For culinary purposes, here’s what you need to know about Michoacán. It’s a Mexican state located on the West Coast, nestled between sea and mountains. Somewhere in between there are dense jungles – and a rich agricultural tradition. Roughly translated, the food is varied and good here.
I learned all those factoids after my meal at Greenfield’s El Rinconcito Restaurante y Café. I learned how good the food was after I finished my first enchilada. But my visit started with aguas frescas, which they make in-house. I chose a piña. For me pineapple is the ultimate test of a good agua fresca because it’s so naturally sugary and there is loads of additional sugar in pre-made agua frescas. This one passed the test with all the citrusy flavor up front and no weird Kool-Aid aftertaste.
The chain reaction of explosive flavors and my Michoacana food education first came in the form of shrimp enchiladas. I felt special when these were put in front of me, like they were made by the Michoacana abuela I never had. Tender bits of shrimp were gingerly wrapped in fluffy yet sturdy homemade tortillas. It was covered in a deep, brick-red chili sauce and a dose of melty cheese and tangy crema. These were definitely cooked to order – not forced out from your mama’s baking pan and then reheated.
No offense to your mom.
The side salad was negligible, as are most side salads. The real star was the rice and refried beans. Yes – the pieces that were supposed to make it a “combo” plate were the elements that stole the show. The rice was lightly smoky and oniony and donned a beautiful vibrant orange, matching the walls. The refried beans were not blended into a thick paste’ they had some bits of whole bean peeking through. They were salty and luscious.
Then came the tostadas. We ordered two – one octopus and one tilapia. The restaurant doesn’t make the crispy tostada shell itself, but whoever supplies them gets a thumbs up. Flimsy tostada shells would simply shatter under the weight of seafood. The execution of these dishes gave me a reason to like a condiment I thought I knew I disliked: ketchup… because I am not 12. Yes, the octo was dressed lightly in ketchup, tossed with a punchy pico de gallo and then topped with cucumber and avocado. What was this I was feeling? Ketchup doesn’t belong on hot dogs but… on octopus?
I still had the tilapia ceviche to try. This one tasted familiar – shredded pieces of fish, tossed in pico de gallo.
And the huarache, a thick sandal-shaped masa (to call it a tortilla would be blasphemous), was as elegant as a pile of food could be: perfect beans, tender carne asada and tendrils of crunchy lettuce. Again, the star of the show was the humble foundation, silky but substantial masa and those flavorful, creamy beans.
My one regret: I was driving that night. If I could, I would’ve ordered a michelada, the giant beer cocktails that stood out like massive centerpieces at other tables.
EL RINCONCITO RESTAURANTE y CAFÉ 246 El Camino Real, Greenfield. 9am-9pm (Mon-Fri); 8am-9pm (Sat-Sun). 856-8228.