I’ve enjoyed two recent meals at El Rincon Mexican Restaurant in Johnson City.
The restaurant, which has only been open a few weeks, is located in the building that formerly housed El Matador Mexican Restaurant.
The food is good, tasty Tex-Mex fare, with a slight uptick on the heat levels in some of the dishes, as well as in the complementary salsa that comes with a basket of tortilla chips.
I enjoyed the spicy salsa — it’s not a tongue-blistering heat; rather, it’s a slow-building heat that tends to sneak up on you.
The menu offers various categories of selections, including combination orders, burritos, quesadillas, salads, vegetarian dishes, fajitas and items from the grill. There’s also a listing of combination platters, as well as a lunch menu.
The restaurant’s interior has been refurbished with orange walls matched with pecan-stained wood paneling. Wrought iron decorative features are displayed on the walls along with some framed paintings of Mexican scenes. There’s also a (currently unstocked) bar area awaiting the restaurant’s official sanction to serve alcoholic beverages. Ceiling fans and flat-screen television complete the decor.
Seating is available at both tables and spacious booths. There’s also an enclosed dining patio.
As I scanned the menu offerings, I considered several possibilities, including the Carnitas Burrito, Spinach Quesadilla, Enchiladas Verdes, Shrimp Fajitas and Alambre, which consists of grilled steak with bacon and ham, as well as onions and bell peppers, all served with cheese, rice, beans and flour tortillas.
I chose one of the grilled specials for my main course, ordering the Pollo con Chipotle. Other members of my dining party selected the Shrimp Salad, Camarones Rancheros and Parrillada El Rincon, a mixed platter of grilled steak, chicken, shrimp and zesty chorizo sausage cooked with a medley of grilled vegetables.
We didn’t have to wait long for the food to arrive. Everything looked and smelled quite appetizing, especially the Camarones (shrimp) smothered in grilled onions and Ranchero sauce.
I also liked my chicken dish. The Pollo con Chipotle also registered high on the spicy meter, but the chipotle-infused sauce was a slow, smoky burn that gave the tender, mild chicken some extra zest. Mexican rice and refried beans accompanied this dish.
I got to sample some of the Camarones Rancheros and found that the plump, medium-sized shrimp had been perfectly prepared. I also liked the flavorful ranchero sauce enhanced with sauteed onions that came with this dish.
After these hearty Mexican dishes, my party managed to conclude the meal with a shared dessert. Options ranged from Sopapilla and Fried Ice Cream to Banana Frito and Apple Chimichanga.
We chose the Banana Frito and requested several spoons. This sweet consisted of a banana wrapped in a flour tortilla shell, then deep fried to a golden brown. The dessert is accompanied by two scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a bright red cherry and a couple of dollops of whipped cream, all drizzled with a chocolate sauce.
I’ve already returned for a second meal at El Rincon, and I expect to make many future visits, too. The food is great and the staff is friendly and courteous. If you go, let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: El Rincon Mexican Restaurant, 2904 Bristol Highway, Johnson City. 282-0866. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. The restaurant is in the process of obtaining a permit to serve mixed drinks and beers.