Rincón Criollo: A Cuban Success Despite All Odds

Dishes Include Rabo Encendido-Oxtail Stew, Morosy Cristianos-Rice and Beans cooked together with bacon, and Platanos Maduros Frito-Fried Sweet Plantains

Dishes Include rabo encendido (oxtail stew), Moros y Cristianos (Rice and Beans cooked together with bacon) and platanos maduros (Frito-fried sweet plantains).

One doesn’t have to travel far to get authentic Cuban food. Rincón Criollo, a family-run business with locations in Corona (Queens) and Huntington Station, serves up fantastic Cuban cuisine, along with a most remarkable success story.

It was 1942 when the Acosta Brothers, born and raised in Cuba, lost both their parents to illness and were left orphaned. Struggling to survive, the six brothers ranging in age from around six years old to mid-teens started to sell fruits, vegetables and bread and cheese in their neighborhood. The brothers would sell their goods up and down the streets of the small Cuban town in Havana known as Santiago de Las Vegas. Life was not easy, but they made enough money to provide food for themselves along with a modest place to live. Seven years later, in 1949, the Acosta brothers, who were well known in the town by this point, were offered an opportunity to build a small restaurant near an old airport in Santiago de Las Vegas. They combined all the money they had saved and took their chances on a dream.

The parcel of land where their restaurant was to be built was located along a stretch of road known as “The Road of Independence.” With the help from a family friend named Rudesindo, affectionately known as “Sindito,” the Acosta brothers began construction, building the restaurant with their own hands. The original restaurant was no more than a tiny single room made with four wood planks and a roof made of palm fronds. Despite their humble beginnings, the people from the town came and supported the brothers. Eventually the restaurant was expanded into three rooms. It was a family place, so the Acosta brothers added “el parquet infantil,” which was a beautiful playground for children where they could go on swings and have pony rides. For the adults, a terrace was added for dancing. As business improved, they were able to add yet another room for special events that they called “Salón Colonial.”

Blue Glass, a relic from the original Rincon Criollo in Cuba

Blue glass, a relic from the original Rincón Criollo in Cuba.

The youngest of the Acosta brothers, Jesus Rene Acosta, came up with the name of the restaurant, Rincón Criollo, after watching a Cuban movie of the same name. It was said that the name “matched the ambience they were looking to provide and the overall theme of their beloved first business.”

From 1950 to 1962, the restaurant became the hot spot for authentic Cuban fare. Along with the local people, dignitaries, celebrities, politicians and even baseball players were often seen at the popular establishment. Good food, family, fun and music brought everyone together, and the Acosta brothers were basking in their hard-earned success.

Cook Julio Huayllas poses among some of the prepared dishes and specials for the night. From top-left going clockwise: Tamal En Cazuela, Chicharon, Picadillo for the "picadillo con arroz blanco & garbanzos," Lechon Asada, Rabo Encendido, Tamale

Cook Julio Huayllas poses among some of the prepared dishes and specials for the night.

Unfortunately their dream came to an abrupt end in 1962, when Rincón Criollo was taken by the government after the triumph of the communist revolution. The brothers were heartbroken, but eventually they made their way to the United States to start a new life. For many years they worked several jobs trying to make enough money to open a new restaurant. Finally, a neighbor from their hometown of Santiago de Las Vegas had come to the States and opened a butcher shop in Corona, Queens, on Junction Boulevard and had suggested to the Acosta brothers to open a restaurant there. After much effort, on May 17, 1976, the brothers opened another Rincón Criollo just down the street from their neighbor’s business. They served the same classic recipes they made in Cuba, which included paella, picadillo, rope vieja and lechon asado. And just like before, the people came. The Acostas were once again owning and running a successful family business.

In the fall of 2015 they expanded and opened a second Rincón Criollo on Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. The restaurant is festive and family friendly, with red-checkered tablecloths and lots of black and white family photos showing their humble beginnings in Havana.

Chef Pavel Echevaria stirs a braising pot of Ox Tails with a giant wooden spoon for their popular "Rabo Encendido" dish.

Chef Pavel Echevaria stirs a braising pot of ox tails with a giant wooden spoon for their popular rabo encendido dish.

Both the Queens and the Huntington Station location are open seven days a week. If going on a Saturday night, be prepared to wait for a table. It’s well worth it, though. The restaurant suggests ordering paella an hour before you arrive.

Rudy Acosta, one of the owners in the family-run business, operates out of the Huntington restaurant and says the new location has proved to be quite a successful venture. The restaurant has even seen the likes of Food Network star Guy Fieri. On one of Fieri’s popular shows, Rudy taught him how to make a famous family recipe of savory ground beef and rice, which, as Rudy says, “is a house favorite.”

Busy Monday Evening at Rincon Criollo

Busy Monday evening at Rincón Criollo

In keeping with tradition, after customers are finished with dinner, they are served doncellita—angel kisses—which are dessert shots made of crème de cacao and evaporated milk, finished with a maraschino cherry on a mini skewer.

“This is my grandparents’ tradition,” says Acosta. “They served this drink to every customer after every meal as a way of saying thank you.”