rincon was its run down looks. Now there’s nothing to besmirch its reputation or deter your weekend escape to Zapata for one of the finest meals in Texas.