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Friday, November 07, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Matthew Amster-Burton
This is a review of a fast-food restaurant. It's part of a chain with locations around the South King County area. Cashiers stand behind a counter, beneath a colorful illuminated menu, and repeat your order into a microphone. There is a drive-thru. Prices are low and service is fast, and you can get tacos and burritos long after midnight on weekends.
But "fast food" doesn't have to mean "greasy and tasteless." You can have an inexpensive, kid-friendly restaurant that serves quality food. In-N-Out Burger does it in California with burgers and fries, and Taqueria El Rinconsito does it here with tacos.
There are no premade taco shells at El Rinconsito ("The Little Corner"), a local chain with five locations (Kent, Federal Way, Tukwila, Burien and Tacoma) and authentic tacos.
This review concentrates on their Kent location, but I've been to a couple of the others, and the experience and quality are the same.
"We don't have ground beef," I heard one cashier tell a surprised customer. It's true, but the customer was steered to the birria, spicy beef braised and shredded.
Service is much friendlier than the fast-food average. Most customers order in Spanish, but I haven't met a Rinconsito cashier who wasn't fluent in English and ready to help you figure out which taco filling best suits your personality.
Other taco-filling options include carne asada (steak), adobada (spicy bits of pork, often called al pastor at other taco shops), cabeza (beef cheek), carnitas (braised and fried pork), sesos (brains) and chicken. If you want tripe or beef tongue on your taco, that'll be 10 cents extra.
There are some vegetarian selections on the menu, including nachos ($3.99) and quesadillas ($2.99, also available with meat), as well as rather pedestrian rice and beans ($2.25).
The Kent location, which previously housed a Taco Time, is a block south of another local taqueria. (It's also across the street from Taco Bell.)
Your taco choices in downtown Kent are certainly looking up.
Taco asada: A taqueria taco is a minimalist masterpiece consisting of four ingredients: corn tortillas (a stack of two per taco), meat, onions and cilantro. At El Rinconsito, they also add a bit of fresh salsa. You can add more salsa, as well as a delicious spicy cabbage slaw, sliced radish or carrots and a squeeze of lime at the free salsa bar. The carne asada is nice and beefy but not especially tender.
Chicken enchiladas: Alongside the rest of the fare, these enchiladas, served with rice and beans, were bland, but a couple of trips to the salsa bar for spicy green salsa and cabbage slaw perked them up a bit.
Quesadilla birria: Birria is braised beef, spiced and shredded, rich like the best beef stew. Stuffing such a thing into a flour tortilla with melted cheese, lettuce, onions and cilantro may be overkill, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
Sopito adobada: You could almost call this "pork on a pedestal": spicy bits of pork in a shallow cornmeal bowl, served with vegetables (including cabbage) and a light, creamy sauce. I found the sauce superfluous, but the base had a nice corn flavor and the adobada is excellent.
Mulita carnitas: Take a taco and move one of the tortillas on top of the filling, and you're 90 percent of the way to a mulita (the other 10 percent is the added cheese and guacamole). Hiding between the tortillas is a luscious dollop of carnitas, pork braised until it falls apart, then fried to crispness in its own fat.
Tamarind agua fresca: Tamarind, the fruit of a tropical bean tree, is a popular flavor in Mexico. This refreshing drink consists of the pulp mixed with sugar and water.
Horchata: This cold, cinnamon-and-almond-infused rice drink is a refreshing alternative to a fast-food shake.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Taco asada $1.20
Chicken enchiladas $5.49
Quesadilla birria $3.99
Sopito adobada $1.80
Mulita carnitas $1.80
Tamarind agua fresca $1.35
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org
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