In 1928, the presidential campaign featured several slogans and ads promising an era of prosperity. The most memorable of these was a boast that the Republican administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge had “reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, and put the proverbial ‘chicken in every pot.’ And a car in every backyard, to boot.”
If a chicken in every pot is a measure of prosperity, then the Rincon del Pollo (Chicken Corner) Mexican restaurant on North Fourth must epitomize success and affluence. That’s because this diminutive eatery specializes in all things chicken, albeit al estilo Mexicano (Mexican style).
The Rincon del Pollo launched in 2003 and was originally situated in the Northdale Shopping Center (which Duke City history buffs might recognize was built in 1961 by famed local builder Dale Bellamah).
Owners Rafiel Rivera and Ana Luna have created within their tiny space, a homey and welcoming atmosphere for their faithful patrons. It’s not uncommon to see blue and white collar diners sitting practically side-by-side in the somewhat crowded restaurant. The main portion of the restaurant, where the lovely Ana takes your order, has but two tiny tables and a couple of stools. In the summer indoor seating is a prized commodity because this is the only seating area in which cool air is provided.
A covered patio comes in handy, providing some respite when New Mexico’s ubiquitous spring winds are blowing with their usual ferocity. Ana admits that in the summer her customers complain that the patio is too hot and in the winter they lambaste the cold. Perhaps that’s why a brisk take-out business exceeds the volume of sit-down meals served.
There’s not only a chicken in every pot at this colorful eatery, you’ll find ceramic chickens looking down at you from several high shelves. The ambiance is completed by a crowing rooster in a neighboring home. We initially thought the rooster was an ambience enhancing sound effect.
Every meal is prepared to order. It’s not unusual for some of the popular menu items to be sold out by noon. True to the restaurant’s name, chicken entrees dominate (eleven of them) the menu, but you’ll also find a few shrimp dishes, carne asada and several sides. Also on the menu is homemade horchata and liminada (lemonade), some of the very best in town.
Chips and salsa are complementary and delicious. Unlike the salsa served at so many New Mexican restaurants, El Rincon del Pollo’s salsa is made with an earthy red chile, not with jalapenos or some other pepper. The salsa is thickened with just a bit of corn starch and has very few ingredients. Neither Mexican oregano or garlic are discernible though onions are. The chips are thick and low in salt with a pronounced flavor of corn. Their thickness means you have to scoop up a lot of salsa to fully appreciate the melding of flavors.
El Rincon’s menu also includes several breakfast burritos (served until eleven), most of which don’t include chicken. Popular favorites include machaca (meat baked, simmered dried then reconstituted and prepared with green peppers and onions) dishes, but no chilaquiles.
The restaurant easily falls into the “cheap eats” category with nothing on the menu within a dollar of a ten spot. Rincon closes at 3PM. Exterior signage indicates Rincon del Pollo serves American Mexican food, a characterization perhaps derived from the owners having worked in restaurants in Mexico, California, Massachusetts and now, the Land of Enchantment. Their version of American Mexican food fortunately doesn’t lean toward Massachusetts style.
Rafael Rivera mans the kitchen where he cooks everything from scratch, fresh daily. Instead of pouring a dish’s sauce on top of the chicken, he actually cooks the chicken in each dish’s sauce. It does make a difference.
That difference is evident in the chicken dinner which you can have with red chile (pictured at right), green chile or Mexican style. Rich red chile is slathered generously atop a four-piece (breast, wing, leg and thigh) roasted chicken. It’s not a piquant chile and as such, allows you to appreciate the moist and delicious chicken. Alas, the red chile has just a hint of cumin. “For flavor,” Ana tells us. There is no cumin in the green chile.
Entrees are accompanied by beans and rice, neither of which have the moistness of the chicken. Both are also somewhat under-salted by Mexican food standards. Though Ana says otherwise, the beans aren’t prepared with lard. You could have fooled this native New Mexican.
The chicken burrito plate features one of the most delicious hand-held burritos in town (despite the cumin). You can have this burrito slathered with chile, but it’s probably not something you want to do if you plan on eating it while driving down the road. This burrito is engorged with moist chicken and chile along with various ingredients such as green peppers sliced very small. It’s a handful and despite its moist contents, you won’t spill those contents all over your clothing if you’re careful.
The menu also includes a culinary curiosity even in New Mexico–carne adovada with green chile. The only other restaurant in which we’ve seen this dish served is Papa Felipe‘s New Mexican Restaurant. It’s such a culinary curiosity that James Beard Award-winning food journalists Jane and Michael Stern included Papa Felipe’s rendition in their terrific tome 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late.
Strictly speaking, El Rincon’s rendition of carne adovada is hardly the traditional version prepared throughout New Mexico–and that’s not just because of the green chile. Instead of fork-tender, easily shredding chunks of pork, this version appears to be nothing more than roast pork cut into small cubes and served with a green chile sauce. The pork isn’t tender and there’s no way any New Mexican would call this a carne adovada dish. That’s not to say it isn’t a good dish. Most New Mexicans will appreciate the piquancy and flavor of the chile.
Beef tacos make an excellent side dish. Shredded beef, lettuce, cheese and a little bit of salsa make this a six or seven bite delight. The taco shells are about halfway between crispy and pliably soft with just a bit of greasiness for flavor.
The horchata is homemade and served from a pitcher kept in the refrigerator. Served over ice, it is topped with more cinnamon than you might be used to, but it’s refreshingly delicious.
Rincon Del Pollo
9129 4th Street, N.W.
LATEST VISIT: 8 July 2010
1st VISIT: 16 April 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Horchata, Chicken Burrito, Chicken With Red Chile, Beef Tacos