The El Camino Inn is the newest addition to the growing restaurant collection on the south end of Downtown, joining Dirty Frank’s, Sidebar 122 and sister restaurant Little Palace (it shares the same owners). Like the namesake Chevy El Camino, this venue is a bit of a hybrid. It’s a restaurant/bar that mixes tex-mex food with a hip semi-seventies lounge that plays more classic rock than disco. The space is small, seating only around 40 at a mix of era-appropriate booths, tables and padded bar-side swivel chairs. The food menu is similarly small, comprised of only burritos, tacos, gorditas and tostadas and your own selection of meat filling.
The Gordita ($3) is served sandwich style with your choice of meat topping (I chose chorizo), lettuce, cheese and sour cream. The masa harina corn cake was on the dry side, which made the gordita a bit crumbly and messy to eat. Adding a dose of salsa (provided on the side) gave it some moisture, and I was pleased to find that the chorizo was moist as well. The salsa I used for the gordita was a classic green sauce made from tomatillos and jalapeños, which tasted freshly made with a medium heat. The remainder of the toppings were pretty standard tex-mex fare, and a couple of cucumber slices were added to the side as a palate cleanser and a mouth soothing solution for the spicy salsa. For the price, this gordita was quite nice.
The Burritos ($5) at El Camino are large Chipotle-sized monsters, wrapped similarly in aluminum foil and serve sliced in half like a wrap. They include your choice of meat (I went with barbacoa this time), refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and rice. The barbacoa is sparingly spiced, but nicely slow roasted, almost resembling pulled pot roast. The rice is a red tomato-based spanish rice and works well with the juicy roasted meat. Once again, the beans, lettuce and cheese are pretty standard fare and definitely emphasize tex-mex rather than traditional mexican cuisine. You’re likely to find something fairly similar at any El Vaquero type establishment, but for the low price, you won’t be disappointed or hungry after one of these.
Anyone who’s enjoyed themselves at one of the many great taco trucks in Columbus lately will recognize the Tacos ($2 each) at El Camino to be true to the style. Served in small double-wrapped corn tortillas, these are your very basic meat-onion-cilantro variety with cukes, radish, lime and salsa on the side. I decided to try out the chicken, which echoed the other meats at El Camino with it’s lighter touch of seasoning but a well-cooked and juicy batch of shredded goodness. I added a bit of red salsa to these tacos, made with a mild tomato base and some sort of fresh sweet/spicy chili (maybe mirasol or fresno peppers?) that gave it a slow growing kick. I’d put these tacos up against quite a few taco trucks around town and they’d hold their own nicely.
With El Camino being half bar and half restaurant, I had to try out a drink to wash everything down. I went with the House Made Margarita ($7) made with Cuervo Tradicional Repo, cointreau, agave nectar and sour mix. I ordered it on the rocks with a salted rim for a nice summer-friendly sip.
The ambiance is first and foremost what makes the El Camino a noteworthy new addition to the Downtown dining and drinking scene. It’s got the cozy quirky appeal of Dirty Frank’s combined with the hip-but-not-too-hip vibe of Little Palace. The food here isn’t breaking any new territory in the advancement of mexican cuisine, but it delivers familiar flavors for an incredibly affordable price.
El Camino Inn located at 238 South Fourth Street and is open Monday through Friday 4pm to 2:30am, Saturday and Sunday from 5pm to 2:30am. More information can be found online at www.facebook.com/ElCaminoInn.
Photos by Jennifer René of Jennifer René Photography.