“So…where can we get good authentic Mexican food?” we found ourselves asking everyone when we moved here to Tokyo. Typically, our listener would then engage in lots of head scratching and “…eeeeto…..” (literally “uuum” in Japanese). That is, until we met a friend-of-a-friend, who is a Japanese woman who had grown up in Mexico for 18 years. El Rincon de Sam is really good, very authentic, she told us. Oh, she added, and by the way, there is a Japanese mariachi band that performs there monthly, and I am guest performer with them, I’m a singer. She might as well have just told us that unicorns that fart rainbows and burp glitter exist in Tokyo!!! Needless to say, we were intrigued.
El Rincon de Sam is in Ebisu, just a 2 minute walk from Ebisu station. Hidden in a basement of a building next to a Kinko’s, the restaurant is inconspicuous. But the same cannot be said about the inside of the small, approximately 40-seater restaurant. Walking in, we were immediately transported to what feels like an intimate Mexican cantina where Cinqo de Mayo just never ended. The walls and ceiling, painted in adobe red, give off a festive, warm glow, and the decorations (pinatas, sombreros, papel picado, and musical instruments) all gave off a sense of celebration.
We started off with a few rounds of drinks with appetizers as we bopped along to the mariachi band tunes. The band, aptly named Mariachi Samurai, is an all Japanese member group. Their jovial leader is singer and guitarist Sam Morena, who is also the owner of this eponynous restaurant. Other band members include 2 violinists, a bass player, a vihuela player, and a trumpeter. Having front row seats, we had prime views of their traditional costumes and dancers that performed folk dances.
Our friend, Sawaka, who sang was a knockout performance as well. She speaks Spanish, English, and Japanese and is an awesome ambassador of Mexican culture through her music. That night, she sang traditional Mexican songs accompanied by the band. More information on her music and album here.
At this point in the evening, I was already 3 drinks in (i.e. feeling greeeeeat) so I very well may have overlooked taking pictures of some of the dishes, but I’ll talk briefly about everything we ate.
Drinks: I can attest the sangria (¥700) and margaritas (¥900) were delightfully tasty. Margaritas are shaken tableside for a nice showy presentation. The bar is well stocked with a good Mexican tequila and beer selection (Sol, Corona, Tecate, Negra Modelo, and Bohemia).
Nachos (¥900 or $7.50): Topped with melted jack cheese, chunks of avocado, and a smattering of salsa, the nachos tasted spot on. Portion size was a Japanese-sized one, about 15-20 chips.
Guacamole (¥900 or $7.50): Fresh tasting guac, but again, slim on the chips (7 total), especially for the price.
Pulpo al Ajillo (¥1500 or $12.50): Octopus with Garlic. This was the best dish all night due to the tenderness of the octopus and the smoky and garlicky tomato sauce in which the octopus was swimming. Not literally, just means there was a lot of that yummy sauce. Extremely well seasoned and salted. Order this with a side of bread, and you will not be sorry.
Tacos de Pollo (¥800): Chicken Tacos. Unlike the grilled chicken tacos that most people may be used to, these are executed in the more traditional Puebla style (chicken tinga), where the chicken is stewed in chipotle tomato sauce and then shredded. Good taste, but would have preferred more sauce and fresh toppings like cilantro.
Camaron Tequila at Chipotle (¥2300 or $19.20): Shrimp with Tequila and Chipotle Sauce. A lovely, but very rich dish due to the cream sauce. The portion size is generous–5 large head-on shrimp, with a large side of rice. And because the heads and shells are stewed in the sauce, this imparts a very strong shrimp flavor (i.e., briny and umami) throughout. Pictures available on Tabelog here.
Pollo con Mole (¥3200 or $26.70): Chicken with Mole Sauce. Another standout dish of the night. If you have never had mole sauce, briefly, it’s a sauce that includes a whole laundry list of ingredients, many of which are toasted and then ground to form a paste that is then cooked for hours. These include chiles, nuts and seeds, garlic, onions, spices, toasted bread, chocolate, raisins, lard, and others. There are many types of mole sauce–from Puebla (mole poblano), at least 7 from Oaxaca (e.g., mole negro, verde, etc), and other regions as well.
El Rincon de Sam’s mole appeared to be a mole poblano. Our friend highly recommended it, since the ingredients for the mole sauce were all brought over from Mexico. Although seemingly pricey at ¥3200, if you put it into context, this dish is good value for the raw ingredients. First, the portion size was sizable with a large chicken thigh and drumstick, and a generous amount of mole sauce. Secondly, a whole lot of sourcing, importing, and labor went into the transport of the ingredients and the cooking which resulted in a f@/!king amazing sauce with such depth of flavor.
So, Mr. S ordered this mole and I found myself constantly sneaking bites from his plate. Ladies, am I the only one here that gets this “I shoulda ordered what he got” envy, where when you’re with your husband/boyfriend/partner/friend/whomever at a meal, the other person’s food always looks so much better than what you ordered??? And it usually tastes better too! Why does that always happen?! Ahhh, first world wifey problems…
Try to go on a night when Mariachi Samurai performs. Check El Rincon de Sam’s calendar for dates. And I hear that Sam will typically perform most nights at the restaurant by himself. It’s also encouraged for the audience to sing along (there are printed song lyrics in the menus!).
So, we’re pretty stoked we found this gem where the drinks are great, and the food is authentic. Most of all, the atmosphere and service is what sealed the deal for us since the staff (all Mexican) were so friendly. It was apparent that they loved working in a place where it was like a family, and each was able to express themselves creatively (some staff danced and played music too). As an immigrant in a new country, it’s imperative to build your own sense of community and hold onto your roots through food, music, sports, and art. Much like what my parents and I did when we immigrated to the States.
And besides, you get a free live music show almost every night. In my book, a free dose of culture is always welcome.
El Rincon de Sam, 4-6-1 Ebisu, B1F