Menu Please: El Rinconcito’s little corner of good food


After Senor Rosa’s upped sticks and moved into the old Leatherby’s Family Creamery at the south end of the Downtown Mall (call it the Promenade all you like, it’s still the old Downtown Mall) that funny little cinder block building set back from Eureka Way didn’t sit vacant for long. Salvador Hernandez stepped up and opened El Rinconcito a few months ago, joining other locally-owned restaurants like Brick’s and The Best Little Sandwich Shop as havens in a sea of chain fast food spots.

It looks pretty much the same –  park next to the gas station and squeeze past some nasty-looking cactus to get inside, or share parking with the auto repair. The cinder blocks are painted blue, and the old green canopy is gone. Inside it’s still fairly spartan. But Hernandez serves his food on actual ceramic plates with metal cutlery instead of wrapped in foil or in squeaky disposable boxes with plastic forks, which is a big improvement in Femme de Joie’s eyes.  The menu is typed on both sides of a single piece of paper and tucked inside plastic sleeve protectors. There are all the usual suspects plus a few less-common items. A few daily specials are written on a board above the cash register.  Service is helpful and friendly.
Salsa – not the usual pico de gallo, but instead a smooth puree of chilis and tomatoes – and chips come with your meal.

Tortilla soup, $5.95

Many Mexican restaurants offer tortilla soup; it’s usually pleasant if undistinguished. This one was simply the best version Femme de Joie has ever had the pleasure to eat. A savory rich cilantro-spotted tomatoey chicken broth was topped with crisp tortilla ribbons and diced avocado. Underneath was what appeared to be fine noodles; on closer inspection the noodles turned out to be filament-fine shreds of poached chicken. That kind of attention to detail made M. de Joie realize the kitchen was run by serious cooks.

Carnitas burrito, $9.95

Delicious niblets of carnitas pork were layered with house-made refried beans and rice. Instead of the usual practice of stuffing a flour tortilla with as much filler as possible, minimal was the word: when the ingredients are all beautifully seasoned and cooked, you don’t need globs of cheese, salsa, tomatoes, onions, and so forth. Just a little crema drizzled decoratively over was the only concession to the usual restaurant burrito.

Taco salad, $7.95

To the best of Femme de Joie’s knowledge, taco salad is an unknown beast in Mexico; it appears to be a American hybrid creation of the 1960s when comida Mexicana began to creep into the American kitchen. Most versions involve a sizable mountain of iceberg lettuce centered inside a pre-made oversized fried taco shell and decorated with fried ground beef mixed with a packet of taco seasoning, some diced tomatoes, shredded cheese and sour cream – in other words, a lot of cheap lettuce with a modicum of toppings. El Rinconcito’s taco salad started with a homemade shell and a modest amount of lettuce, went on with lightly seasoned morsels of steak, fresh tomatoes and olives, and finished with a generous scoop of house-made guacamole. That crisp shell was as different from pre-made shells as a homegrown tomato is from one of those miserable pinkish winter tomatoes. Instead of a scoop of made-ahead filling, the steak bits were cooked to order. Again, it’s the best ingredients combined skillfully, sans fatty, creamy sauces, that distinguish this dish.

Sope with chicken, $3.50

A sope is essentially a small, thick tortilla made of masa fried and served with some sort of savory topping, also known as huaraches, gorditas, and other names. House-prepared and freshly cooked revealed the delicate corn taste of the masa. Lightly grilled chicken cubes were sprinkled with cotija cheese and a thick wash of crema . There was a bit of oil oozing from the sope itself, so this was not as successful an execution as some of their other dishes.

Al pastor taco and lengue taco, $2.50 each

“Regular” size tacos are made with house-made tortillas, and they are worth it. Puffy and tender, thicker than commercial tortillas, they’re the perfect wrapping for the simple fillings of diced al pastor (spicy pork) and lengue (tongue) accented with cilantro, diced onion, and a fresh green salsa.

El Rinconcito is probably our new favorite Mexican restaurant.  Everything is made in-house (with the exception of the chips, which appear to be commercial). As Femme de Joie stood waiting to pay, she observed a tiny woman behind the counter serenely turning fresh pasilla peppers on a gas flame, blackening and blistering them to make chile rellanos. That is the kind of time-consuming detail that makes this food so good. But let it be known: if you are expecting the servings to be the giant platefuls found at most Mexican restaurants, you will be sorely disappointed. Portions are modest. But this is carefully prepared food to be savored, not gobbled. Take your time and really taste it.

El Rinconcito, 2030 Eureka Way (behind the smoke shop and auto repair), Redding, CA 96001. 530-262-8646. Open daily, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Parking lot. Cards, cash, no checks. Vegetarian and vegan options.
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Chamberlain, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Femme de Joie
Femme de Joie's first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.
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9 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    I’m always pleased when I open anewscafe and the top item is your review. Makes me smile. And can this be? A Mexican restaurant that serves food that is tasty and not covered with globs of cheese and flavorless sauce? El Renconcito is now on my list to try.

  2. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    Well, that sounds so good it makes me wish I liked Mexican food. Come to think of it, it almost sounds like the Mexican food I grew up with down near the Mexican border. Guess I need to give it a try . . .

  3. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    Perhaps the finest taco salad I’ve ever had!
    Nice work again Femme de Joie.

  4. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Beautiful review. And it includes all I need to know about where I need to visit on my next dining out excursion. I visited the restaurants that were housed in this building before, but didn’t go back. I was spoiled by having eaten at some of the smallest, most inconspicuous little eating establishments in L.A. Thank you for your article Femme de Joie…

  5. Avatar Rick Bonetti says:

    We like El Rinconcito too. Finally tasty, fresh Mexican food in Redding not out of a can.
    Just caught your double entendre MenUPlease, Femme de Joie!

  6. Avatar Lea says:

    We love this place! Simple, house prepared, and tasty. Love the marinated pork tacos with the house made corn tortillas. And it says a lot for me to eat my tacos without a beer. (They are working on it!)
    I appreciated that the Madam has such fine taste!

  7. Avatar Jenny says:

    For dinner tonight, we had an asada plate (with fresh hot corn tortillas so divine they brought a tear to the eye), a superb carnitas burrito, and beef enchiladas with salsa verde. The refried beans were just right–a little rough yet creamy at the same time. We also had a dish of bright, fresh guacamole with our chips. Dinner for three for less than $35? Yes, please! The service was fast and our server was charming. Eat at this wonderful little restaurant soon!

  8. Avatar Lea says:

    Thank you for mentioning the tortilla soup. It is not mentioned on the menu. I love a mystery. That soup is amazing. Seriously amazing. Did I write amazing? Oh, my gosh. Delicious, and good for you soup. Divine.

  9. Avatar name says:

    This is definitely one of the better, if not best mexican food places in town