Restaurant Review: El Camino Inn
El Camino Inn is just about everything you’d expect. Random word associations suggest alternately a peculiar sort of retro Chevy car-truck hybrid, a Clint Eastwood movie, and the first two words mean “the way” in Spanish.
So the design is something out of Fistful of Dollars (an Eastwood movie) palate. There are strings of lights in the windows and a collection of chairs and colorful booth seating that look as if they’ve been there a while, even though El Camino opened circa 2012. Size wise, diners are perpetually just a few steps from the bar that occupies one side of the joint. It all nicely comes across as a hole in the wall. In spite of its relative youth, you’d guess that the establishment had a long, storied history of hijinks.
While streamlined, the menu offers about as many Mexican options as you’ll find anywhere: tacos, burritos, gorditas, tostadas — all with a choice of filling options: barbacoa, carnitas, chorizo, etc. You can put the puzzle together however you like.
So, Carnitas Gorditas ($4.50) seems like an obvious starting point, because the combo forms an approximate rhyme and it’s terribly fun to say. The carnitas would be a reference to the house roasted pork, gorditas are a less often seen vehicle for meat: they’re something like a tiny corn-based pita pocket. The shell is poofier than your average tortilla, so the toasty corn flavor comes across more aggressively. The pork inside is mild, but teamed with the rest of its companions -beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, it makes for a tasty little sandwich.
Also spot-on is the Burrito ($7). It’s built on soft, beefy brisket (barbacoa) that melds with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream, all tightly bundled in a tortilla wrapper. There’s also some rice, but not so much that you feel ripped off. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts here. It’s the combo of agreeable flavors and contrasting textures; soft beef, crunchy lettuce, that make it score. At any burrito joint, a Chipotle comparison is inevitable. El Camino takes a win here. Even if the beef is not interestingly seasoned, it comes across as less mysterious than the meat chunks at the fast-casual institution.
We did chicken on tacos. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. The chicken is plain, even with onions and cilantro, so best practice is to order the tacos with extra stuff (lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream, for $3.50 all-in).
The Cubano ($8) is fun. Purists will probably be outraged, but they can find solace at some other spot. Here, they use rolled-up deli ham, noodle-y strips of salchicha -a ringer for bologna, and chorizo as the meaty foundation. It’s packaged in a long bun that is not too poofy, so it holds the briny combo without overwhelming it. To round things out, there are soft peppers that offer significant heat, beans, avocado, lettuce and tomato. The sandwich qualifies as a low-brow indulgence.
For the drinking crew, El Camino Inn runs a happy hour on weekdays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and it’s very proud of its tequila selection. You’ll find it at 238 S. Fourth S. and online at elcaminoinn.co.