El Rincon Usuluteco: A Review of Salvadoran Cuisine's Most Harmonic Trio
El Rincon Usuluteco's yuca con pescaditos
When three incongruent but powerful forces come together, the end product can inspire awe. The legendary band Cream lit up the stage with the '60s jazz drumming of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce's haunting vocals and melodic bass lines and Eric Clapton's Delta blues-inspired guitar playing. It's not just about finding the greatest musicians, it's whether they can groove, and it was this combination that made Cream one of rock's first successful super groups.
Another triumvirate that has conquered my cravings in the last year is the Salvadoran dish yuca con pescaditos, or yucca root with little fish. A simple salad brightened by watercress, or a cooling curtido (pickled cabbage), and tender, fried yucca, are given an umami lift by fried pepescas, which are the sardine-sized river fish commonly found in Latino markets. Nothing could be more rock & roll.
Yuca con pescaditos isn't available in many Salvadoran restaurants in L.A. -- though it should be -- but it's a standard at Miguel Trejo's Usulutan-style El Rincon Usuluteco. He runs the place with his wife, Noemi, and their cook, Maria Franco, who serves up excellent southeastern Salvadoran slow food.
exterior of El Rincon Usuluteco
Located on Adams just west of Western Avenue, El Rincon Usuluteco has just enough of the habitual decor (tourism posters of El Salvador, flags, curios, a flat-screen television dedicated to patriotic programming) and general clutter to make you feel you've picked the right place.
The menu, like most things in this restaurant, has grown in phases. The newest version is a wall-mounted plaque featuring the most interesting menu items proudly displayed with surprisingly decent food photography and a fancy font.
Pupusas are very good here, especially the sweeter pupusa de arroz, or rice pupusa, which is a specialty of the town of Olocuitla. Noemi became excited telling me about her weekend visits there, where Salvadoran families scarf down pupusas made with rice flour at the numerous stalls along the highway in and out of town.
Speaking of Cream: Salvadorans are old-school practitioners of the soup-making trade; time and care goes into the preparation. Rincon's rich and tangy siete mares, or Seven Seas, comes with a curious warning from your waitress, as do the other seafood soups here: "We put Salvadoran cream in the soup, but we don't have to put it in if it bothers you." Well, we have no intention of breaking tradition -- not one this satisfying, anyway.
There are the usual guisados (stews). Try the lengua guisada, or stewed tongue: Its dulcet tones and delicacy melt in your mouth.
You'll do fine with any of the rellenos, or stuffed items. The güisquil (chayote) has the flavors of savory pear enveloped in a soft egg batter drowned in a light tomato sauce.
This is one of the top Salvadoran restaurants in town; you pretty much can't go wrong here. But the cream of the crop is the yuca con pescaditos, an outstanding trio of flavors that will leave you begging for an encore.
Lengua guisada at El Rincon Usuluteco
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