Post by Adria May and Ryan Saxby Hill, Senior Taco Correspondents
When we arrived at El Camino, Chef Carmichael’s new taco joint, the place was packed and there was a line up at the take-out window. We didn’t recall a place having such high energy on a Wednesday night on Elgin street in quite a while.
There was a good reason. The place was fantastic and didn’t affect our pocket books too much.
We still got great seats for our first go. We were sitting perched at a bar overlooking the kitchen , where we could watch a constant stream of hand-made tortillas, note the steady pace of take-out orders and we even got to test some miss-ordered dumplings courtesy of the Chef himself.
There are a few things that you need to keep in mind to prepare for a pleasant night out at El Camino. You can’t make reservations. The place is pretty busy right now, so you might have to wait a bit – especially in larger groups. The menu is short and to the point and seems to work best if you just order platters of tacos for your table. If you’re getting take-out you need to pay in cash. If this sounds odd to you, just go with it. It’s really fun.
We loved the food and the vibe at El Camino. Neither was trying too hard. The food was fresh and everything looked great.
To start we had chips and salsa (it was great) and some dumplings (also excellent). The fried shrimp dumplings were nice. The light sauce was well-suited and portioned well. The highlight was the crispy prawn betal leaf. They were lightly fried and had a unique flavor. Definitely try them.
For the tacos, we ordered crispy fish and beef tongue. There were about half a dozen choices – lamb, a second fish option, steak and pork (plus a special). The beef tongue had a great texture and the toppings were simple. The crispy fish was fried, but light and refreshing. Both were excellent. All in all the taco fillings were cooked to perfection – neither too moist or dry. A bit of Jalapeno made for a perfect heat, which might leave more ruthless spice fans asking for hot sauce.
The food was all great, but I think that the atmosphere is what really won us over. Sitting below street level, with huge open windows, concrete floors and simple décor, felt just right. The stream of take-out traffic keeps the place hopping.