Lunch at Taqueria El Rinconsito (Bellevue, WA)

Soft tacos are such a popular snack in Mexico that it was inevitable that they should make an appearance across the border. This has been a relatively recent phenomenon because the Mexican restaurants of yesteryear—at least the ones I frequented in Southern California—usually served tacos with crispy, fried shells and ground beef fillings. I have to wonder if ground beef fillings are common down south at all, if they have roots in ground-beef-anything so popular here in the U.S., promoted by the likes of Taco Bell, than something having originated in Mexico, which favors shredded beef instead. Certain fillings for tacos may never materialize here. Friends of mine who just returned from a trip to Mexico were ecstatic over shark tacos in Ensenada, while other friends couldn’t get enough lobster tacos near Cabo San Lucas. For the soft taco to be successful, freshly made corn tortillas are a must and that is what taquerias are making nowadays.

Taqueria El Rinconsito is a chain here in Washington state, currently at thirteen locations. The one here in Bellevue is tucked away in a strip mall far removed from the commercial core. Despite its isolation, there was a huge crowd of people at lunchtime, a scene also common in the Auburn location, according to my friend who lives there and had lunch with me today. Though their specialty is tacos, there are other things on the menu, not only familiars like burritos, enchiladas and flautas, but items you don’t find on many Mexican menus: tortas, gorditos, sopitos, mulitos, birria, menudo (on Saturdays only), seafood cocktails, and more. Visible behind the order counter was a big ball of masa from which the tortillas were being made.

And the nicest touch is that beverages that are gratis with many meals also include bottomless aguas frescas—five different kinds: tamarind, hibiscus, horchata, guava and (my personal favorite) canteloupe, all of them with a bit too much added sweetener. But, damn, are they refreshing!


Agua frescas (left to right: tamarind, horchata, hibiscus, guava and cantaloupe)

Most taquerias nowadays have a salsa/condiments bar. Rinconsito is no exception. Among the salsas I sampled, I was most impressed by a salsa roja made with smoked chiles, possibly chipotle.

Salsa bar

Salsa  and condiments bar

As this was my first time, I went straight for the tacos, their specialty, which you can order in quantities of three, four or five. Lest you think five are excessive, these are very small tacos. A taco plate gives you three tacos, rice and beans. You have your choice of five different meat fillings: asada, adobada, lengua (tongue), chicken and carnitas, the last two of which I split between three tacos. The chicken was chopped into small pieces and rather bland. Though not the best version I’ve had, the carnitas were tender and flavorful. Refried beans were authentically lardy, smooth, salty and the rice was perfectly cooked.

Chicken and carnitas tacos

Carnitas (left) and chicken taco plate

The prices here are very reasonable; you could even say cheap. It’s worth a repeat visit to try some of the other menu items, if for no other reason than to have the aguas frescas again.

Taqueria El Rinconsito
2255 140th Ave NE
Ste A
(between 24th St & State Route 520)
Bellevue, WA 98005

Taquitos at La Cocina del Puerco (Bellevue, WA)—CLOSED

In the sea of cookie-cutter Mexican restaurants in the Seattle area, one on the Eastside stands out for its great food and interior decor kitschiness. When you walk through La Cocina del Puerco‘s doors, it’s refreshing to be surrounded by piñatas hanging from the ceiling, the turquoise- and pink-painted walls, rickety metal card tables doubling as dining tables and sporting Superior beer logos, clunky folding chairs and other stuff hanging all along the walls. When you’re completely enveloped by this scenery and Mexican music playing on the audio system, you’d swear you were in Mexico. What’s doubly surprising is that this place, more like a cantina than a restaurant, thrives in Old Bellevue, an upscale neighborhood of high rises, concrete and steel buildings and yoga studios.

We’d been coming here for a long time. The menu lists many Mexican favorites, but we have long since settled on ordering one thing when we come here—the pork carnitas taquitos plate (item #1 on the menu). Continue reading

Dinner at Fiesta Mexican Restaurant (Kennewick, WA)

Camarones a la Plancha y Carne Asada

As I posted earlier, the large population of Mexican-Americans in eastern Washington naturally leads to the startup of quite a few Mexican restaurants. Driving through the main drag of small towns, such as Quincy, you can’t help but notice how many there are. All that competition should raise the overall quality. For dinner tonight, we asked the receptionist at our hotel (Baymont Inn & Suites in Kennewick) for dinner recommendations. One of them was Fiesta just a short distance away. We went there, even if we had Mexican food last night.

This is a large Mexican restaurant, well illuminated and less colorful than most, by which I mean the walls and ceilings are not painted in bright or earth tones, though the interior is not lacking in character. Toward the back is the salsa bar, with five separate kinds in large bowls, and behind it was an employee making tortillas on a large griddle. All of this, our waitress explained, was complimentary with meals. Other than “free” salsas which we you can get at many restaurants, this really means you can eat all the tortillas you want.

I’ll start with the beer. Continue reading