El Rincon de Villa Gives Hugs and Has Cojones

The iTunes library's shuffling between the culturally transcendent songs of El Mariachi Bronx and Calexico did little to help the taco. The taco was filled with what appeared to be the beloved, vermillion-oozing crumbled sausage, that meat so worthy of a hug. What it was really filled with was a handful of similarly colored pebbles of sand with a tease of chorizo flavor, as if the taco contained the sand over which the absent chorizo was cooked. My wife couldn't stomach more than a bite. I worked through my disgust, adding the creamy salsa verde to the grainy mass. It helped. It helped add color to mortifying meat. But that was it. Little help at all.

I had Mrs. Ralat to thank for my sediment-packed maw, having finally indulged her weekly suggestions to try El Rincon de Villa -- she passes it several times weekly on her way to and from work. Now, in our dining room, she sat across from me, eyes lowered, a teasing smile widening the corners of her mouth. Chorizo, be damned.

The bright taco al pastor enlivened my palate. After the chorizo, it ought to have done so. The Greenville taquería advertises itself as a D.F.-style establishment. It was on the streets of D.F. (Mexico City) that pastor, pork roasted on a trompo, gained prominence, having been adapted from the method Lebanese immigrants used to cook shawarma. The confluence of char, crunch, occasional downy sensation, overall earthiness made it a gorgeous example of a taco al pastor. The taquero at El Rincon is to be commended for the pastor. Return visits resulted in the same, exquisite experience. The sweet punch of the raw white onion and the bite of the lime juice only improved it.

All this was wrapped in one lightly grilled sweet corn tortilla. Yes, only one. I asked from whence came the joyous flatbreads, but neither the counter-woman nor the taquero would divulge the brand name. The tortilla was hefty enough to withstand the generous portion of the pastor, barbacoa and fajita tacos. Unfortunately, it couldn't save the chicken, which was an exercise in edible texture.

The barbacoa was a valiant try, though one best never attempted. It tasted more of pulled pork than beef, with none of the stew that should exude from beef barbacoa and onto the diner's shirt where it will stay as an eternal, proud badge of honor.

It is honor and pride that is on display to drivers whirring passed the diminutive, stand-alone restaurant. Above the shingled roof is a yellow sign with the eatery's name in blue and an image of Pancho Villa screened across it. The motif continues inside. The canary yellow walls are decorated with blue patterns, some avian-like, along with quotes attributed to Pancho Villa, the press-savvy Mexican revolutionary general, whose mustachioed visage adorns many a south-of-the-border-themed restaurant.

What differentiates El Ricon de Villa from the plethora of other taco-slinging shops is that it embraces this hackneyed culture parody with abandon, with gusto. On the wall opposite the counter hangs Villa's famous Uncle Sam-esque, "I Want You Gringo" poster, while several photos hang from crossbeams. Two quotes stand out ("Man cannot live on bread alone. He also needs tacos" and "I've been enamored with the same woman for 30 years. If my wife finds out, I'm a dead man.") show how ridiculous this deification of a hood with a disarming smile has become, how entangled self-derision and the celebration of machismo have become in the shilling of not just Mexican but all of Latin American gastronomy in the States. Still, the folks at El Rincon de Villa do it with one hand firmly planted on their huevos and the other hand raising a middle finger to the few lunchtime diners, albeit all done with a gracious smile and cup of freshly made agua fresca from the counter-side manual juicer.

A mean Tex-Mex-inspired taco is found here. The juicy strips of grilled fajita beef crisscross inside the tortilla, creating a palate-trapping net that, when sampled with the taco al pastor, shows that El Rincon's cojones are supported by culinary substance.

El Rincon de Villa 6867 Greenville Ave. 214-891-9954

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José Ralat Maldonado

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