As we entered, I was a bit doubtful. By day the place is clearly a very ordinary sandwich place, with a counter stuffed with croissants, bog-standard sandwich fillings and the like. According to the large board above the counter, you can have an egg mayonnaise sarnie or a cheese and tomato toastie for under £2, or splash out on a jacket potato for a little over £3. There were the usual plastic tables and a slightly shabby feel, with the only stand-out being the modest South American themed wall hangings.
It was mostly empty, barring a couple of tables of locals and a large screen showing the football (turns out the owners are Chelsea fans). Not a place for a romantic evening, but then we were quite happy to half watch the game over dinner.
There's a cute story about the owner, Luis Torres, here, and a google search has revealed that it used to be a popular meeting place for theSocialist Worker Party. My Spanish isn't up to much, but with the help of google and babel fish, I reckon the name means a corner for the people of Quitos, Ecuador's capital.
They produced some menus from a hiding spot and all my doubts evaporated when the old, regular-looking guy sipping tea and munching on buttered pre-sliced bread at the table in front of us was asked how he wanted his steak cooked.
Starters (around £3-4) were a little English sounding, so we focused on a juicy grilled plantain topped with cheese and the tortilla -- a thick wedge, served with potent chilli sauce. Mains also included non-South American offerings, including a pasta section -- which might explain why some websites list the place as Italian. Instead we had the mixed grill for two, a huge pile of steak, pork, chorizo and plantain for just under £20, as well as the solo version (£11) which had no chicken but instead had a fried egg. Both were served with side plates of rice and a plain (iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions) but very plesantly and lightly dressed salad.
Obviously there is no website and I keep forgetting to take photos of menus, so the name of the other dish (£9-ish) is lost. But it featured a pool of refried beans, slices of sweet plantain, a strongly-flavoured chorizo sausage (a bit different to the Spanish ones), some beautifully crackling-ed fatty pork, a palette-cleansing avocado, rice and two cracker-type things, one of rice and one of plantain. (Rumour has it they can also serve guinea pig, a South American speciality, but it wasn't on the menu.)
We washed the food down with litre bottles of Ecuadorian beer (£6) and coffee (£1.70).
All in all it was very, very good and I am surprised that this place hasn't got a much wider following.
El Rincon Quiteno, 235 Holloway Road, N7 8HG; Tel. 020 7700 3670; Tube: Holloway Road