El Rinconcito 

With the exception of one highly overpriced lunch in Nogales, my south of the border experiences have all been north of the Rio Grande. I would suspect that's the case with many BW readers. I'd also be daring enough to presume that most BW readers have stayed east of Meridian when searching for Mexican cuisine in the Treasure Valley. However, as any Albertson College of Idaho grad or Nampa-dweller will gladly tell you, the best deals and most authentic Mexican cuisine are found in 2C.

My dining companion, who has spent weeks at a time in Central America, happened upon a work-free Friday to make the trek out to El Rinconcito in Nampa. Our drive back to Boise after lunch had us seriously considering El Rinconcito for top honors in the category of Best Mexican Food on the mainland Americas (we're both still partial to one hole-in-the-wall in Honolulu). Yes, it's that good.

The restaurant features seat-yourself booths and tables respectfully arranged around a wooden dance floor. There is a stage, which is used for music when the restaurant hosts private parties, and a garden of tall greenery along the back wall. If it's atmosphere you want, head for the ceramic tile and water fountain centerpiece in your local mall eatery. If it's good food you're in search of, El Rinconcito has spent 16 years doing that right.

We sunk into a booth and almost immediately began work on the menu and chips, salsa and refried beans. A warning for the faint at mouth when it comes to peppers and spicy foodstuffs: El Rinconcito's salsa is hot, hot, hot. It's a pasty, tomato puree heavy on the pepper seeds and chunk-free. We noticed the heavy pepper right up front, but it took a few mouthfuls before the fire really caught up to our tongues. The waitress assured us she brought us the beans because she knew they would help put the fire out.

The menu boasted "authentic Mexican food" and the waitress promised that all of the food was "really good." After considering several of her recommendations--and noticing that El Rinco was even open for breakfast with huevos rancheros, chorizo con huevo and breakfast burritos--we ordered the burrito relleno and a Rinconcito Plate and hoped for both authentic and really good chow.

As we waited for our food, I played a silent game of salsa dare with myself while my watery-eyed dining companion braved his way through mouthful after mouthful of liquid fire on a chip. When lunch came we were both relieved to set aside the salsa.

My burrito relleno was a chile relleno wrapped with shredded chicken, green peppers and onions in a flour tortilla covered in melted cheese and tomato and smothered in a "green" sauce. The burrito was laden with egg-dipped and fried chiles and not too much chicken as to be a distraction. The green sauce was a thin and mild (and strangely buttery) complement floating on the entire plate. No rice, no beans ... and neither were needed. I'd heard the chile relleno at El Rinconcito was some of the best around, but perhaps the person who told me that has yet to try the burrito version.

The Rinconcito Plate is two enchiladas with steak ranchero, rice, beans and fresh guacamole. My mom used to make the best guacamole on Earth. She's been replaced by El Rinconcito. In most restaurants I won't even touch the green goop from a bag that passes as guacamole, and now El Rinco has forever spoiled me. The enchiladas had that same strangely butter-esque, melt-in-your-mouth flavor about them. They were just your run of the mill shredded beef and cheese enchiladas, but somehow they tasted much better than what we're used to. We were both as impressed by the steak ranchero as we were by the guacamole. Tender chunks of chuck steak, peppered but not salsa-fiery, and sprinkled with tomatoes.

We lavished our praises upon the food to our happy waitress. She said to recommend the place to all of our friends ... I will, and to all of our readers as well.

--Rachael Daigle dreams of fire-breathing kangaroos.

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