Rincon Cubano opened on Country Club Boulevard in Cape Coral in 2003. / Special to The News-Press
The vaca frita pulls apart in crisply tender shreds. It's served with rice, black beans and sweet plantains at Rincon Cubano in Cape Coral. / Special to The News-Press
958 Country Club Blvd., Cape Coral
• Price: $-$$
• Hours: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
• Call: 772-7790
• Noise level: Moderate most times; crowds and television make it much louder during the lunch rush.
• Etc.: Takeout available, beer and wine only, daily specials, baked goods and pastries for sale at the counter, breakfast meals starting at $3.
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
• Empanadas, $1.25
• Croquetas, $0.60
• Papas rellenas, $1
• Vaca frita, $8.95
• Pan con bistec, $4.95
• Enchilado de camarones, $9.95
• Churrasco steak, $13.95
For as small and out-of-the-way as Rincon Cubano is, the 10-year-old Cape Coral restaurant boasts something no other local Cuban diner can: waterfront seating.
Wedged in next to an industrial supply store on Country Club Boulevard, just before the road bends east to Viscaya Parkway, Rincon Cubano sits on one of those nameless, ubiquitous Cape canals.
Get there before the lunch rush – which hits hard, like clockwork, every day at noon – and snag the two-person table at the far end of the plain dining room. There you can peer out the window to the murky, algae-covered water below.
Ah Cape Coral.
Less than breathtaking as it may be, that view is not what you’ve come for. You’ve come for the vaca frita, a tangled mass of stewed beef that’s shredded and fried and served in a wooly heap. You pinch off a small bit as soon as the plate hits the table – you can’t help yourself, really – then glaze over as the crisp edges and chewy strings melt away with each bite.
Your focus becomes singular: More vaca frita, stat. You ignore the mound of white rice. The bowl of black beans in velvety sauce registers somewhere deep in your subconscious. Friends give you that, “Oh no, we’ve lost Jean again,” look.
There are other dishes at Rincon Cubano. The churrasco steak is almost as addicting, the way it pulls apart in large hunks. The enchilado de camarones – a Cuban-Creole stew in a peppery tomato sauce – is heaped with curls of shrimp.
For Cuban traditionalists there is ropa vieja, vaca frita’s juicier cousin, sluiced in a mild red sauce. And Cuban sandwiches pressed till crisp on the house-baked bread (which is for sale at the front counter should you want to try and recreate the experience at home).
Rincon’s beef doesn’t fare as well on sandwiches. The pan con bistec features a thin strip of gray, leathery meat that makes you regret not doubling down on the vaca frita.
But Rincon’s sides are a sure thing. Sweet plantains are fried till the sticky-crunchy exterior caves in to the buttery center. Soft corn dough hugs a lone chunk of pork for the tamales. Tostones are thin and crisp, in need of nothing more than a sprinkle of salt.
For $1.25 each meals can start with empanadas, blistered pocket pies filled with seasoned ground beef (a tad dry), chicken (better), or sliced ham and white queso that oozes onto its basket’s paper lining.
For more oozing there is the tres leches, the cakey dessert soaked in sweet milks (three of them to be exact). Custardy flan is served atop a thin pool of amber-colored caramel sauce.
While servers were always friendly on my visits, service is slipshod at best. We reached across stacks of dirty plates to eat desserts one night. During a lunch rush my waitress disappeared. I wanted a box, but ended up finishing my food while watching bad Latin pop music videos on MTV Tr3s.
In the canal a plastic bag lolled, half-submerged. It wasn’t going anywhere either. I, at least, had a belly full of vaca frita.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact email@example.com; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).