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Jason Sheehan Likes Suburban Strip Mall Puerto Rican Food

Meanwhile, Craig LaBan negs Zavino's hot sister-restaurant, Tredici Enoteca

Tredici Enoteca
Tredici Enoteca
Photo by Hillary Petrozziello

Last week, Philly Mag's Jason Sheehan gave El Rincon Criollo, a no-frills Puerto Rican joint in a Spring City strip mall, three stars, and really, from a journalistic standpoint, it might be Sheehan's best read yet. The story begins, as usual, with Sheehan's love for all things junky and fried — first cheese curds at Bud & Marilyn's, then again with poutine at Coeur, and now, fried mashed potato balls:

I mean, to eat a fried mashed potato ball in this day and age? In this psychological climate of kale salads, yoga and green juice? Baby, that's like taking your mortality in your hands, squishing it down into the shape of a hand grenade, deep-frying it and then eating it. It's like being devoured by a lion or dying facedown in a mountain of cocaine—if you're found dead with a half-eaten fried mashed potato ball next to you, no one is going to shake his head at the untimely tragedy. That, they will say, is a man who went out on his own terms. He was living his best life right till the very end.

From there, it was a long, convincing argument for making a trip to Spring City (noted in the comment section, only 10 minutes from King of Prussia). Already an avid fan before the restaurant moved to its new location, Sheehan seemed to like everything about the place, new location and all, from the memorably meaty mofongo to fried plantains, both sweet and savory, the former "like candy", the latter with garlic mojo.

By the end of the piece, the review suddenly transformed into an open letter to El Rincon Criollo owner Luis Picon, hoping that a three star Philly Mag review is enough to help spread the word about some really good Puerto Rican food coming out of a lowly strip mall in Spring City.

Eventually, my order was done, bagged up, the patty set aside and wrapped in paper for me to eat walking. Luis was as friendly as always, asking if I'd been in since the move, if he'd seen me recently. And then he asked me to do something.

"You know other people who like us?"

"Yeah," I said. "A couple."

"Then here, take these. Give them to your friends." And he took a stack of flyers—like 20 or 30 of them, obviously vastly overestimating my likeability—and shoved them into the bag with my food.

"You give them to your friends," he said. "Let them know we're here now. Hey, you bring anybody in, you get a free meal. How's that?"

I told Luis I'd try my best. That I'd do what I could to convince people that a little strip-mall Puerto Rican restaurant in Spring City was worth their time, their dollars, the trouble it might take to find. That an order of mofongo and mashed potato balls could change their whole day, that finding half a leftover pork sandwich in the fridge might be the best part of their week. I told him I'd give it a shot.

So, Luis, how do you think I did?

Craig LaBan brought down the 1-bell hammer (again) on Tredici Enoteca, the Zavino Group's new Mediterranean restaurant and wine bar on the corner of 13th and Sansom Streets. The Inky review exhibits a vast difference from Philly Mag's review of the same restaurant just two weeks ago. From the get-go, LaBan found fault in the restaurant's table management system:

The reflex to make guests automatically pause in the bar is an old-school ruse to pad drink tabs. But it's unbecoming for a new place that has some genuine virtues and most of its other points down pat, including warm and well-informed servers who are able guides to the extensive wine list and menu.

But "lackluster" food didn't help the restaurant escape its 1-bell stamp:

In many cases, it was a matter of good ideas dimmed by flawed details. The raw bar serves handsome, two-handled steel pans brimming with shellfish over ice. But the huge cocktail shrimp were overcooked and bland. The "Holy Grail" oysters from Maryland were flaccid and lacking brine. And the tuna crudo - already an off-topic cliché with an Asian soy reduction - suffered from hard yellow slices of underripe avocado. The fluke, its delicate white flesh contrasted by the crunch of shaved radish matchsticks and little bursts of grapefruit segments, was one notable crudo highlight.

Tredici Enoteca

13TH & SANSOM Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19147 Visit Website