By Mary Bigham
Truck driver turned chef Alberto Rodriguez brings the authentic tastes of Mexico to Downingtown
I thought I had tasted the best Mexican food in Chester County until I took a seat at a small table in the cozy space at in downtown Downingtown. I was presented with a bowl of handmade chips, a small ceramic bowl of Pico de gallo and a crock of what I called green sauce and a house-made frozen mango margarita. After one chip and one sip I was under the spell. For the rest of the interview I referred to Alberto as a magician.
Q: How long has this restaurant been here?
A: This has been a Mexican restaurant for 18 months but I have owned it for less then a year. We have been turning the place around since I purchased it.
Q: Are you from Chester County?
A: No. I was born on the East Coast and then raised in Mexico. Then I moved to California but was sick of LA. I wanted a better quality of life with my family, so I came with my wife back to the East Coast and we live in Delaware. I’m probably the only Mexican that can’t handle hot weather.
Q: Have you had a restaurant before?
A: No. I drove trucks for 16 years and because of that I’ve literally tasted food all over the place when I was on the road. From driving so much I know all the places to get Mexican food along the East Coast and I can count on my hand of places that have good, real Mexican food. Because I couldn’t find any place that I thought was authentic Mexican food I had always wanted to open my own restaurant.
Q: So why Downingtown?
A: Well, I used to pick up loads with my trailer in Downingtown and I stopped by this restaurant five times and it was always closed. I asked a friend of a friend about it and they knew the owner and next thing I know I made an offer on it and a few days later, I owned it.
Q: Wow, so you went from a truck driver to a restaurateur in about five days? How do you prepare for that?
A: Well, I was driving up North for a job and got the call that he would meet me when I got back to sign the papers. On the drive back I was very excited and confident that I could make the best Mexican food for my customers. I just had to process everything that it would take to do it right. I find such pleasure in cooking and I’ve followed the steps from my grandmother and mother since I was 11 years old. If I did something wrong in the kitchen my grandmother would make sure I didn’t make the same mistake again. It had to be done correctly.
Q: Are you the cook at home?
A: I am. It’s a pleasure for me to get home after work and cook. We always have a feast. I usually get home before my wife and I start to cook. My daughters love it when I cook dinner, but don’t tell my wife that.
Q: What can your customers expect when they come here?
A: In the words of my daughter: “You’ve tried Mexican food, now try the REAL Mexican food.” I know the real taste of Mexico from my grandmother and my mother and I was raised with those flavors all my life. I want others to be able to experience the real Mexican taste. Cooking is in my blood. When my wife and I cook at home or when we have a party everyone knows it will be the best. I will not sell anything that I wouldn’t eat myself at home.
Q: What does the name of the restaurant mean?
A: Rincon is Spanish for “corner” and Tarasco are the Indian people of northern Michoacán state in central Mexico. The area in which the Tarasco live has a coast, hot weather, mountains, cool weather, and it’s dry… basically all the climates that are desired to live in an area. Because of these elements it is a place to grow wonderful, rich foods. So we like to have a corner of that region here in Downingtown.
Q: What would you recommend for someone to order when they come here.
A: Everything. Everything is home-made, we cut our own meat, make our own mole sauce from scratch that and it takes all day. We put peanuts, sesame seeds, raisins, chocolate, dry peppers, walnuts, green bananas, green apple, etc. It’s a very intricate sauce and it’s the best you’ll have. If I don’t have the “real” ingredients to make something, I don’t make it. I have customers that tell me our food is better then actually being in Mexico. When you come in I want to welcome you to real Mexican food, there is nothing better.
The wow factors:
Try the Cochineal Pibil taco. It’s $2.00 and is slow-roasted pork dish from Yucatan. Preparation of traditional cochinita or puerco pibil involves marinating the meat in citrus juice, coloring it with annatto seed, and roasting the meat while it is wrapped in banana leaf. It takes 10 hours to make and it is made from scratch.
The ceviche. Made with talapia, lime juice, tomato and a big pinch of an island breeze. Each bite tasted like a vacation in my mouth, I mentally went to an island with each bite.
The guacamole. The best I’ve ever had. Big, delicious chunks for perfectly ripe avocado with just enough citrus and cilantro. Incredible.
Molcajete. This dish is served in a traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle tool made out of volcanic rock. It’s made to order and is filled with ingredients to make a sauce when the bowl when it reaches 550 degrees and are mashed up and allowed to cook in the hot stone. Then Mexican sausage, chicken, pork, asada steak and a Mexican grilled cheese is added and served in the sizzling rock. Alberto says it’s easily three pounds of meat.
Desserts: House-made flan and Tres Leches cake.
BYOT: Bring your own Tequilla for a traditional or mango margarita.
Pico de gallo (Spanish for “rooster’s beak “) is a fresh condiment made from chopped tomato , onion , and chiles (typically jalapenos or serranos ).
Alberto’s Pico de gallo recipe:
Serves 4-5 people.
3 Tomatoes. Not too green not to ripe, somewhat firm.
1/2 White Onion. Peel off the first layer.
Lime Juice. At least one whole lime.
Salt to taste.
Chop the tomatoes and onion into very fine pieces. Then add lime juice and lime to “cook” the tomato and onion in the citrus. And add the following ingredients.
1/8 Red Onion. Chopped finely
Fresh Cilantro. Chop in big pieces or the flavor will be wrong if it gets mushed.
Jalapenos. To taste. Chopped finely.
Serve with chips.
Rincon Tarasco, 2 Wallace Avenue, 610-518-32102