When you want to experience a little taste of Cuba without having to apply for a travel license, try out this edition of Hidden Gems…
If Rincon Criollo was in La Habana, it would be the neighborhood restaurant that families would frequent, old men would play cards in, and tourists would come to in minute numbers (only those who actively avoid tourist traps and befriend kind locals who are willing to offer the inside scoop). It radiates an aura of traditional and down-to-earth hospitality.
Cuba has a history infused with European and African elements. Rincon Criollo means Creole corner. Creole implies syncretic culture and ancestry. This can best be heard in the musical styles of Afro-Cuban son and salsa—with their unique blend of congas, percussion, brass and piano.
Creole can best be tasted in a restaurant like this one.
The ham croquettes, a typical Spanish tapa item, are a wise choice of appetizer. Every entrée comes with a side of rice and beans (or your choice of substitutes from the sides section of the menu). You will walk out of this restaurant full, even if you did not intend for that to be the case.
The yucca (cassava) comes crispy and fried or baked and drenched in a garlic sauce. It is one of their specialties, so you should try it in at least one form. The plantains are very well-prepared. The menu offers both a sweet (Madura) and savory (Verde) option.
The pan de pudin, a Cuban bread pudding, has an unexpectedly solid consistency. If you are not usually a fan of bread pudding because of its soggy characteristics, this is for you. If you like bread pudding to begin with, this will be a nice change. Flan is usually too syrupy for me, but this version is not. In case it was not clear enough, you would be doing yourself a large disservice by skipping dessert.
PS- If you want to give a friend a birthday celebration that is the perfect combination of hilarious, unforgettable and uncomfortable, make sure you let someone at the restaurant know. It becomes dark, there are flashing multicolored lights and a server wearing a ridiculous hat begins to sing, as the rest of the wait staff chimes in.
PPS- Rincon only accepts American Express & cash
Take the 7 to Junction Boulevard. It is in an area called Elmhurst, Queens’ unofficial Latino-town.